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5 Things About Digital Marketing That I Learned From Visiting China

A friend and I visited China approximately 2 weeks ago. We had a blast. Here are some things we learned related to how the Chinese consume advertising and digital media.

  1. Surprisingly, Wi-Fi is almost everywhere. You can get free Wi-Fi in just about every hotel and many cafes and restaurants, even in remote villages. Except in a few select hotels, 99% of Wi-Fi hotspot are locked down. The ones that aren’t generally run at 2G speed. My guess is because they are subject to greater scrutiny.
  2. Almost all Internet traffic in China goes through “The Great Firewall” (GFW). The GFW effectively turns 4G traffic into 3G, and 3G traffic into 2G. YouTube, Facebook and Google are all blocked. I could have accessed these sites using the Pop Art VPN or other proxy server, but I didn’t. Having a 10-day holiday from Facebook was terrific. You can use the Google.HK in Mainland China, but it is slow. Bing and Yahoo work faster. I could access the “International Editions” of NYTIMES.com and CNN.com, but not the US versions. It is very frustrating to do academic or intellectual research on a topic, find the search engine results link that interests you, only to ind that the destination page is blocked.
  3. Many Chinese citizens have email addresses that are very cryptic and hard to remember. Think: 12413242351253152@12341243.com. Why is this? Four theories come to mind:
    •  Roman letters are easier to type than Chinese characters.
    • Mandarin speakers must learn Western Arabic numbers to make it through daily life. They don’t always learn Western Roman letters as well. The numbers make for an internationally-friendly email address accessible by all, albeit harder to remember.
    •  The emails addresses are disposable. Chinese people frequently switch email addresses as the mail servers that support them get shut down.
    •  The cryptic and hard-to-remember email address makes it slightly harder for the censors to track people.
  4. Consumer brands in Shanghai and Beijing advertise using there .COM web address much more often than their .CN web address. My guess is because they want their brands to appear more Western. Some brands even airbrush Chinese (Han) people to look somewhat Caucasian. I mean, they seriously overdo it.
  5. QR Codes are much more popular in China than they are in the Portland, Oregon. A Chinese employee of a large digital agency emailed me and his email even included an embedded QR code to his app. Again, I think it is because Chinese characters are harder to write down and then retype. Whereas QR generally don’t save me much time, they might if I operated in Mandarin. Android OS is also more popular in China than it is here. I think QR codes are more integrated into Android than they are into iOS.

That’s the low hanging fruit of what I learned about the digital media from my first (and brief) visit to China. If you have other observations or comments, feel welcome to post.

PS: The digital signage on the sides of the skyscrapers in Shanghai is awesome – puts Times Square to shame. And the old Pop Art sign could go head-to-head with the best of them on Nanjing Rd.

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