Don’t sell Mao to the Chinese

Marketing to Asians? Don’t use mystical Oriental images of silken outfits and opium dens. Instead use modern images, as Asians look to the future.

Marketing to Asians? Don’t use mystical Oriental images of silken outfits and opium dens. Instead use modern images, as Asians look to the future.

Fortunately successful companies that are marketers of global Asian brands are creating a very different image of Asia in the West to that presented to an Asian audience, according to new research by Julien Cayla from UNSW’s Australian School of Business and assistant professor Giana Eckhardt from Suffolk University.

Their paper Asian Brands and the Shaping of a Transnational Imagined Community, published in the August edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, reveals Western consumers still embrace the idea of an exotic, feminine Asia, whereas Asian consumers prefer a more contemporary vision.

Cayla gives the example of Singapore’s Tiger Beer, which in Britain uses images to depict a mystical and oriental Asia of boudoirs, opium dens, and silk outfits. In contrast, Tiger Beer’s commercials in Asia are urban, modern and multicultural. “This signals very different ideas of Asia,” says Cayla.

He says through analysing the marketing strategies and advertising campaigns of Asian brands in Asia he discovered a future focus, with an emphasis on youth and innovation. Themes developed to sell brands in the West however, evoke an Asia of the past and create the impression of a distant time and age.

Brand managers in Asia are also seeking to shed territorial associations from brands and instead create a “mosaic” Asian culture. Rather than emphasising cultural coherence, they invoke an “assortment of cultural references” to create an imaginary Asia, the researchers found.

“People really have to think about which audience they are talking to and what is the image that the majority see,” he says. “Take someone selling watches with Mao’s face on it. That might appeal to tourists. But there is no use selling the Asia that Asians would like to forget.”

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