What the Media won’t to tell you about China’s Youth.

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

As China continues its emergence on the world stage and gains evermore influence and power, more and more interest is being cast upon today’s China youth – a segment of the population that controls a growing portion of China’s domestic economy and will in the coming years control China’s industrial and economic agendas.

With such importance placed on the youth, the media, both international and domestic, are trying their best to help us understand who these people really are, and what we can expect from them. However in the media’s never-ending quest for the perfect sound-bite/headline that will turn heads and provoke public reaction, they skew the portrayal of China’s youth and miss the point.

Often media will begin an article by saying “China has over 400 million young people. These youth are…” and start using adjectives or an individual’s story to describe this whole group. Next time you’re reading any article on China youth, try to remember some of these points so you don’t get misled:

1) Is the media talking about China’s wealthy youth or the rest?

If you read an article that describes young Chinese’s consumption power, or the fact that these youth have ‘grown up only knowing prosperity’, remember that like in every country, the Have versus Have-Nots is a reality. In China this fact is hyper inflated. Do Chinese youth drive expensive Italian sports cars and buy luxury brands? Yes. Does this segment of the Chinese youth make up a very tiny small percentage of the whole group? Yes. While the large majority of young Chinese have indeed experienced prosperity for much of their lives, the term ‘prosperity’ takes on a different meaning for different Chinese youth. To some prosperity means having more than one set of clothing. To others it means owning their first digital mobile phone. To others it means buying a separate apartment for their dog. When the media is telling you Chinese youth have consumption power, put it into context and think of an upside-down funnel. Which part of the funnel are they talking about? Because it certainly isn’t the whole thing.

2) Is the media talking about big city youth or small city youth? Edgy youth or mainstream youth?

Media will find fantastic stories of some really inspirational Chinese youth who have a unique view of life, sense of style, and sub-culture group they belong to. While they are authentic Chinese young people with authentic stories, again we need to put it in the correct context. Big cities, like all big cities in the world, offer more opportunities for subcultures to develop. Access to disparate international and domestic music, movies, literature, and ideas are greater in big cities than in small. Entrepreneurs and grass-roots initiatives have greater acceptance and greater support in big cities versus small. So it is no surprise that we find greater variety and most pioneering youth in bigger cities. Again, do they make up a very small percentage of the total China youth population? Yes. Edgy youth have a similar, but uncorrelated upside funnel to China youth’s consumption power distribution. Which part of this funnel is the media showing you?

3) The majority of Chinese youth are happy – or at least content

Media focus a lot on stories of angst or stories that cause panic or shock. They do this primarily because that””s what mostly constitutes ‘news’. Unfortunately that means we get stories about Chinese youth that seek to illustrate how different they are from the rest of us, or make us very concerned about them. The fact is, the large majority of Chinese youth are happy, or at least content. There is no burning desire or excruciating pain being experienced. When we interact with youth, when our researchers and ethnographers do deep-dive immersions, time and again we find stories and personal accounts of young people who can’t come up with too many complaints. Fairly irregardless of their economic status or whether they are living in a 1st or 4th tier city, we find many youth who are patiently living in the roles and positions allotted to them. Many accept and do not question their current path in life; many, while indulging in some misdemeanors or escapes, are not driven by negative impulses. Certainly the caveat to this lack of discontentment is that through our research we also find there is a lack of excitement as well. But, for the media, a majority that is neither discontent nor excited is not compelling enough to be reported.

4) The majority of Chinese youth are not rebellious

Those youth stories that the media does find about discontentment or frustration is often implied to as instigation for rebelliousness. Not true. Most Chinese youth, while having many frustrations (but still content), do not naturally resolve to rebel when engaging their frustrations. Although having different values than their parents, teachers, or older generation, this does not mean Chinese youth will rebel. This has to do in part with contemporary Chinese culture and the social + societal construct that youth find themselves. Responsibility to the family unit still holds extreme importance to Chinese youth. It is an intrinsic part of their character. The acts that result from discontentment or frustration are not in reaction to the family, the parents or to authority. It is an engagement and exploration of a different value system. Rebellion and exercising a different value system are very separate and distinct things. The actions of Chinese youth are the latter. Media, especially international media, likes to characterize Chinese youth as rebellious because this is the context, culture and experience of those foreign nations. And when the viewers/readers of the story are primarily from that foreign culture, it is much easier to write to something they can understand and relate to. However this minute but important discrepancy has already been seeded.

5) Chinese youth do not want rebellion

Another instance of foreign context and understanding being superimposed onto the Chinese youth experience, media will sometimes talk or wonder about this generation having the potential for open rebellion. In the years I’ve been in China, in the numerous projects our teams have conducted, I have not once met a Chinese youth who has mentioned, let alone contemplated mass rebellion. Then again, I’ve never personally met any Chinese citizen who has entertained the idea. While rebellions have been in the legacies and histories of almost all nations, including China, it is not in the thought processes of today’s Chinese, and especially the youth.

6) There is no longer ‘mass’ Chinese youth

Part of the reason why mass rebellion is not an option for Chinese youth, is because ‘mass’ youth is no longer valid. The concept of banding together as one glorious generation or group of people to stand up and make one common statement does not hold sway with this generation of young people. It is also not attractive to this group if one leader were to rise up and call for everyone’s support. Chinese youth today are experiencing a rapidly evolving sense of individuality and identity. We do see multitudes of youth taking part in causes, such as leaving school and work to volunteer in aid of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake victims, or volunteering to support the 2008 Beijing Olympics or the 2010 Shanghai Expo. But it is not for a common cause or a group statement that they do these things. When asked why they volunteered, young people commonly responded it was first and foremost because they personally felt they could learn and explore something new in themselves from the experience. The fact that there are so many young people following their own self-motivated direction speaks to the strength and reality of this generation’s evolving individuality. The subcultures that have emerged, the creative and edgy youth that share their unique stories, the different ways which youth are engaging their frustrations; these are all examples of individual youth wrestling and trying to resolve who they are in their world. Media won’t tell you about this, because it doesn’t make for compelling news. Media will use one individual youth’s story to draw out one thematic experience that they use to represent the entire China Youth generation. It makes for good sensation, but couldn’t be farther from the truth.


Kev’s Thoughts On… China’s New Media Consumption

Posted: February 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , | No Comments »

China’s New-Media Consumption: What’s being consumed and Who’s consuming it?

It is often surprising to realize the hyper-growth in China’s media landscape began only ten years ago. Today, Television still enjoys the highest penetration rates, near 100%. However it is the younger generations, dictating an ever-increasingly larger proportion of China’s disposable income, who are growing further accustomed and attracted to New Media, meaning less time spent with traditional channels. The following is a synopsis of China’s major New Media movements and an analysis on the identity of the Chinese New Media consumer.

China’s New-Media Buzz & New-Media Consumption

1) Communicative, Multi-media handhelds: Convergence in the high-end, expansion of the low-end
Communication handhelds, namely mobile phones, have over 30% penetration rate with 437 million mobile phone users, and the growth rate is expected to steadily rise for the next 5 years. Technological convergence is giving communication devices more multi-media capabilities and multi-media devices more communication capabilities. High-end handheld devices continue to integrate functions and redefine ‘standard’ and ‘luxury’ for the media channel.
On the other end of the spectrum, major competition has erupted for the growing low-end mobile phone market. As China develops, more low-wage citizens find their financial situation improving. Each year millions of first-time mobile phone buyers enter the market. Thus competition is fierce to grab the new pieces of the pie.
Convergence will mean for advertisers some cannibalization of consumers who currently own both multi-media and communication handhelds. However the over-shadowing opportunity is the cross-sell/acquisition of new consumers to multi-media exposure who were originally pure-communication handheld users. At the same time, growth in low-end pure-communication handhelds can also benefit advertisers who use targeted text-messaging (SMS) advertisements effectively. The increasing penetration of talk & text-only phones means greater emphasis can be given to ad campaigns requiring consumer SMS participation.

2) The Chinese Internet Universe: Homegrown Champions
With 162 million Internet users in 2007 and year-over-year growth last year of 23.4%, the Internet is the greatest excitement and buzz for Chinese media development. While it is dependent on its enablers, such as PC and mobile communication devices, the strong growth of these media outlets is in large part fueled by the growing popularity of the Internet. In China, Internet users demonstrate their desire to be connected not only by the number of new users each year, but also the growing speed at which they connect. About two-thirds of Chinese use broadband connections, up 45% from last year. At the heart of the growing number of uploads and downloads are China’s homegrown Internet portals. Not only do Chinese embrace everything Web 2.0, they are doing it on their own terms. Time and again we see in the current environment, Chinese versions of popular web functions beating their original foreign counterparts. Here is a short list of the most popular to date:

Homegrown Champions
Virtual World (Social/Gaming): HiPiHi + Shanda/UOneNet/Frenzoo/Yilu/Entropia + City of Beijing/Leeuu (Romantic Chateau)
Online Search/Barter: Baidu/Taobao/Alibaba/Sina/Sohu
Web 2.0 Uploads (Blogs, Vlogs, Space, Photoshare): Sina Blogs/Sohu Blogs/Tudou/Rox/Mop/UUme/+ about 150 others

Constant vigilance must be given to the explosive developments in the Chinese Internet space. Not only should advertisers partner to create new avenues of reaching users/viewers, but also great attention should be paid to the content generated by Chinese Web 2.0 sites. These forums are the fastest and cheapest ways to gather consumer insight and reactions. In a country still heavily censored, these virtual worlds represent places with the least amount of restrictions, hence the greatest amount of genuine expression. In addition, because of the growing Chinese fixation with user-generated content, and the reduced cost-structure associated with it, Advertisers should consider deepening participation in online content production.

Media Dichotomy: Over 31 vs. Under 31

Much attention, money and effort is being invested in the emerging media channels. However advertisers must realize that other than pure communication handhelds, new media is only reaching a very specific segment of the Chinese population. Indeed new media is transforming media consumption in China for generations to come, but the large majority of China today does not participate. The major dichotomy is between Chinese who are aged 31 (1976)? this year or older, and those younger than 31. Those over 31 get significantly more of their media consumption from traditional media, while under-31 consumers spend exponentially more time with emerging media.
The major reason for this rapid shift in media consumption stems from an individual’s age and life-position during the years from 1996 to 1999. 1996-97 were the years personal computer use and proliferation transitioned from early adopters to mass market. 1998-99 were the years the Internet likewise gained widespread popularity. Those now aged 31 or over were in 1996-99 entering or already in the workforce. This means they have grown up without computers or the Internet as a source of recreation, and were introduced to these new media outlets in a work environment. Those under 31 would have been introduced to computers and the Internet some time while they were still students and more likely to have begun exploring these platforms in a recreational setting.
The way the computer and the Internet were introduced into an individual’s life has profound influences on how they consume media today. The most profound difference lies between over-31’s who are primary consumers of traditional media, while under-31’s increasingly rely on new media for their content consumption.

The Transitional Generation

Even for Chinese under 31 years old this year, there is a massive amount of differentiation among breadth and depth of participation with new media. Again, an important factor to examine is the age at which these individuals were introduced to the computer and the Internet. The Chinese who are this year aged 20 to 30, are the Transitional-Media Generation. Their age and situation during 1996-99 determines the amount of recreational/social time as students they would have had to grow familiar with the new technology and its full potential. If young enough, they would also have had a chance to have computer and Internet exposure within the classroom, further enamoring this generation to the new media channels.

School Level in 96-97/Age in 96-97/PC Era (96-97): Age Now/Net Era (98-99): Age Now/Typical Media Consumption(Traditional)[New Media]
Primary/7-13/17-23/15-21/(TV(h)) [Game, Chat, D/l, Novel, SMS, GamesP, MusicP]
Junior/13-15/23-25/21-23/(TV(h)) [Game, Chat, Buy(s), D/l, Blog, Novel(s), Info, SMS, Phone(s), PicSMS, GamesP, Port. Music.]
High/16-18/26-28/24-26/(TV) [Game(s), Chat, Buy(s), D/l, Blog(s), Novel, Info, Phone, SMS, PicSMS, GamesP, Port. Music.]
Bach/19-22/29-32/27-30/(TV, Series, DVD(h)) [Chat, Stream, Blog(s), Novel(s), Info, Phone, SMS, Game(s), Port. Music(s)]
Work or Mast/23+/33+/31+/(TV, Series, DVD) [Chat(s), Info, Phone]

Note: TV= Television; Game=Online Interactive Gaming; Chat=IM; D/l=Download (music, movie, tv); Novel=Online Novels; SMS=Mobile Text Messaging; GamesP=Mobile Gaming; MusicP=MP3 on phone; Buy=Online Purchase; Blog=Online Blogging; Info= Online information, esp. News, Specific Information; PicSMS=Phone Pictures sent by SMS; Phone=Chatting on cellular phone; Port. Music=Separate Portable Music Player; Series=Television Series; DVD=Buying DVDs; (h)=Half as likely; (s)=Seldom

Discussion on the Transitional Generation

We can reaffirm that TV still holds the most broad penetration, but it is evident that younger and younger generations are spending more of their time, and getting exposure to media elsewhere. A national ad campaign will continue to have a TV component, but China’s current interest in Mobile convergence and Web 2.0 are reflections of where media-channel developers see and feel consumers are headed.
An important observation is the strong upload-download culture that gains strength as the generation gets younger; demonstrating the intensifying proliferation of computers and Internet in the years after 2000. While advertisers can heavily capitalize on the successful download culture, the new heights reached by Chinese blogs in the past year show the upload culture is just as, if not more, lucrative. The major caveat for Advertisers in China when engaging with the uploading culture is the censorship issue in China. This differs from America, where the online rhetoric has always been ‘Freedom of Speech’. Advertisers in China must be weary of how to manage the risks their brands assume when playing in the ‘upload’ arena. If a brand is found to be associated with an ill-favored political upload, the repercussions will likely be more extreme than just the banning of the user-generated upload along with the ad campaign. Government relations and ultimately business operations in China can be jeopardized.
Chat and Mobile Phones continue to be used most profusely within all sub-categories; however, the functions used in the mobile phone get progressively more interactive and complex as the generation gets younger. The natural explanation supports the observation made in this analysis that earlier exposure to New Media as a recreational resource catalyses depth and breadth of New Media association. The one exception observed is the youngest age group from 15-21, who seem to be consuming less New Media, and less media in general. The explanation can be found in the stringent schooling system most Chinese children must go through. Primary and secondary school students are typically at school or in mandatory study 10-12 hours per day, 6 days a week. Compared to their American counterparts who are in school 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, it is understandable why younger Chinese students have less time to spend with media. Once students shift to a university lifestyle with more personal free time, we witness an explosion of New Media consumption. Advertisers should recognize that differing strategies apply for those students in secondary school versus university. Innovative ad campaigns will leverage a Chinese secondary school student’s long-hours in class to its benefit.
The Chinese educational system has begun teaching computer and internet use in junior high schools, but not senior high schools. The first students who went through this training are just now 15-16 years old; at the bottom of the Transitional Generation. Watching how compulsory education will influence media-consumption as this generation grows older will be important.
Finally, this Transitional Generation is again a sub-section in the fabric of China’s citizens. This category refers primarily to those Chinese who a) are educated b) had/has access to technology and the Internet (Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities) c) financially capable to either own or rent access to technology and the Internet. Deeper analysis into this and other audience subgroups will yield more opportunities for Advertisers to succeed in engaging their brands with the right Chinese consumer.