I recently just finishd reading Paul French’s great biography of Carl Crow called Carl Crow: A Tough Old China Hand. It details Crow’s time in Shanghai from 1911 to 1937 and his adventures building China’s advertising industry. Carl’s Carl Crow Inc. was the China agent for Colgate and Pond’s facial creme. Using a network of outdoor billboards to reach the mostly illiterate farmers and working class population and newspaper ads to reach the upper classes. He was really successful by using images that explained how a product was used. The ads played very little to the glamour and modernism and more to practical aspects favoured by Chinese people — ads explained in images or copy how a product worked. There wasn’t really market segmentation then. I mean there was some products aimed at rich people but not that much.
But I wonder how Carl would handle today’s marketing situation particularly online marketing and social networking sites such as Facebook. Would he believe in the opinion of this piece which says that having a social marketing website that is aimed at the upper classes in China is a good thing (that would be Facebook where as MySpace is something for the lower classes) because it helps them to stand out from the crowd. And in terms of marketing, it gives a clear customer base to add luxury goods at.
Well I can’t speak for Carl, but I have a feeling that elitism of sites such as Facebook and Xiaonei (it’s Chinese
clone equivalent) will be short lived. Trends on the Internet have a tendency to absorb everyone eventually in an attempt to keep revenue coming in or becoming such a desirably thing to have or a place to be that their execlusivity eventually falls away and becomes just another thing for the masses to consume. Even though Internet penetration in China isn’t that deep when it comes to the country as a whole, access is pretty easy to find thanks to the pretty much ubiqitous Internet cafe. So I think even the claim that many of the regular users on social networking sites are people that can afford to have Internet access in their homes and therefore are probably a member of China’s rising middle class probably won’t hold up for long.