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"Memes" in China and Why Are They Important for Marketing Your Brands

2020/04/02
Business Tips

Call them buzzwords, slangs or catchphrases, China's online memes are popping up all over the place, and are  becoming an especially huge cultural phenomenon among Chinese millennials & Gen-Z; probably much more so in China than in any other country.

There are "slang" numbers such as "996" representing a work-hour system common to internet companies (9 am to 9 pm, six days a week). There are contractions and pinyin-based Latin alphabet abbreviations for easier typing such as "BaiFuMei", representing the ideal girlfriend of a "white complexion," who is both rich and beautiful. There are puns or phrases with altered or extended meaning such as "BeiTai" or "spare tire" representing a person that is not "the real deal" and just kept you on the hook and barely needed any maintenance in your relationship. Of course, there are also inside jokes, creative languages or phrases and images, with the most recent one being "pale yellow maxi skirt and flowy hair" which went viral in <Idol Producer> Season 2 where rap mentor Jony J was at a loss when the catchphrase was literally read out by an amateur participant - XiNing Li, twice.

Some of these internet memes are invented just for fun or out of boredom, while others are obscure, code-switching outcries against institutionalization. The main reason why younger generations in China are so actively seeking participation in "content creation" is that typical social media posts in China are usually top-down and centralized as opposed to pluralist. For WeChat official accounts, comments from the audience only appear once approved and selected by the back-end. The way Weibo and Zhihu organizes comments or answers also discourages conversation among or between users. Other platforms such as Douyin, "The RED" or Douban are also either mainly sharing platforms or their influence is limited by their user numbers.

Such a media landscape has given way to the "memes-phenomenon" in China. A dynamic where everybody wants their 15-minutes-of-fame. In a survey done by Tencent, 58% of post-95's (those born after 1995) are interested in becoming a KOL. A simple quasi-vernacular meme created or shared builds a sense-of-belonging and becomes a sort of currency or symbol of exclusivity for a collective identity in a community instilled with similar norms and values.  Meme participants also exhibit a higher sense of "group identity" compared to those not exposed to meme content. 

That's why leveraging memes is so important to "building brand" in China. And this is most manifested in the nicknames of premium skincare and cosmetics products. Having a nickname makes it easier to remember and can boost brand loyalty. For example, In China, we usually refer to lancome Genifique as "Little black bottle". Shiseido Ultimune as "red waist"; SK-II Genoptics as "little light bulb". Using these kinds of "meme strategies" helps users identify what separates your brand from the competitors and also makes them feel like insiders and therefore, "in effect" your brand becomes more desirable. By way of these memes there also resonates a certain "authenticity." This definitely helps your brand reach more consumers and ultimately, increase sales. That’s why in Full Jet, in addition to providing excellence of operations as an "E-Commerce TP," also incorporates social listening and KOL- or KOC-based "community building" in our brand marketing mix, to ensure a fully integrated consumer experience. 

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool." ---- Lester Bangs from <Almost Famous>