China’s hip-hop ban: lessons for brands

Why all hope isn’t lost for brands looking to tap Chinese counterculture.

In the summer of 2017, China’s mainstream video streaming platform iQiyi released a very special singing contest, The Rap Of China.

It was special, because the genre was largely a fringe artform in urban hubs, even though Taiwanese singer Jay Chou’s R&B influenced brand of hip-hop first entered into mainstream music more than a decade ago. But each of the 12 episodes of The Rap Of China—hip hop’s first appearance on mainstream TV—got between 200 and 300 million views. All of a sudden, music with a stronger hip-hop flavour became mainstream.

At first, its rise was dismissed by the government as a ‘foreign-born’ homage, an inevitable by-product of the cultural globalisation of the noughties that saw Eminem and 50 Cent find their way onto the walls of Chinese middle-class bedrooms. Yes, there was the inevitable display of streetwear and bling posturing. Chou eventually launched his streetwear label PHANTACi.

But there was something different about hip-hop in China. The lyrics often talked about overbearing parents, urban boredom and the desire to travel the world. Often sung in mixes of local dialects, Mandarin and English, Chinese hip-hop had a home-grown identity of its own and reflected the unique characteristics of the Chinese urban middle classes, striving for a new identity.

Within the first few episodes, The Rap Of China had generated enough memes and trending topics to skyrocket to a hit. With celebrity judges, gruelling rules and participation from some of the biggest Chinese underground hip-hop stars, it wasn’t long before the show’s key sponsors McDonald’s and Nongfu Spring’s Vitamin Waters upped their involvement by shooting fresh ads with popular contestants.

Nongfu Spring’s Vitamin Waters picked Sun Baiyi, a Guizhou-born contestant famous for representing the voice of the urban Chinese white collar class. Their ad promoted the drinks’ energy-boosting properties (perfect for the 50-hour week) against a backdrop of hip-hop cool.

But in January, the Chinese government stepped in. TV appearances by rap contestants on other shows were suddenly pulled. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), declared that “actors whose heart and morality are not aligned with the party and whose morality is not noble” and who are “tasteless, vulgar and obscene” should not be on television. Beijing decided that hip-hop, as an entire culture, didn’t align with party values. And an entire culture that had been speaking to thousands (if not millions) was outlawed overnight.

Although the hip-hop ban was heavily criticised by Chinese netizens (of course not in the mainstream media), the public had seen this before.

But imagine planning and investing in a campaign wrapped around a culture, only to have it suddenly obliterated. In a market where government crackdowns can come out of nowhere, sending shockwaves through business and culture, brands may legitimately ask: What does this mean for strategy? How can you plan around such political and cultural uncertainty in China?

Recent research by Flamingo and DDB examined strategies for dealing with uncertainty, finding ways to reframe it in a more positive light. One of these, the ‘guide’ strategy, calls for a brand to stabilise itself through a deep understanding of whatever issue it’s facing, followed by reframing and offering a clear message to customers. Here, a focus on long-term goals and messaging is best. In the case of the sponsors of The Rap Of China, one of them, Nongfu Spring Vitamin Water, did just that.

Since the ban, rather than crying over the loss of a single platform, the brand revisited its brand pillars, encompassing a connection with creativity, youthfulness and motivation. The brand went on to sponsor other TV shows in the music genre and to hold inter-university singing contests. By encouraging consumers to look beyond the hip-hop trend and to think of the value of creativity more broadly, Nongfu Spring’s cultural identity stayed in place, appealing to those who enjoyed buying and drinking the rainbow-coloured water.

In the case of Chou’s PHANTACi label, it started out in sports fashion / streetwear rather than hip-hop, but since the show has borrowed elements of hip-hop culture to curate its products and brand. The Rap of China satisfied the curiosity of the Chinese public about a foreign culture. PHANTACi knows that, and since the ban has continued to curate a foreign culture to mass Chinese consumers. But it has suffered less from the ban since its original engagement with hip-hop music is shallower.

Underground and mainstream

Meanwhile, Chinese fans have taken hip-hop back underground since the ban, doing what they do best: playing cat and mouse with official censorship. A new mainstream show called This Is Street Dance launched, with production style that can easily be mistaken for that of The Rap Of China, including the stage, graphics and clothes that the contestants are wearing. This Is Street Dance’s banner in central Shanghai

While we don’t advise that brands play games with the government, we do feel that there is a bigger lesson to be learned from how Chinese culture deals with these occurrences. As a brand operating amid uncertainty, it’s wise to ask what was meaningful about your original engagement with this culture, listen carefully to your customers to understand the reasons that they valued that engagement, and look to your enduring brand values to harness this in the most effective way.

In Nongfu Spring’s case, the brand understood that its engagement with music culture didn’t end with hip-hop. It survived, and even thrived, following the ban by staying close to its customers and not only understanding their need for alternative entertainment, but actually contributing to the creative culture.

Hip-hop in China is not dead, it will just manifest in a different way. It will return to its roots for a while, but what will not change is the mindset of the culture that spawned it. The soft voice of the increasingly numerous and forever resilient urban middle classes. Frustrated with urban life and social pressures, they are still redefining their identity, and brands that recognise and continue to play to this, perhaps with fewer gold chains, will thrive amid uncertainty in China.

Source: campaignasia.com; 24 May 2018

Don’t put all your money in digital to reach affluent Asians: Ipsos

Affluent Asian consumers have yet to fully embrace digital media, according to an Ipsos study.

Affluent Asian consumers are not disengaged from advertising, and digital aficionados who shun TV and print are not necessarily the biggest spenders among the well-heeled group. These are some of the consumer insights into affluent Asian consumers highlighted in the latest Ipsos’ Affluent Asia survey.

Zeroing on media-consumption findings from Q2 2017, the study reveals that 42.2% access only traditional media, compared to 37.5% for a combination of traditional and digital, while only 2% access only digital media. Likewise, data on respondents from the markets studied (which excludes China) between Q3 2016 to Q2 2017 shows that total TV and print reach are enhanced by digital. The overall study this year was based on 24,250 samples from 11 markets in APAC.

News consumption habits of affluent Asian consumers (excluding China).

Along the same lines, the study reveals that consumers who consume a combination of traditional and digital media are likely to be bigger spenders. They own three or more financial and upscale household products and have taken business or first-class flights, for example. The study notes that the affluent cohort accounts for the top 20% by income of the APAC population and further points out that not all ad spend should be invested on digital.

In comparison, Chinese affluent consumers are more inclined toward consuming media via digital devices, even though a higher percentage are still watching entertainment content on TV compared to news and documentaries. Therefore, a cross-platform strategy is especially important for reaching Chinese consumers.

Cross-platform consumption of Chinese consumers.

Source: campaignasia.com; 24 Nov 2017

Who are the people using adblockers?

The use of adblockers might not be something that keeps advertisers up at night, but it does represent a creeping problem for the ruling, internet advertising paradigm.

Advertising revenue is a foundational part of how the internet operates, with many sites giving away their content for free in the hopes that they will be rewarded with increased ad revenue.

The use of technology to simply avoid having to see any ads is a practice that is spreading. This means that marketers and advertisers need to figure out why people are turning to the technology, but also the kind of person that is likely to adopt an adblocker.

New data from Kantar Media’s DIMENSION study 2017 gives us a good idea of who the average UK adblocker is and how they behave online.

Firstly, the reasons why people turn to adblockers are already fairly well known, but the study sheds a little more light on exactly what it is about ads that annoy consumers so much. Three-quarters of surveyed adblocking adults reported seeing the same ads over and over again, while 50% continued to see ads for products they had already bought.

Interestingly, adblocking is not an all-or-nothing practice. Only 19% said that they always use adblocking software, with 37% claiming that they ‘sometimes’ make use of the technology

So, who are these adblockers?

Introducing the adblockers

The study reveals that adblockers are 53% more likely than average to be aged 15-34 and not be married/living as a couple, or living with relations. They are 27% more likely to be aged 15-34, living with a partner and childless.

Of those adblockers that are older, those aged 35-54, they are 90% more likely than the average UK adult to make an online purchase more than once a week.

Adblockers tend to be more tech-inclined than their peers. They are 65% more likely to participate in a virtual world, 44% more likely to use the internet for tech-related purposes and 22% more likely to claim to love buying new gadgets and appliances.

But perhaps the biggest factor that unites adblockers is a love of gaming. Adblockers are 44% more likely to be die-hard gamers, 38% more likely to keep up-to-date with the developments in the industry and 28% more likely to say video games are their main past time.

Attitude to advertising

The data seems to indicate that adblockers may be more receptive to advertising than they first appear. 55% of the surveyed adblockers claim to like or tolerate advertising, so it must be aspects of the ads rather than the ads themselves that are driving adblocker adoption.

31% of adblockers agree that tailored or more personalised ads are more interesting than other ads. 29% reported that they do not mind seeing ads targeted at them if it helps to pay for quality content on sites they like.

What does this mean?

“Our DIMENSION study found that most UK internet users aren’t against advertising per se, but that many – from digital natives to slightly older, less tech savvy users – feel over targeted by repetitive or irrelevant adverts,” said Richard Poustie, chief executive of Kantar Media UK & Ireland.

“Their natural tolerance towards advertising is being eroded by poor advertising strategies, and in response an increasing proportion are turning to ad blockers.

“The most effective means for the industry to address ad blocking is to improve how they target and engage with consumers. As a first step, brands must have accurate insights into the preferences and attitudes of a given audience and use this information to select the content and channel of delivery that’s most relevant to them.

“A robust, holistic measurement strategy will then allow brands to build an accurate picture of how, when and by whom their content is being consumed and adapt advertising accordingly. The aim should be to provide advertising that optimises and enhances – rather than detracts from – consumers’ overall experience online, to discourage them from using an ad blocker to opt out of the advertising ecosystem.”

Source: marketingtechnews.net; 30 Aug 2017

Stereotypical TV ads ‘causing resentment’ among consumers

TV advertising still relies too heavily on outdated stereotypes, new research suggests.

TV ad stereotyping

Brands are still out of touch with consumers when it comes to portraying gender in TV advertising and it’s causing resentment among men and women, according to a new study.

These attitudes are unveiled as part of the latest Prosumer Study, “The Future Is FeMale”, which seeks to analyse how far gender equality has come. The study surveyed more than 12,000 men and women in 32 countries.

In the UK, almost half (41.5%) of women surveyed said they begrudge how women are represented in advertising, compared to less than a third (31.7%) feeling the same about the portrayal of men. Only 27% of people said they resent the way men are depicted in ads, with 29.6% of men agreeing compared with 24.8% of women.

Meanwhile, almost half of all those surveyed in the UK said they felt TV ads show too many outdated stereotypes (47.8%) with women agreeing more strongly than men (50% versus 45.2%).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost all women (93%) do not enjoy watching ads showing semi-naked women while more than half of men do not enjoy seeing their own gender de-robed in ads.

The overall findings of the study, the study claims, point towards an “a-gendered future”, with almost half of respondents believing that there is no single gender with almost half of men and nearly two thirds of women believing children should be raised in a gender neutral way.

The news comes in light of the Advertising Standards Authority revealing it is cracking down on gender stereotyping in ads, after an internal report found advertising affects people’s expectations of how others should “look or behave” according to their gender.

“[The research] demonstrates that gender inequality is an issue for society at large, and that stereotyping can play a role reinforcing this. Advertising is not the only influence but does play a role, and it’s right that we identify where there’s a potential for harm,” the report’s lead author Ella Smillie told Marketing Week at the time.

Source: marketingweek.com; 18 Sep 2017

Millennials mostly watch TV after it’s aired

Older people still watch more live TV, but that’s changing.

Millennials don’t watch live TV most of the time. People aged 18-34 spend 55 percent of their video-watching time consuming content after it has already aired on live TV, according to a new study from the Consumer Technology Association. Only 45 percent of that time is spent with live television.

Of the video millennials do watch, 35 percent comes from streaming services like Netflix or on-demand video from a pay TV. They spend 20 percent of their viewing time watching recorded shows off their DVR.

The switch to time-shifted TV puts further pressure on TV networks that are struggling to make their shows attractive to advertisers and retain audiences — audiences that are increasingly seeking out entertainment elsewhere, such as on Snapchat and Facebook. That’s one of the key reasons why advertisers still pay a lot of money to be next to sports content like the NFL despite its flattening audience: Sports still compel people to watch live.

People older than 35 do spend a majority of their viewing time, or 66 percent, with live TV.

Image 1

But even so, live TV has been losing ground across all demographics. The share of consumers who watch live TV at least once a week, according to the CTA study, has shrunk from 92 percent in 2014 to 80 percent in 2017.

That viewing time has been supplanted by an increase in TV watching through paid and free websites as well as network websites and apps.

Image 2

Source: recode.net; 9 Sep 2017

How Instagram and Snapchat Are Benefiting From Facebook’s Declining Teen and Tween Numbers

Teens and young adults are drifting away from Facebook.

eMarketer released its latest forecast on U.S. mobile and internet usage, and the research company sees double-digit gains for Instagram and Snapchat in 2017, while the opposite is true for the parent company of the former.

According to eMarketer, although monthly Facebook users will rise 2.4 percent in 2017, the 12-17 age group will slide by 3.4 percent, marking the second consecutive year of decline for that age group (it fell 1.2 percent in 2016).

Facebook users under 12 and between 18 and 24 will also see slower growth, according to eMarketer.

As for Snapchat, eMarketer sees 2017 user growth of 25.8 percent in the U.S., higher than its previous forecasts, with users between 18 and 24 rising by 19.2 percent.

Snapchat will overtake Facebook and Instagram in the 12-17 and 18-24 age groups for the first time, according to eMarketer, with its share of U.S. social network users surging to 40.8 percent.

Emarketer also upped its 2017 user growth projection for Instagram to 23.8 percent in the U.S., saying users under 12 will jump 19 percent, and 12- to 17-year-old users will go up 8.8 percent.

In the U.K., eMarketer projected a 34.8 percent jump in monthly users for Instagram, with Snapchat climbing 20.2 percent and Twitter’s slight gain in that country edging that of Facebook.

eMarketer senior forecasting analyst Oscar Orozco said of Facebook’s declines in teens and tweens, “We see teens and tweens migrating to Snapchat and Instagram. Both platforms have found success with this demographic since they are more aligned with how they communicate—that is, using visual content. Outside of those who have already left, teens and tweens remaining on Facebook seem to be less engaged—logging in less frequently and spending less time on the platform. At the same time, we now have “Facebook-nevers”—children aging into the tween demographic who appear to be overlooking Facebook altogether, yet still engaging with Facebook-owned Instagram.

Source: adweek.com; 21 August 2017

Well now: Mobile usage is even bigger than you think

Study: Time spent on smartphones has double in just the past three years

We laughingly say we’re addicted to our phones and joke about finger injuries caused by too much texting.

But do you know exactly how much you use your phone? Do you know how much we all do?

It’s become a shockingly dominant pastime. In fact, Millennials spend more time on mobile than they do watching live TV, and TV’s big advantage among adults 35-49 is shrinking.

That’s according to a new report from comScore, which examines cross-platform media consumption.

It finds that smartphone usage has not simply grown over the past three years. It’s actually doubled.

In that same period, tablet usage is up 26 percent, while desktop usage is down 8 percent.

Interestingly, time with smartphones doesn’t seem to be replacing desktop – it’s not shrinking fast enough to draw that conclusion. Instead, smartphones offer people additional time on the internet when they wouldn’t have otherwise been going online, such as when they’re out of the house or watching television.

The study found the average person spends two hours and 51 minutes a day on mobile. Per month, that translates into more than a trillion minutes of smartphone usage across America.

ComScore notes that’s roughly double the usage for desktop at its peak.

Mobile now accounts for 70 percent of all digital media time. It’s little wonder, then, that advertisers are rapidly moving their dollars to mobile. They need to be where the eyeballs are.

A recent forecast from ZenithOptimedia predicted that worldwide mobile spending will top desktop for the first time this year, and eMarketer puts mobile at nearly one-fifth of overall U.S. ad dollars.

Catching up to TV
Among young people, mobile has already caught up to TV in time spent. Millennials spend 23.1 hours per week on their smartphones, compared with 19.1 hours watching live TV.

By contrast, adults 35-54 remain more devoted to live TV (26.6 hours) than their phones (18.5 hours), but the gap is getting smaller.

This is, in part, why digital overtook TV as the No. 1 advertising medium last year. Advertisers want to reach young people, and the place to find them is now online rather than via TV.

Mobile vs. desktop
Perhaps another question is how long until desktop disappears entirely—will that ever happen? ComScore notes almost one in eight internet users currently are mobile-only. The number’s much higher among younger users, with nearly a quarter of women 18-24 mobile-only.

Does that mean desktop will someday die out? Probably not entirely. Desktops remain practical options for work, and some people simply don’t have the desire to be connected 24-7.

Still, that number is clearly dwindling—and the people who do use desktop are of less interest to advertisers than the Millennials who are chained to their smartphones.

Source: medialifemagazine.com; 23 March 2017

‘INFLECTION POINT’: Renewables will be the ‘cheapest form of new power generation’ by 2020

Renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, are quickly becoming as cheap-even cheaper-than their carbon-intensive counterparts like coal.

New research from Morgan Stanley estimates that renewables will be the cheapest source of power in the world in less than three years.

“Numerous key markets recently reached an inflection point where renewables have become the cheapest form of new power generation,” the bank said in a note.

“A dynamic we see spreading to nearly every country we cover by 2020. The price of solar panels has fallen 50% in less than two years (2016-17).”

Even if President Trump succeeds in withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the country could still cut more emissions than it had previously pledged to alongside 194 other countries.

“For example, notwithstanding President Trump’s stated intention to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, we expect the US to exceed the Paris commitment of a 26-28% reduction in US 2005-level carbon emissions by 2025,” the bank said.

What’s behind the sudden drop in renewable costs?

Wind turbine blade lengths have increased dramatically in recent years thanks to stronger materials and design. Even a small lengthening of the windmill blades can increase output exponentially, as the “swept area” is a function of the square of the turbine’s radius. Remember that high school geometry?

On the solar front, Morgan Stanley says there has been oversupply of solar panels, which is pushing production prices down. Solar installation grew 50% last year, but capacity is still 28% above installations.

The bank sees two possible benefits (beyond helping the environment) for utility companies that invest in low-cost renewables:

“First, the ability to lower customer bills from utilizing low-cost renewables can improve utilities’ regulatory environment and provide related investment opportunities in grid modernization initiatives,” writes the bank.

“Second, for utilities with large, competitive renewable development businesses, investment in renewable energy projects can generate attractive risk-adjusted returns.”

Source: businessinsider.my; 8 July 2017

Three game changers for energy

New sources, mobility, and industry fragmentation are set to disrupt the system.

Change is afoot in the energy system. Soaring demand in emerging markets, new energy sources, and the likely growth of electric vehicles (EVs) are just some of the elements disrupting the status quo. It is hard to discern how the aftershocks will affect the extraordinarily complex network of sectors and stakeholders. New research by McKinsey and the World Economic Forum has identified the game changers for companies and policy makers, as well as their implications.

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Source: mckinsey.com; April 2017

Battery storage: The next disruptive technology in the power sector

Low-cost storage could transform the power landscape. The implications are profound.

Storage prices are dropping much faster than anyone expected, due to the growing market for consumer electronics and demand for electric vehicles (EVs). Major players in Asia, Europe, and the United States are all scaling up lithium-ion manufacturing to serve EV and other power applications. No surprise, then, that battery-pack costs are down to less than $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2016, compared with almost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010.

McKinsey research has found that storage is already economical for many commercial customers to reduce their peak consumption levels. At today’s lower prices, storage is starting to play a broader role in energy markets, moving from niche uses such as grid balancing to broader ones such as replacing conventional power generators for reliability, providing power-quality services, and supporting renewables integration.

Further, given regulatory changes to pare back incentives for solar in many markets, the idea of combining solar with storage to enable households to make and consume their own power on demand, instead of exporting power to the grid, is beginning to be an attractive opportunity for customers (sometimes referred to as partial grid defection). We believe these markets will continue to expand, creating a significant challenge for utilities faced with flat or declining customer demand. Eventually, combining solar with storage and a small electrical generator (known as full grid defection) will make economic sense—in a matter of years, not decades, for some customers in high-cost markets.

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Source: McKinsey & Company; June 2017