Why Beer is not Funny in China?


Beer, most often the most fun of all the categories, is for some reason positively unfunny in China.
Read on, to find out why?

When people generally think of beer advertising, they associate it with wildly funny ads ranging from the lewd to the cleverly hilarious.  In fact, it was a reputation that brand inherited after years of being the most entertaining of categories.  Beer brands created loyalty and mass followers on cult followings of their ad campaigns.  So much so, that the gag forced the product well into the background.

While the cultural sands have shifted, there still remains the expectation that beer brands will raise a laugh. Think for example – Dos Equis’ “World Most Interesting Brand” – a serious message, but a good laugh at the same time.

In China, beer has never really built up the courage, to grab the mic, and get the crowd laughing.  Instead, we have seen more almost two decades of beer swirling around the glass, ice, wheat, and blokes pulling back from their beers expressing some variation of “wow, that tastes great”.

For what is universally an emotional (if not a little bit bro-mancy) category – the world of Chinese beer has been without fault functional, with very tactical and weak connections to the world of sports (usually basketball) and music (using KTV Mandopop).


Harbin Beer is typical of functional messaging in China – Icy, not Funny

It is difficult to explain why beer brands in China lacks personality.  One possible explanation is the close relationship beer has to food, meaning functionality and taste have always been emphasised over more creative and abstract story-lines.

But perhaps a less flattering explanation is that beer in China has relied too heavily on tactical point-of-sale activation, creating a stifling effect on more creative brand communication and characterisation.

OK, so Chinese beer comms are boring, so what?

The fact that Chinese beer has failed to create deeper bonds with consumers, means the category is in somewhat of a fragile position.   As wine looks to be the ‘darling’ of new middle class drinking culture, beer will somewhat easily be substituted-out of Chinese dining occasions – the big drinking occasion for Chinese consumers.

It is not only beer that is looking over its shoulder in China.   Whiskey, once widely wildly popular in China’s KTV nightclubs are the symbol of wealth and status seems to have plateaued as local drinkers shift to a wider range of occasions beyond clubs.

Wine is finally making rapid inroads into China, as Chinese consumers have learnt to incorporate it into their lifestyle more readily  – this has been a result of more international travel, and the influence of globally focussed celebrities.

So it is finally time for beer brands in China to show some personality, if they don’t, they will be drowned in the wine tidal wave that will wash-in later in the year due to Alibaba’s initiation of China Wine Day (read more here).

About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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