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From ostentation to experience

The new aspirations of China’s middle class (part 1 out of 4)


Quite like anywhere else in the world, when they join the ranks of the middle class Chinese citizens aspire to consume the brands they see on television or other media commercials and could not afford before. Then, when they go up the income ladder, they seek to express their « nouveau riche » status through the purchase of products that convey a message of financial success: clothes or accessories with visible brand logos, iconic smartphones or unanimously acknowledged alcohols, indicators of wealth such as a car or a nice watch. This is what makes the success of Western brands should they offer daily products such as Nestlé or Gillette, or luxury ones such as Louis Vuitton or Rolex.

This consumption is driven by the desire to access new forms of gratification by conforming to a norm, to what is well recognized by all. The new consumers that go along this path now mostly come from Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities which are the ones inflating the ranks of the middle class today. To a certain extent they behave like their predecessors from the last 15 years primarily living in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, but in a way comparatively more informed, faster in its progression, fed by new influences (such as the Korean culture very present in Chinese media) and new codes of success which are no longer exclusively materialistic. For example, travelling to major traditional destinations such as Paris, London, Tokyo or Singapore has become a widespread way of asserting a certain status.

On their side, members of the more « experienced » middle class, who accessed this category of population several years ago and are often more educated, more in contact with influences from outside the country via travels, friends or colleagues as well as internet, push this aspiration for experiences further. They are less inclined to show off visible signs of status and rather seek more experiential forms of accomplishment: going to the movie, visiting a theme park, tasting a good wine, going on a unique journey, accessing culture. The consumer shifts from the product to an experience, from a desire to conform to a desire of independence.    


Article written by Christophe Jourdain, Ifop International Director.