Contrasting themes of advancement through consumption and environmental conservation played out in Asia's most dynamic market last year.
A society that wants products faster, cheaper and more stylish has helped fuel consumption, says Heidi Zhang, planning director at Publicis in Beijing. "The main trend is that luxury brands are becoming more 'mass'," she says, citing clothing brands such as Uniqlo, and high-street fashion labels H&M and Zara.
She highlights the transition of Uniqlo from a staid retailer to a fast fashion icon that has opened flagship stores in first and second-tier cities. "The strategy is to make the basic into a lifestyle brand," she explains. Uniqlo has also been quick to adopt digital marketing that has allowed it to build market share in tier-three cities, thanks to a solid online shopping experience.
But the Mainland's biggest success story has arguably been the automotive sector. "Demands for some models are heating up to the point where consumers are willing to pay a premium just to get behind the wheel quicker," says Shenan Chuang, CEO of Ogilvy China.
FMCG goods have also spread their efforts to the smaller cities over the past 12 months, partly as a hedge against the recession but also because of the growth potential. "An interesting trend that we observed was dairy brands positioning milk products as a new choice for gift giving in rural areas," says Chuang.
Electrical and home appliance makers fought for share here too, riding on the back of the Government's policy of subsidising white goods in rural areas. The pitch revolved around value, a theme mirrored in the big cities. "Value-for-money combo promotions became the inevitable trend for local and international fast food chains," says Danny Mok, CEO, Grey Shanghai and Hong Kong.
With attention focused on the Shanghai Expo this year, marketers are using the 'Better city, better life' tag as a theme in their communications. Fareeda Cassumbhoy, Bates 141 China's national planning director, argues the Chinese consumer is far "greener" than people assume, and on a par with the US in considering the environmental impact of a purchase.
She points to new breed of consumer that will support brands with a green pitch. Combining knowledge from online communities and caution after years of food safety scandals, consumers evidently want to be better informed and are far choosier than before.
China Top 20 brands
13 China Mobile
1 CCTV 1
2 Hunan Sate
3 CCTV 6
4 CCTV 8
5 Jiangsu Sate
1 Guangzhou Daily
2 Shanghai Morning Post
3 Chengdu Economic Daily
4 Shenzhen Special Daily
5 Beijing Evening News
This article was originally published as part of the 2010 Top 1000 Brands report.