In the past, the phrase “Made in China” conjured up negative associations: cheap design, poor product quality, poor functionality, and banal communication solutions.
But in recent years, local Chinese branding has been conquering the global market. “Chinese” is becoming the new synonym for good. Design is winning important awards (Red Dot, Pentawards, IF Design Awards), inspiring revolutionary and conceptual.
How did this transformation take place? In what way is it expressed? And what can the design community be inspired by? Let’s dive into it.
- In the Brand Finance Global 500 value ranking, Chinese companies have surpassed the growth of the world’s most expensive companies.
- China has become the growth destination for the fastest-growing brands. Examples are Alibaba (brand growth of 4029% over the past 10 years), WeChat (experts estimated BSI at 92.9 points out of 100), and Lenovo.
- Total value of the top 500 Chinese brands in 2020 has overtaken the total value of U.S. brands – $1,862 billion, compared with $1,810 billion.
The perception of Chinese products is changing. It gets approval from the Chinese and the international community:
- The level of trust is increasing. A 2020 survey showed that 85% of Chinese prefer local brands over foreign ones (+25% since 2016; +70% since 2011).
- The Chinese love local brands and vote for them with their money. Consumption growth is happening in all categories.
- Global perception is improving. People around the world are more positive about Chinese brands, especially in the UK and some other countries in Europe.
The secret largely lies in the characteristics of local businesses. Brands get a lot of support from the government and society as a whole.
The following trends can be highlighted:
- Low awareness. Local consumers often do not distinguish between Chinese brands and foreign brands. In 2017, 45% of respondents thought Danone was a Chinese brand, while 48% also said the same about Olay.
- Difficulties for foreign companies. If a foreign firm didn’t give its brand a Chinese name, someone else will. Because of ineffective trademark protection and the difficulty of translating names in the country, there are many brands that officially copy Lacoste. To survive in difficult conditions, international brands have to adapt to local realities. One example is Coca-Cola. The company translated its name into the consonant “????” (“k? k?u k? lè”), which means “delicious entertainment”.
- Protectionist policies. The government has a strong influence on current processes. In 2019, 46% of marketing directors in China cited local policies and compliance with local regulations as the top challenge to achieving global goals.
In recent years, China has also often blocked the activities of international companies (Microsoft, LinkedIn, Amazon, Slack) that can compete with local corporations.
The perception of China is changing: from harsh reactions like “that’s weird” to admiration for innovation and minimalism. What trends are driving Chinese design and branding today?
Tribute to Tradition
Guochao (“Rising China”) is a trend to use elements of local culture. Brands see local consumers’ pride in cultural heritage and try to emphasize its elements in their communications:
- Gongbi – “meticulous brushwork”. It implies the use of highly detailed strokes detailing the subjects
- Xieyi is the antonym of Gongbi. It implies sketchiness, drawing with a “free brush”. Xieyi is reflected in painting with ink (shui-mo)
- National themes. As patriotic and nationalistic sentiments increase, the use of ethnic paraphernalia grows.
Chinese society is changing, and this is reflected in new trends. The values of the modern generation are described by the following terms:
- Tangping and Neijuan. The Chinese are known for their workaholism: 12-hour workdays, overtime, and sleeping pods in offices. The grueling nature of this model of work is called “996” in China (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 6 days a week).
- Sang ?ulture (singing culture). Young people seek to change their lifestyles, abandoning unattainable career goals and the stress associated with them in favor of a “slow life” format. Sang Culture describes a melancholic, slow way of life associated with the knowledge of oneself through Zen culture.
Nature plays an important role in Chinese culture and philosophy. The religion of Taoism and the related principle of wu-wei (the principle of non-action) describe a caring attitude toward the world – knowledge without change or transformation.
Food in China is more than a resource for health. It helps build interpersonal relationships and is a reflection of social status. This favorite theme is evident in brand packaging. They are filled with flavor metaphors and bright, appetizing images.
Love of nostalgia
The love of nostalgia is strong in China. As an example, the White Rabbit candy brand is a kind of nostalgic brand for the older generation of consumers. In 2008, the brand left the shelves, but then it revived and carried out a large-scale rebranding, bringing back to childhood.
An unusual, sometimes contradictory social, political, and cultural background creates problems for creative development. And at the same time, it often opens new horizons – it allows you to find something special and unique in yourself and subsequently tell the world about it. This is exactly what China does.
Preserving traditions while being strongly influenced by socialism and state paternalism, Chinese design works on packaging and branding in a bold, distinctive, and authentic way.
This article was originally published by Shariy Ivan on Hackernoon.