Pretty much every Chinese person under the age of 30 is an only child, part of a generation that grew up without siblings, but with two caring parents and four loving grandparents, who pooled their rising disposable incomes to meet one child's every need. They were determined to give their child a life more comfortable than that of any generation before. Studies estimate that up to half a typical urban Chinese family's disposable income is spent on, or by, the child in the family.
But the pressure is on. For the greater part of their time in high school, these children must perform to ensure they qualify for the limited places available at the city universities. If not, years of comfortable favours from family members have been for nothing. So they study so hard there is no time for anything else. No friends. No fun. Their only luxury is a digital connection to the world, either via a PC in their room or daily visits to the closest internet cafe.
The online computer is this generation's focal point. Days and months are spent playing computer games. Friends are added to buddy lists on MSN and QQ, the Chinese instant messenger, which has 80 million users. Stories are written and animated in Flash, then uploaded to flashempire.com and flash8.net, where they find hundreds of thousands of viewers.
E-magazines on niche topics are published all over China and read by millions of young people. MSN hosts millions of private blogs, customised home pages full of emotions and self expression. E-flyers are sent out to bring people together at punk concerts and hip-hop parties.
These young Chinese consumers have passed by video recorders for DIV-X-encoded mpeg movies; CD players for mp3 players; fixed landlines for mobile phones; film for digital cameras and arcade games for multi-user online games.
The digital lifestyle is omnipresent and the numbers speak volumes: more than 130 million online PCs - half of them with broadband - bring pupils, university students and office workers together. More than 300 million mobile phones send billions of text messages; and another revolution is looming - China will embrace 3G communication at the end of the year.
Technology is liberating Chinese youth. It allows them to express their feelings and ambitions and take charge of their personal space.
The digital revolution is happening so fast it is difficult for marketers to keep up. What works in our favour is the knowledge that the Chinese think in terms of community. China is a relationship society; people listen to recommendations and emotional appeals and are big readers and talkers. Word-of-mouth branding works well, but successful messages need to address motivations, tell a story and have a strong identity.
- Dirk Eschenbacher is the regional creative director at Ogilvy One South-East Asia.