The Spoilt Generation as a Consumer Superpower
The average Chinese consumer has a monthly disposable income of a meagre
640 yuan. Paying 399 yuan for a pair of jeans may seem
extravagant to the average Chinese but not to Jimmy Xue. Not if the jeans
have a cool Jack and Jones label on them, and not if the 22-year-old student
knows they are the real thing. They are about four times the price of local
jeans but he feels the brand is worth it.
There are 30 million Chinese like Jimmy Xue - young, urban and
affluent - and they have the purchasing power to force the world's biggest
companies to change their marketing strategies. A unique combination of
historical circumstances have turned them into a generation like no other.
They are the product of China's one-child policy, which was introduced in
1979 and has coincided with a period of unseen wealth creation.
"The one-child policy almost forced people to spoil their children," says
David McCaughan, a Tokyo-based consumer researcher for advertising firm
McCann-Erickson. There is a generation who thinks that being spoilt is
natural. As a result, they have expensive taste, and have already established
themselves as a consumer power.
In a country that once celebrated the rough, proletarian look, they spend
a monthly 82 yuan on cosmetics alone, according to public relations company
Hill and Knowlton. They want nothing to do with pirated products. "They
really hate fakes," said Hung Huang, publisher of Seventeen, a magazine for
teenagers. "When their parents buy them fakes, they are really annoyed
because they think they are being ripped off," she said. What they want is
real brands and in great ever-changing variety, say market analysts.
Since they have grown up witnessing a society transform itself faster
than any other before, they consider it natural to constantly change tastes
and preferences. "The old dynamics of brand loyalty goes out the window,"
says is it McNaghter. "In other countries, it's a risk to change brands, but in
China it's a risk if you don't change brands."
This particular urge for change could potentially have political
consequences at some point in the future, say some observers. Many of the
high-spending youth are China's elite, groomed at the country's best high
schools and colleges. "They are a very confident generation and this will
affect the way they feel about how much power they have in making social
and economic decisions in China," says Hung, the publisher.
China may soon have its own breed of angry young men and women
insisting on leaving their mark on society. 'Rage' is considered cool by many
Chinese teenagers, who find their role models among the likes of chronically
moody rap king Eminem, according to Hung.
Those attending elite schools often speak idiomatic English with an
American accent - thanks to native language teachers - and may come
across as more cosmopolitan than their parents.
But for all their openness to the outside world, they could eventually turn
out to become even more nationalistic than the Chinese before them. This is
what distinguishes the ancient capital of Beijing from Shanghai, China's most
cosmopolitan city, according to Carl C. Rohde, a Dutch researcher of market
trends. "Beijing is definitely also part of the world, but they have a keener
sense of preserving their Chinese roots. That's part of their pride," he says.