Marketing the past to young Chinese

opinion May 21, 2012 00:00

By Suwatchai Songwanich
Chief ex

2,636 Viewed

A growing trend in China is the use of nostalgia in marketing, especially in campaigns targeting Generation X - young people in their 30s who are growing up in a world startlingly different from that of their parents and grandparents.


The reason why marketers like nostalgia is quite simple. Evoking memories of a person’s childhood is a way to make them happy and possibly they will turn into a customer. 
This marketing technique is popular all over the world, but one of the most interesting places to watch it evolve is China. 
One of the reasons for nostalgia’s popularity in China is that the pace of change in China over the past few decades has been extremely rapid and the world young people live in today is completely different from the one they grew up in. This has created a hunger for the past. 
Nostalgia is particularly strong among young people born after 1980. The generation before them, which grew up during the Cultural Revolution, doesn’t have such happy memories of their childhood and so the appeal of nostalgia is less. However, young people who are now in their 20s or early 30s generally grew up in stable and comfortable times. As single children, they generally had a privileged status and, as China’s first TV generation, they have many enjoyable memories of cartoons, toys and popular culture.
One of the most popular toys in those days were transformers and both Chinese and foreign brands have been tapping into this in their current advertising campaigns, including General Motors, Hewlett Packard and China Construction. The most phenomenal success, however, was for an old Chinese brand, Forever bicycles. This bicycle was first manufactured in 1940 but a big turning point for the company was when it made advertisements of the old bicycles being turned into giant transformer toys. Their ads were so popular, they were viewed millions of times on YouTube and this enabled the company to successfully reposition itself for a modern market.
In Thailand, nostalgia does not seem to be as popular as it is in China. Whereas in China myriads of brands are using nostalgia in their marketing targeted at younger generations, in Thailand it is difficult to think of any large brands that are doing it today.
However, a few years ago retro-marketing was a popular trend in Thailand. Yamaha Fino, for example, positioned 
its motorcycles as modern classics, using the teenage pop idols Golf and Mike as presenters; Wai-Wai used old Chinese movies and songs to promote their noodles, bringing back happy 
childhood memories of these old movies to young people in their 20s and 30s.
The nostalgia craze doesn’t show any sign of dying out in China. Chairman Mao Zedong’s Red Flag limousine is even making a comeback and will now become the official ministerial car rather than foreign brands such as Audi. 
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