Is Tradition the New Trendy for Chinese Millennials?

Cultural heritage and traditions have never been more popular among Chinese consumers, and both local and international brands are leveraging that trend.

A growing thirst to learn about their own cultural heritage

Since China opened its borders, Chinese consumers have been admiring foreign and especially Western brands and products, while despising local ones. Case in point is the term “洋气” (Yang Qi) which can literally be translated as “style from overseas”, and actually means trendy and fashionable. The last past years have seen this mindset slowly change in favor of local brands and culture.

The Dolce & Gabbana scandal, shortly followed by critics of Burberry Chinese New Year campaign, clearly demonstrates that today’s consumers expect foreign brands to understand their culture and stigmatize culturally insensitive campaigns. Parallelly, brands allowing them to further explore their thousand-year-old heritage are highly praised, especially by the Millennials.

Integrating cultural heritage elements in a modern way may be the next craze in branding strategies from both local and global companies to connect deeper with their cultural-conscious consumers.

The smart initiatives from the Palace Museum

With 6+ millions followers on Weibo and 4+ millions on Taobao, the Palace Museum leads Chinese cultural industry. Since it opened an online shop on Taobao in 2008 and then on Tmall on 2014, the Museum has been multiplying initiatives to modernize its image and get closer to the Chinese people.

china palace museum cultural products
Source: Palace Museum Taobao shop (left), Becky’s Fantasy Weibo account (middle), Palace Museum Taobao shop (right)

The Museum developed a wide range of museum-themed merchandizes and some were a real hit. For example, a necklace-shaped earphones unveiled in 2014 was one of the first products of the Museum to go viral. The Museum created a limited edition of jewelry in 2016 in collaboration with famous influencer Becky’s Fantasy, which completely sold out within 20 minutes. Another noticeable product is a playful range of adhesive tapes decorated with Chinese traditional patterns, which is one of the best-sellers.

Surfing on the popularity of palace dramas whose story takes place during the Qing Dynasty like Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略), the products have been selling very well, reaching 1.5 billion RMB revenue in 2017. Today, visitors coming to the Palace Museum expect to live an integrated cultural experience, and the merchandized products are a part of it.

Palace Museum key figures

More recently, end of 2018, a set of beauty products including lipsticks and eyeshadows and a set of 6 lipsticks were released respectively by the Museum Taobao shop and the Museum Tmall shop. Both received extremely popular reviews. For the first set,  total sales exceeded 160,000 units within a few days after its release. For the second set, the most popular “Langyao Red” achieved sales of nearly 10,000 units. On Weibo, #Palace Museum Lipsticks# (#故宫口红#) received 30 000+ comments and 34+ million views.

palace museum lipsticks
Source: The Palace Museum Taobao shop (left), The Palace Museum Tmall shop (right)

The Museum also began a collaboration in 2016 with Tencent to modernize and digitalize the image of its traditional cultural heritage. The first stickers released quickly caught the public eye and went viral on Wechat.

Palace museum and Tencent collaboration for design contest next idea, viral sticker on wechat

Local and international brands are jumping on the bandwagon

Brands based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

An increasing number of brands are reinterpreting TCM into a more modern approach. Launched in 1998, Herborist is the first modern Chinese beauty brand based on TCM. By mixing TCM elements with modern design, the brand appeals more and more to Chinese consumers. On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, the brand launched a perfume Mon Instant, exclusively for the Chinese market. Distributed worldwide, Herborist has become the symbol of the Chinese brands that assume their origin.

Herborist traditional Chinese Medecine beauty brand

Another interesting example is: Ganoherb Tech., founded in 2009. The brand has developed a wide range of products around one TCM ingredient: the renowned medicinal fungi “Lingzhi”. From food supplement and oil to beauty, all products benefit from this super ingredient.

Luxury x heritage

In 2018, luxury brand Montblanc celebrated Kangxi, considered one of China’s greatest emperors, through a limited edition of premium pens. Simultaneously, the Swiss brand launched an interactive Wechat campaign to provide an immersive experience around this creation. The Montblanc High Artistry Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition combines cultural codes and digital tools to connect with the younger Chinese generation.

Montblanc High Artistry Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition
Source: Montblanc

Chinese consumers craving to explore further their cultural heritage is a trend that foreign luxury brands are more and more leveraging. Many Maisons like Cartier and Chaumet have collaborated with the Palace Museum to restore antique pieces from the Forbidden City.