Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Welcome to the Real World


Back from my 3-week vacay in China! And boy, was I surprised/shocked by the sheer potential buying power of that country. The level of consumerism in China is something that I have never seen in my life, ever. If China's in a recession, no one sent out the memo.

Switching subjects a bit...the thing that I kept on noticing over and over again in China was the amount of fake stuff that was floating around. There were so many fake LVs, Chanels, Burberrys...you name it, they've got it. I mean, this homeless guy begging in front of a temple was wearing a fake Gucci bag. I wonder what Vogue may say to that -- maybe Zoolander really had it right, derelict is the next big thing.

And these fake products look exactly like the real ones, there are no awkward looking C's on the chanel logos, the LV's were placed exactly where they were supposed to be placed. Really, I could not distinguish the difference, and every time I saw someone carrying a branded luxury product, I found myself wondering, is that real -- and does it matter? I mean, if I can get the same bag for hundreds of dollars cheaper and no one would know, why wouldn't I?

This whole fake stuff business just begs the question of what do you do when there's an entire population that couldnt give two squats about whether they have the real thing or the fake thing? Does brand equity even matter then? I found the pervasive thinking in China to be "As long as the bags look real, it's good enough". These petty fake bag shops are benefitting from the multi-million dollar campaigns that luxury fashion houses are spending on building up their brand. Everyone's gotta make a living, right? And this is the challenge that faces luxury brands in the Chinese market. Why spend the money on the real thing if no one notices, or worse, if everyone thinks that you're carrying a fake bag anyway? It may be worth it for the companies to allocate some of the multi-million dollar brand building campaigns to combat this whole fake stuff. And I think the way to do it is not through the legal system, but through culture and peer pressure. Just think: if Louis Vuitton started a whole campaign in China about the differences between fake and real, and drove home the point that only the real ones are symbols of status and success, maybe people would start thinking differently. That instead of "looks real is good enough", maybe they would shift towards "only real is good enough".

Part of the reason for why I think a campaign that demotes fakeness and promotes realness would be successful is because of the Chinese culture. It really is an interesting culture. 5,000 years of history has left the country with tons of traditions, and status and appearance have become two very important values. There's a thing (for the lack of a better word) in China called "face", similar to honor but not really. Everyone wants to preserve "face", they want to be seen as a positive, successful, and generally good person. To "lose face" is more than embarrassing, it is downright unacceptable to some. This tradition of preserving "face" has led an entire population to value status and appearance. This is why, when you step out into the streets of Beijing, girls are dressed impeccably and women wear heels everywhere, even to climb the Great Wall. Everyone who is anyone or wants to be anyone knows that first, you've got to look the part. Marketers can tap into that whole "face" notion, and link fake bags to the idea of losing face. That by purchasing a fake bag, you are not showing off your success or status, but rather you are demoting yourself through your innate admittance of your inability to purchase a real one. Harsh, I know, but have you seen the level of fake crap in China? I'm convinced that there is absolutely no notion of intellectual or artistic property there.

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