Brand strategy in China recommendation: Are traditions still playing a huge role in China? What are the DO and DONT’s? 

tradition and modernism in China

Traditions in China

Traditions in China still play a huge role in people’s lives. They have been existing for centuries and got passed down from one generation to another.

What we call traditions goes beyond a simple behavior. They also include history, traditional buildings (for whose still existing and being rebuilt), language (traditional and simplified characters) and culture.

China exists today thanks to their long-lasting history and it’s an essential part of them.

While traditions are important, so is the future in consumers’ eyes.


Chinese consumers

DO in your brand Strategy

China is a vast market and so is the type of Chinese consumers there.

They all have one thing in common: love and pride for their country.

It is foolish to think that Chinese consumers don’t know you are trying to target them and making advances to them every time you are releasing a new product. They love to remind foreign brands a single misstep can cost a lot: say goodbye to the 元 or at least make them suffer lower sales.

Here are two main recommendations to take into account your brand strategy in China:

  • Yes, China has a great and long history! But it also has a powerful present and future to pay homage to. All the heads of Chinese people and government are turned towards the future. Follow in the same direction, don’t stay stuck in the past.
  • Collaborate and collaborate. Nobody knows better China, Chinese culture and Chinese history than a Chinese person. There are so many Chinese artists (Painters, KOLs, Superstars…) out there to help you to touch Chinese people with your brand.

We can see a lot of brands currently use celebrities in their marketing strategies. Celebrities have the power to influence sales on the short-term. You also can influence your sales by creating a story with your brand.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. What’s left of your brand image once your collaboration with a celebrity ends?
  2. Are you simply that foreign brand who collaborates with celebrities? Or are you a brand telling a story to its Chinese consumers?

Palace Museum

It all started from a Wechat announcing the released of the new lipstick collection called Palace Museum. Keys to the success are:

  1. The brand is local, from Beijing – Bloomage Biotechnology Corp. Ltd.
  2. Inspired by the Palace Museum (Chinese history)
  3. Used traditional elements into today’s age products
  4. Respect of Chinese style without clichés

One WeChat user comments: “It’s impressive to see Chinese style done right. The colours are trendy … I am excited to get more home-grown brands.”

While the products are already sold out and receive countless praises, a lot of users also commented that they do not trust fully the quality of the lipsticks and need to be careful with what is made.

DONT for your brand in China

We saw above the DO in China. It’s time to go over the major DONT that most foreign brands go across.

  • Recognition of the growing sensitivity to Chinese consumer abuse.
  • Being a foreign brand is not a free-pass for Chinese consumers.

As mentioned earlier, Chinese consumers are not fools. They are aware you are here to target them to sale. They will pay extra attention to everything you do: your brand image, your products, your marketing, incidents in stores… and one single misstep can lead to a boycott partial or total.

Let’s say that will give you the first warning for one incident but you won’t have a second and third warning (especially if they are about similar issues).

Being a foreign brand comes with a double-edge: it can help your sales at first but they will scrutinize you the whole time.

Moreover, the younger generation has been exposed to foreign brands their whole lives. Being “foreign” is no longer a selling point for them. You can be replaced easily by another foreign brand or better, they will buy local, China.


There is no better example than DOLCE&GABBANA to explain the two points above.

The First Incident

This picture is from a campaign DOLCE&GABBANA made in Beijing in 2017. This campaign consists of showing Chinese models with locals dressed casually in the street.

These pictures were heavily criticized by Chinese netizens for not representing the reality, the clothes’ design and more importantly not showing important and good features of Beijing. Besides undermining the rising image of China.

Such comments as below were left:

  • “Isn’t this an insult to China? Why don’t they go to places like Sanlitun and Guomao instead? Why do they go find an old uncle that collects garbage to be part of their photo shoot?”
  • “This is not Beijing.”
  • “Chinese people don’t like this kind of clothing that show many different colors on it at once”
  • “I don’t like it, there is no culture on display”

With this campaign, Dolce&Gabbana ignored the concept of “Face” in China. Always putting a good face is primordial even in difficult situations. Ironically this campaign is part of “DG loves China”.

The Second and Last Incident

dolce&gabbana latest chinese campaign

Moving on to the last controversy created by Dolce&Gabbana.

The picture on the left is from one of the videos that the brand released showing a Chinese model trying to eat Italian dishes with chopsticks and.. struggling.

These videos are “straight racist and a terrible insult to Chinese people and culture” in the eyes of Chinese consumers worldwide.

Furthermore, to add fuel to the fire, screenshots of a conversation between one of the brand’s main designer and a person spread where he openly calls “China the country of poop” and he “doesn’t care”.

The brand’s designers apologized in a video a few days later. The damage was already done and their excuse was seen unconvinceable and insincere. All the Chinese models and celebrities endorsing the brand pulled off their contract and affirmed never buying the brand again. Non-celebrities appraised them and followed.

Such comments were left by celebrities and the Chinese Youth Party:

  • “foreign companies must show “respect to Chinese people” if they want to invest in China” (China’s Communist Youth League)
  • “The motherland is above everything. We are deeply proud and confident about Chinese culture and spiritual aesthetics.”
  • “We don’t care for Italian food cause it tastes like sh-t.”


DOLCE&GABBANA’s missteps in their brand strategy in China concludes this article. They are not the only ones: BALENCIAGA also received the first warning last April 2017 for the incident at one of their stores in Paris.

The main conclusion to this article is to not fall into clichés about a country where you wish to do business. China is much more than red lanterns and chopsticks: if a brand really wants to succeed in China, it needs to understand the country and its culture. This advice is also applicable to individuals.

Have you already tried to use these recommendations for your brand strategy in China? Comment below further advice for foreign brands doing business in China.

Image copyright: Audrey Yu