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2012’s Top Chinese Social Media Branding Stories

Nike ChinaCapturing the Chinese market is every marketer’s dream. More than a billion potential customers in a newly open society that continues to grow more and more infatuated with brand-name goods? We can certainly see why everyone’s so interested.

So what are the world’s largest companies doing to familiarize the Chinese public with their products? Well, 2012 found them executing a lot of sly promotional campaigns via social media. Jeremy Webb (@thepekingorder), co-lead of Social@Ogilvy Beijing, recently provided us with his list of the year’s top 10 brand posts on Weibo, the Chinese micro-messaging equivalent of Twitter. It’s a fascinating list that shows us how PR/marketing practices in China are quite similar to those in the Western world.

In fact, we’d say that speedy, topical posts offering clever takes on the day’s “water cooler” topics are even more valuable in China than in the United States. Take, for example, the year’s most-shared post, which predictably concerned the Summer Olympics: It’s a Nike ad with a message about fairness, indirectly referring to the fact that many Chinese citizens believed the London judges to be biased against Chinese athletes.

Damage control is important in China, too:

China Central Television holds an event called the “Consumer Day Show” each year in which government agencies shame companies accused of bad behaviors. This year CCTV accused McDonald’s, which has established a solid presence in Chinese cities along with other fast food brands like KFC, of failing repeated health inspections–a potentially damning report.

McDonald’s quickly responded, in classic PR fashion, with a Weibo post designed to assure its nearly 200,000 fans that this report was an “isolated incident”, that the company would act quickly to resolve any related management problems, and that the McDonald’s brand remains dedicated to providing “safe, healthy food” to its customers.

We’ve all been taught to fear the Chinese government, but some brands even made directly political points with posts like this one, created by Mini Cooper after authorities blocked Weibo’s commenting function to stifle political dissent early in the year.

Mini Cooper Weibo Post

The social media strategy for brands expanding into China isn’t so unusual. A few key strategic points:

  • Appeal to consumers’ sense of national pride
  • Make light of pop culture trends and figures
  • Use a playful, mocking tone whenever possible
  • Play along with memes drawing on other ad campaigns
  • Don’t be afraid to make risque jokes.

PR pros: Do we have any experience marketing to Chinese audiences? How are they similar to or different than their Western counterparts?

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