The World: Insider's view - China

It's too easy to see the world's fastest-growing market as a numbers game. But it's not, Steve Elrick says, it's a people game.

Write 500 words about the market in China? Impossible. You can barely cover the subject in 5,000 words. Even 50,000 is hardly enough.

For in China, no number is too high. No hyperbole too hyped. Whatever you think of, double it. Then multiply by, well, whatever.

One hundred and seventy five million new middle-class consumers have arrived in the past year, 20 million people (that's the population of Australia) have turned 18. In two years, there will be more internet users than in the US - 137 million at today's count.

Which is all very well, but when people continue to think of it as a numbers game, they continue to miss the opportunity to really connect with the consumers behind the numbers.

What of creativity? How do brands actually engage the ever-morphing targets in the fastest-moving market on the planet?

This is where some of the "old" truths can point the way - especially when applied to new media, new thinking, new everything.

You need to be fresh, different and original. The school of thought that sees China as "just like the West, only 15/ten/five years ago" also sees marketers and agencies trotting out old models and even old campaigns that are patronisingly wide of the mark. Tried and tested? Try tired and uninteresting. This is a hungry audience, not a naive one.

Consumer-generated content? It's been happening here for years. Two college students miming to the Backstreet Boys - 70 million-plus hits: instant superstars.

Consumers here not only want to be engaged and delighted and surprised, but they also need be listened to. So tell the truth. It's a powerful tool.

I've heard people talk about this revolution in terms of a Wild West, a free-for-all in which they relish how much they can "get away with".

Yes, people are experimenting with brands and are refreshingly open to new experiences. But don't mistake enthusiasm for gullibility. People are refreshingly disloyal into the bargain.

It's a buyer's market. Consumers have the choices and the power. They are simply offering you a window to impress. The Wild West becomes the Exhilarating East.

As for tomorrow, who really knows? Keeping up is a Formula One sport here.

- Steve Elrick is the executive regional creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty Asia.

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