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Stay safe and wear a mask? #beyondculturalstereotypes

Messages from (social) media in China and The West about wearing a mask in the global spread of the Corona virus reflect different cultural perspectives. Cultural context plays a key role in whether people are willing to wear masks.

In China and many other East Asian countries many see wearing a mask as a collective responsibility to reduce transmission of the coronavirus. Memories of the Sars outbreak 17 years ago remain strong, wearing face masks when out has become the norm. During Sars, masks even became a symbol of solidarity against the disease.

“Wearing a mask is one of the most important and effective means to prevent the spread of the virus.” .. “We will defeat this virus with science, knowledge, faith and love. Please stay safe and stay strong everyone.” 

– excerpt from a Instagram message from Leaf Greener. As an editor, stylist and writer she is a highly sought after by international luxury brands.

In the West people are urged to stop buying masks. Because they belief it is not effective in preventing the general public from catching coronavirus and because health care providers who work at the frontline need them to take care for the sick patients. When the health care practitioners can’t wear masks this puts them and the communities at risk! Social media messages are shared with the #flattenthecurve to emphasize the importance to do everything you can to stop spreading the disease and consider the elderly and people who are more vulnerable because of already existing health risks.

 But whatever the opinions are, without judging them, both Western and Chinese people put helping the community first! If there were enough masks, maybe every person in the world would wear them. What do you think? 


Stay safe everyone 🙏🏽


Illustration by @lillustralulu (Instagram) posted by @leaf_greener (Instagram).
















A Shiba Inu cafe

A Shiba Inu cafe recently opened up in Beijing and is extremely popular with Chinese youth. A Shiba is a Japanese dog and in the cafe people can have a drink, chat with each other and of course play with the cute dogs. Apparently, it gets especially crowded in the weekends. I was there on a weekday (not inside though), looking into the store, with a Chinese GenZ (Generation Z) who was showing and telling me about new things happening now in Beijing. You can sign-up outside for a time-slot of 40 minutes.  The entrance fee will give you entry into the store, experience with the dog and a drink.

A Shiba Inu café is something new in China. Cat cafes have already been there for several years and originally started in Taiwan. These cafes are really attractive for young and busy people in China who can’t have a pet at home.


Check out these selection of articles if you are interested to learn more about this topic:


1. Singles feel love during Chinese Valentine’s Day at dog cafe

China Daily

Singles can feel love and warmth and enjoy a relaxing time with cute dogs at a Shiba Inu café featuring the Japanese breed in Beijing during Qixi, or Chinese Valentine’s Day, on Wednesday. Single people in China often mock themselves as “single dogs” and feel lonely during Qixi. However, at the Shiba Inu café there are a lot of cute dogs who’d love to be petted and hugged, so it’s a wonderful place to spend the special day.

2. Beijing’s first Shiba Inu dog cafe is a crowd pleaser

South China Morning Post

Zhao Songxue adopted a Shiba Inu dog while studying in Japan and when she returned to China she opened the first Shiba Inu cafe in Beijing. Customers can order desserts and drinks while playing with Shiba dogs. After its opening in May 2019, the small establishment became a hit on social media and is now a popular spot in the capital.


Chinese millennials are less and less interested in following Chinese KOLs

The term KOL stands for Key Opinion Leader. KOLs are used by many brands in their campaigns in an effort to reach a bigger audience within a particular segmentation. Chinese consumers used to drift to KOLS to find some authenticity from the traditional approach of digital advertising. The success of a KOL is based on their personality, and how they come across depends on their power to pull in the audience and create a loyal following. KOLs generally have loyal followers and produce quality content on social media.  Most KOLs take in between 20,000 and 40,000 yuan a month. They work regularly in the office, at home, or even in the great outdoors.


Brands’ overreliance on KOLs

Brands are promised to gain more followers, brand awareness and visibility among their target audience. But reducing KOL marketing to must-haves for any advertising purposes has lost its value. When I talked to Chinese millennials in Beijing and Shanghai about this topic, already almost two years ago, a change of view towards KOL’s was already occurring. Three important insights emerged that are getting more cultural traction in 2019:


  1. KOL’s work for so many different brands or change their contract with brands so frequently that credibility gets lost.
  2. There is a limit of KOLs any Chinese millennial is willing to follow and they get tired of all the commercial posts they face on their timeline.
  3. Unknown KOL’s or rather Chinese people with knowledge, experience or a creative take on a particular topic that is of interest to a specific audience is becoming more interesting to follow.


Time to rethink your marketing?

The digital world is becoming more and more saturated with KOLs. For a more meaningful way to reach Chinese consumers it might be crucial to rethink your KOL marketing. At least take the time and care to seek out a Chinese voice that is valued by your Chinese consumer audience and suits your brand. Chinese Millennials can easily tell the difference between an ad and authentic content meant to engage with an audience. Even for a well-known brand like Nike that is using many KOLs, it are not the KOLs that are ensuring the loyal followers and ultimately contribute to an increase in growth. Nike is a great example of a brand that is very good at developing brand narratives that tap into emerging Chinese consumer cultures.


Check out these selection of articles if you are interested to learn more about this topic:

1. China’s new breed of KOLs: Not just pretty faces


New platforms, along with increasingly international millennials and a professionalizing fashion industry landscape, are changing the attributes required of China’s KOL class.

2. Being an influencer is a full-time job for China’s millennials


Upon graduation, Zhang weighted his options between becoming a full-time online celebrity, and doing something else with his life. “My academic performance and life have suffered greatly because of the time I have to spend making videos. It’s impossible to find a balance because time is limited,” he explained.

3. The KOL bubble: how brands can earn the trust of China’s affluent demographic

The Luxury Conversation

Brands need to prepare for when – not if – the KOL bubble bursts; the digital world is saturated with KOLs (each with millions of claimed followers), and consumers may begin to get bored of another person being paid to prance around on their Weibo feed in a particular brands’ garb.

4. How China’s hyper-professionalised influencer market could be a model elsewhere

BBC Worklife

Until last year, Zhang “BB” Xi was just another 20-something with a dream of making it big. The 23-year-old from the sprawling city of Chongqing had around 300,000 fans across all her social media platforms who watched her beauty tutorials and vlogs. It was a large number, given her youth, but she hadn’t yet been able to make major inroads into the cut-throat influencer industry.

But her success had set off an alert among the team of talent scouts at Ruhnn Holding, one of China’s largest key opinion leader (KOL) – or influencer – management companies.
















Setting the stage: In Holland do they still pay with cash?

What Chinese consumers want today, is much more connected to global changes in lifestyles and shaped by Chinese technology innovation than in the past. And brands in their localisation journey shouldn’t forget that. Through my ethnographic consumer research studies in 2018 I learnt two key insights.


Key insight 1: The changing perception of Chinese consumers towards foreign countries; China is innovating more (e.g. mobile payments) than many foreign countries.


A big part of my work is listening to Chinese consumers, meeting them in their house, joining them in their daily activities and identifying underlying needs and values in changing consumer behaviour. In Shenzhen I was hanging out with a couple of Chinese post 90s. We talked about their lives and talked about Holland as well. Then during our conversation, one of the guys asked me: “In Holland do they still pay with cash?” Can you imagine being asked that question? When it comes to integrating technology in everyday lives, China is by far further along than the Netherlands or any other country for that matter. Mobile payments aren’t a novelty in China, while paying with cash is practically unheard-of, even with street performers and taxi drivers. When you are in China and need to pay something, they always ask: “Alipay or WeChat pay?” Alipay and WeChat pay are China’s two mobile payment giants. I told the guy that in Holland people still pay with cash, but mostly use a debit card. He didn’t even know what a debit card was.


Key insights 2: Chinese post 80s and 90s aren’t that different from there Western counterparts. In facet they have more in common with each other than their respective parents. 


I “dived” in the healthy lifestyle trend in China later that year.  It got my attention, since gyms have been popping up like mushrooms. Personal trainers are frequently used to improve personal health. No expense is spared. The younger generation living in China’s big metropolitan areas value fitness much more than their parents. With stressful work they increasingly see a healthy lifestyle as a marker for success. Post 80s and 90s Chinese are spending big bucks on gym memberships and healthy lifestyles. It has only been a few years ago when Chinese women were caught up in the online skinny trend by holding up sheets of A4 paper to their waist to show their thinness. Nowadays Chinese women like healthier body figures, from having muscles to a more curvy body. Before this was definitely a no go. For my research I talked to Chinese women, an owner of a fitness centre, restaurant managers, fitness trainers and did many observations. After analysing the data, I confirmed the insight that emerged one year earlier in 2017: Chinese post 80s and 90s aren’t that different from their Western counterparts. In fact they have more in common with each other than their respective parents. For Chinese women, yoga and running are among the activities rising in popularity, but Cross Fit and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) are also very popular. Something not that different from most Western countries.

Cultural context matters in China and in other parts of the world

Cultural context matters, though. However, this does not merely mean using local social media apps, working with Chinese influencers or making sure that consumers can pay with their mobile phones. Those are just the ‘easy’ stuff. The more you understand your consumer audience and their cultural context – digging deeper than accepted stereotypes and generalisations – the more cultural relevant your brand messaging or value proposition is to them, and that is not different in China than in other parts of the world.