Today “Made in China” is no longer synonymous with poor quality, and consumers are promoting a Chinese nationalism that is influencing consumer habits across the country. Guochao means “national wave” or “national trend” and refers to the new consumer habits that are emerging in China. Indeed, consumers, especially young people, want to see their culture and traditions incorporated into the consumer goods industry in China.
Guochao: Reinventing national identity through cultural affirmation
The Guochao movement was born from the observation by young Chinese generations that their country had the potential to become a leader in innovation. These young people have known only a strong China that rivals the West on an economic, cultural and diplomatic level. And with the rise of this economic power comes cultural power and the affirmation of culture. For many, this Guochao movement represents the revival of Chinese culture.
It was Li-Ning who, in 2018, was one of the first to combine Chinese tradition and modernity to breathe new life into his brand. Indeed, the streetwear brand, popular in the 80s and 90s, had been overtaken by the arrival of Nike and Adidas and cast aside by consumers. But, during New York Fashion Week in 2018, the brand made a risky bet that turned out to be a great success. Indeed, the Wu Dao collection, inspired by Taoism and other elements of Chinese culture, has been widely talked about on Chinese social media and has contributed a great deal to popularizing the Guochao movement. But it was in 2020 during the pandemic when the appeal of Guochao really took off. Indeed, this was due on the one hand to the uncertainties of China’s international relations and on the other hand the surge of national pride.
Chinese nationalism has always had a key place in the country’s culture, but foreign brands were often one step ahead of domestic brands because they benefited from an assumed higher level of quality. But recently, Chinese brands have been gaining popularity, and this is partly due to this national trend. Chinese consumers are increasingly favoring domestic brands, and it is becoming necessary for foreign brands to incorporate Chinese culture and tradition into their products and their marketing strategy.
All or nothing for foreign brands
Although it has become necessary for international brands to adopt this trend, it is important that they don’t throw themselves into a project without being aware of the subtleties it may carry. Indeed, many brands wanting to be part of the movement have found their efforts have had the opposite effect. It is therefore necessary to be considerate and pay very close attention so as not to be seen as stereotyping, which could greatly offend consumers. Indeed, it is not enough to simply put a dragon on the packaging of your product for it to be well received by the market. A deep understanding of Chinese culture is what is necessary.
The winning recipe: modern consumer goods infused with Chinese cultural elements.
In January 2021, Nike launched a collection of SB Dunk Low “Street Hawker” shoes showing perfectly how Guochao marketing should be applied. Indeed, Nike has succeeded in marrying its brand identity through a streetwear spirit of its own, with the culture of Chinese cuisine and street food. This collection was entirely designed by an artist from Guangzhou, Jason Deng. The shoes feature watercolor painted designs of regional dishes from six major Chinese cities. By approaching local artists, incorporating key elements of Chinese culture without falling into stereotypes and while maintaining its identity, Nike seems to have understood the effective recipe for successfully applying Guochao.
Blending the modern with the old is the spirit of Guochao. It is about putting a touch of modernism back into strong cultural symbols for the Chinese population. The younger generation is more creative than ever, and they expect brands to do the same. Indeed, by drawing inspiration from traditional elements, these brands will create modern interpretations of Chinese culture.
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The major players of the Guochao movement
This trend has given rise to a new generation of Chinese consumers with different needs and expectations. These consumers need brands to celebrate their culture. They seek respect for traditions and to be understood. They now need a deeper connection with brands.
The “Chinese Cultural Consumers” (CCCs) are made up of young Chinese, generally millennials and generation Z. They are highly educated and very digitally oriented. They have been exposed to the globalized world from an early age and understand it but were born in a world where China was a global economic and cultural power. They therefore show more interest and appreciation for Chinese culture than previous generations. They are also the most patriotic generation. These Chinese cultural consumers seek a way of life that reflects their cultural affectation.
These consumers are influenced by a new generation of influencers, the “Cultural Opinion Leaders” (COLs) . COLs are pioneers of culture in China. They are no longer content to emulate Western trends but will instead create their own. They favor local businesses because they like to celebrate their country. Consumers place great trust in them because they are authentic and credible. These influencers hold real cultural authority in their own domain.
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The Guochao trend is not going away like most trends that emerge and then die down. The emergence of this movement is inevitable and will only grow in size in the years to come. Indeed, the latter represents a real change in the mentalities and perception of the Chinese people regarding their own culture and market.
It is therefore more important than ever for brands to understand in order to conquer the Chinese market. Hi-Com is here to support you with setting up in China.
HI-COM is a digital marketing agency dedicated to providing China-specific strategy, social media communication and e-commerce marketing services to businesses around the world. Working with more than 100 brands, HI-COM is the go-to partner of companies that want to enter China market! Contact us for your free consultation today!
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