Starcom MediaVest Group has launched the “Yangtze Study” to better understand consumer trends in China’s less-developed cities and towns. The survey, which includes interviews with 13,507 people between the ages of 13 and 45, was conducted to better understand the 721 million Chinese consumers living outside of the country’s metropolises.
Lower-tier residents have much in common with more affluent Chinese. They are equally as concerned with product quality and safety. They dream of traveling, but to Beijing rather than New York or Paris. But what has surprised researchers the most is that media consumption in small, rural areas is on-par with trends in the big cities.
“The biggest thing that surprised me from a pure media standpoint was the penetration of digital in terms of peoples’ everyday lives. (Instant messaging program) QQ was everywhere,” said Lisa Richert, Starcom MediaVest’s director of strategy for North Asia. “When we think about the habits of digital and peoples’ behaviors — chatting, entertainment, communications — it’s universal. It’s everywhere across China.”
Richert is not exaggerating: Tencent, the operator of instant messaging system QQ, reports that there are nearly 702 million active instant messaging accounts as of this summer.
Online video is also hugely popular, the survey finds Chinese spend an average of 1.76 hours per day watching videos on computers, with consumers in tier-two markets, which include provincial capitals and economically developing cities, watching almost 2 hours per day. “TV is still huge, but the comment that comes back is we need to move away from thinking of TV as the only sense of video content. It is truly video content,” Ms. Richert said, listing examples such as traditional TV shows, content from brands or programming created by video-sharing sites like Youku and Tudou. “It’s about content and people are finding different ways to consume it.”
The Yangtze Study has found that the average Chinese consumer is online 3.25 hours per day, compared to 2.21 hours watching TV and .51 hours around out-of-home advertising.
While residents of China’s small towns may be consuming advertisements in a variety of ways, they are not as voracious as their big-city counterparts when it comes to devouring luxury brands — yet. Price and value are major drivers of their purchases so a simple giveaway can get a rural shopper to buy an item.
“Luxury is not about the brand of car, it’s about having a car because it means you can afford the petrol for it,” said Jeffrey Tan, Starcom’s national research and insights director for China and Hong Kong. He gave the example of a 33-year-old woman in Anhui province who was given a Louis Vuitton purse as a gift — not knowing what it was, she used it when she went food shopping at the wet market.
On the whole, the survey reveals the young Chinese of rural areas are more pragmatic than those in first-tier cities. They have realistic life goals and often aspire to own a business. They are in a rush to grow up and take advantage of the opportunities available to adults in China.