Whilst I was teaching part-time recently, I asked one of my students to play a Western song that they liked. One of the students played a song which introduced a particular feeling of nostalgia in me : a song called ‘Dilemma’ by Nelly. I can’t say that I’ve ever had any deep feelings towards this song, but the tune was one that I liked and I remember one Christmas playing this song on repeat. Either way, I thought of this as one isolated incident, a student with a penchant for American pop rap.
But then a day later I heard someone listening to it walking down the street. And then again I heard it as a ringtone on the tube. And I kept on hearing this tune, and before long I realised this was no isolated incident but a pattern. A song which made number one in the UK four years previously was finally catching on in China.
I recently went to a factory outlet store (a great place in fact with a very Western style and voted number one shopping outlet in Asia)
Whilst there I went to a BMW lifestyle store. I’m sure this kind of store does exist in the West. But I can’t recall having seen it with the Chinese level of frequency. Perhaps many people can’t afford a BMW but don’t want to be deprived of the mythique surrounding the brand. Either way, inside there was a whole section dedicated to the F1 team Sauber. Except that this team hasn’t existed for about two years.
And the lesson to be formed is what is in fashion in the West often takes time to catch on. Or perhaps it won't ever catch on?
And back to a Dilemma. The Barbie store in Shanghai. After 18 months without any success it closed, taking with it the last of the Barbie stores within China. Something about Barbie was not popular in China. Perhaps the hyper-glamorisation of Barbie was something Chinese mothers did not want want to imbue in their young girls. Or perhaps the cultural and historical legacy of Barbie means nothing to the Chinese consumer (although other companies like Lego have become veritable success stories). Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time had not yet come. But Barbie corp had pulled the rug out from beneath Chinese Barbie's feet before it had had the chance to stamp its authority on the Chinese.