Let’s be honest: the perception of Chinese brands isn’t top-notch. That’s exactly what Maren Striker and Rogier Bikker want to challenge with their trek (not to mention that it's the perfect pretext for a free road trip).
Bikker, who formerly ran the Shanghai office of creative agency Energize, and Striker (a friend of Bikker's who was an urban planner by trade) believe China is no longer merely the factory of the world. Backed by Chinese brands that have (or aspire to have) global operations, the two Dutch guys are aiming to show the world that China is more than cheap, callous or copycat by undertaking a three-month journey along the former Silk Road.
On the trek, which begins tomorrow, the pair will be using a Chinese car, Chinese smartphone, Chinese laptop, Chinese tent and even Chinese underwear.
Both men quit their jobs and set out to find brands that shared their vision of a "brand new China". They had with two simple criteria: The companies had to have Chinese roots and be proud of it. The pair has roped in seven partners.
Those brands and the products they've provided are: BYD (F5 sedan), Huawei (Ascend P7 smartphone), Lenovo (Yoga touchscreen laptop), sports-camera maker AEE (often compared to American competitor GoPro), Ozark (outdoor gear for deserts and mountains), Xiyouji (t-shirts inspired from Chinese literary folktale Journey to the West) and Braos (sunglasses made from recycled skateboards).
These brands have "enthusiastically backed the project to collaboratively increase their awareness abroad", said Striker and Bikker.
Indeed, Millward Brown's 2013 study indicated that the percentage of US or European consumers who could spontaneously recall major Chinese brands range from only 2 to 7 per cent, even though more than 70 companies from China feature on the Fortune 500 list.
It comes as no surprise that Huawei, ranked 285 on the list, wants to further its ambitions after shifting its business focus from telecommunications networks to consumer devices in recent years. The brand is apparently one of the top three players in the Dutch smartphone market, and the world’s third-largest smartphone manufacturer in terms of shipments, according to Richard de Borst, director of Huawei's consumer business group in The Netherlands.
"It is our goal to enable people to live without boundaries, to seize more opportunities in every moment whether in the office, on the road, or at home," he said.
The trip aims to cover 20,000 kilometres and 11 countries. The journey coincides with the celebration of the 35-year sister-city relationship between Shanghai and Rotterdam.
Bikker and Striker will be among the first to travel on the former Silk Road since the route was designated as the first continuous site on the UNESCO World Heritage list a month ago.
BYD, the lead sponsor behind the project, will also receive the duo at its European headquarters in Rotterdam. Striker and Bikker had a BYD electric car in mind, but the inability to charge the car on the remote steppes of Kazakhstan made that a no-go, so they were given a gasoline-powered sedan (see above) instead.
The journey will be documented in weekly video episodes on the duo's project website.