Allison Malmsten, media manager at daxue consulting, is talking with Grace Yu, project manager at daxue consulting, about nostalgia marketing in China.
Our full findings are available for you to download!
What is nostalgia marketing?
Grace Yu: Nostalgia marketing is appealing to the emotions people felt between the ages of 12 and 22. During this period of a young person’s development the body is charged with feel-good chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin). These emotions are associated with feeling happy and a nostalgia marketing campaign can trigger these happy and idealized memories. The triggers can be visual (images), audial (music), audiovisual (cartoons), smell, and taste. They take us to a place where we ache to go again.
Why nostalgia marketing campaigns are so effective among young Chinese adults?
Grace Yu: Well this generation have the strongest spending power. They live a faster paced and more urbanized life than their parents. The pressure of their lifestyles brings certain pressures, insecurities, and anxieties. In a capitalist society people often consume goods to make themselves feel better. Nostalgia takes us to a simpler place where we experience life as a child again, a time in our lives where we knew we were loved and felt more secure.
How can brands do nostalgia marketing in China in a modern context?
Grace Yu: Combine old forms with modern elements.
What is the methodology for daxue consulting’s nostalgia research?
Grace Yu: In-depth interviews and supplemented it with social media listening. We interviewed 13 Chinese millennials and Gen Zs from all over China. We interviewed them in person for at least 1 hour and we analyzed the transcripts to find trends.
One thing we found was how smells and sounds from home and school triggered feelings of nostalgia. Co-branding is a powerful tool for foreign brands in China who can’t easily rely on creating feelings of nostalgia among Chinese people, they could partner with older Chinese brands.
What are the nostalgia triggers of home in China?
Grace Yu: Often some of the main points were food and smells. Foods and their associated smells like home-cooked rice, fried pork, braised beef, and soup resonated strongly with young Chinese. Also, smells like the scent of Osmanthus flowers triggered the memories of young people, too. Despite Osmanthus being more confined to the east of China, it is ubiquitous in Chinese literature, something which all young people in China study. Recently, Pepsi launched an Osmanthus flavored soft drink. Pepsi are not alone in this, basically if you include Osmanthus in your products you can slap a premium price tag on your product.
What are the nostalgia scent triggers for each region of China?
Grace Yu: For the north of China, the scent of grilled meat, firecrackers, cedar after snow, and. For the eastern region, Osmanthus, chicken soup, and fresh-cut grass. For the southwest region, hot pot, chili peppers, and sweet and sour soup. For the southern region, nostalgic triggers were mangos, bananas, pool water, and freshly squeezed juice.
What are the nostalgia triggers for school and tests in China?
Grace Yu: Some food memories which took participants back to their school days were the food shops located outside schools. The scent of commonly sold items at these stores such as fried meat and mini hot-dogs they would consume in their dorms triggered strong feelings of nostalgia.
Images from youth can also trigger these emotions, regarding their school days the images of school uniforms and ivy growing on walls caused young Chinese consumers to feel sentimental. There is a trend in China where people will have their photos taken in their old school uniforms. This is despite the fact that many Chinese people often regard their uniforms as unflattering and disliked wearing them at them at the time. It proves that the mundane aspects of adolescence can also trigger nostalgia in Chinese consumers.
Also, the memories of exams, despite being a stressful period in their lives in which they were often confined to studying for 14 to 16 hours a day and where they felt tired, motivated, and in the aftermath relief, can actually elicit strong feelings of nostalgia in China. The associated smells of mosquito spray, books, and rain caused respondents to feel sentimental about these times in their young lives. In fact, in China, one can rent out a study room which recreates the physical environment of the ‘gaokao’ (高考=high school exams which determine the university students can attend) days and customers are usually young adults studying for university exams.
What makes Chinese think of their first crush?
Grace Yu: High school students in China are not allowed to date in school. The heightened emotions associated with teen dating and its taboo nature and the smells of hamburgers, freshly cut grass, and sweet fruit remind them of these days
Nostalgic IP starting with cartoons and movies
Grace Yu: American, Chines, Japanese, and French cartoons triggered feelings of nostalgia in respondents.
Movies that cause feelings of nostalgia in China are Police Story and Journey To The West. Foreign movies include Spirited Away and the Harry Potter and Transformers franchises. Universal Studios are opening a Harry Potter theme park and the world’s first Transformers theme park in Bejing. Also, the vitamins brand Baiho has cobranded with Transformers to target young male consumers.
Jay Chow, Angelina Chang, S H E, Super Junio, Lady Gaga, Adele, Avril Lavigne, and Linkin Park were some of the artists that caused feelings of nostalgia in “Chinese Gen Zers and millennials.
In terms of video games which caused nostalgia in China, the top performers were QQ Pets, Tetris, GTA, Crossfire, Super Mario, and games from 4399 and Tencent. These brands are ideal for co-branding. Uniqlo has co-branded with Super Mario, L’Oreal Men has collaborated with Crossfire.
Nostalgic snacks and White Rabbits revitalization through nostalgic co-branding
Grace Yu: At daxue consulting we refer to White Rabbit as the queen of co-branding. They have co-branded with Scent Diary to make White Rabbit candy scented perfume. They have collaborated with bubble tea brands, and fashion brands. Other nostalgia inducing snacks are Ovaltine, Mylikes, Xiaomantou, Green Tongue Ice Cream, Latiao, and Calcium Milk.
One nostalgia marketing in China case study – a completely immersive nostalgic restaurant in Shanghai
Grace Yu: 过去进行食 (The Continuous Past) is a concept restaurant in China which transports the consumer back to 1999’s China. The menu is like doing an exam and the food arrives in a small metal lunchbox. The walls are adorned with blackboards and the paper used is the same that millennials and Gen Zers would have used in middle and high school. You can also rent out a private dining room which is decorated to appear as either boys’ or girls’ dorm room.
McDonald’s and KFC nostalgia marketing in China case studies
Grace Yu: An interesting case of nostalgia marketing in China which doesn’t involve brands was the co-branding McDonalds did with an English language high school text book which would have been studied by 100 million Chinese students. As part of the campaign customers would have to order McDonalds in English.
KFC also did a nostalgia marketing campaign where they brought their prices back down to the levels they were when they entered China, 1987. It is a prime example of a nostalgia marketing campaign where customers can reminisce about their first time going to KFC.
What is the importance of social currency in nostalgia marketing in China?
Grace Yu: Social currency refers to how consumers can do the work of brands in which they create a social buzz about a product. Brands create content that is easily shareable and likely to develop more shares by consumers for the brand both online and offline through word of mouth. This is less about capturing an individual’s intimate life experience and more about capturing something they can share with their friends. The buzz created by nostalgia marketing campaigns in China is an incalculable boon for the brands.
Tips for brands doing nostalgia marketing in China
- Appeal to the senses. Find a way to adapt your product to trigger certain smells, sounds, and sights that resonate with Chinese people.
- Aim for when the audience was 12 – 22 years old. Memories from this period are particularly idealized.
- Co-branding, not all foreign brands were in China at those times but many Chinese brands were.