24 May 2019
Advertisers are increasingly turning to smartphones to reach consumers, eschewing traditional TV campaigns. Photo: Internet
Advertisers are increasingly turning to smartphones to reach consumers, eschewing traditional TV campaigns. Photo: Internet

Why China is the center of the digital world

China’s digital world is populated by people like Liu Xuelong, a television and documentary producer in Beijing.

Liu hasn’t used his television in years and gets all of his entertainment on his iPhone 6 Plus, which he uses to buy plane tickets, pay bills, talk with clients.

He is the kind of consumer advertisers want, with the typical profile of more than 527 million Chinese who are on smartphones.

Next year, companies are expected to spend more money on digital advertising than on television campaigns in the mainland, according to the New York Times

It is a stark shift from three years ago when nearly half of the advertising dollars went to television and just 14 percent went to digital, according to ZenithOptimedia, an advertising agency.

“It’s the first time we’ve had an enormous middle class emerge while being digitally connected,” said Jeff Walters, a partner at the Boston Consulting Group in Beijing.

With the largest pool of smartphone users in the world, China has become a petri dish for marketers and technology companies alike to test ways to get consumers to buy both online and off.

Homegrown social media platforms in China are at the center of the push.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are all blocked in China, giving platforms like Tencent’s Weixin — known as WeChat outside the country — and Sina Weibo an advantage.

Coca-Cola tapped into Weixin’s built-in reader for QR codes, two-dimensional bar codes, to start its Lyric Coke campaign in China.

Coke bottles there featured famous Chinese lyrics like “Baby, I’m sorry,” and “I love summer.”

It then encouraged consumers to share a 10-second clip of a song with friends through social media by scanning the QR code on the bottle.

Since its start in May, the Coke campaign has generated more than three billion views, according to Isobar, the company responsible for the campaign.

Five years ago, marketers could get away with simply using the same ads they used globally and just translating the message, said Shaun Rein, the founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group.

Today, they have to speak to the Chinese dream.

“What is happening is that Western brands have to create new aspirations that the Chinese consumer wants,” Rein said.

Ads for North Face, the outdoor wear company, featured images of animals from an African safari, in an effort to appeal to the growing legions of Chinese travelers.

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