Sex, Love & Marriage: Chinese Millennials Do It Their Own Way

Chinese Valentine’s Day, AKA Qixi, is this week, leading to a near infinite spread of ‘love-based’ brand campaigns. But just what does love – and marriage – mean for the affluent, urban Chinese consumer?

Once we start talking about ‘marriage in China’, we might end up with a chin-strokingly meaningful book on the issue. Trying to define any issue in China needs a targeted segment to discuss. While across regions and demographics the issue of marriage is certainly very complex, if we look at the affluent sector which pertains to luxury brands, marriage is still very much a core of both society and individual life.

What must brands know about the journey of the luxury Chinese consumer through marriage?

Courtship – Security Sells

It may seem an old-fashioned word, but for even young Chinese, courtship is still more apt than any western concept of ‘dating’, whereby you generally keep on meeting each other in an ever-closer relationship until it seems that it’s the ideal fit. In China, the process is much more streamlined, and the keyword often employed is ‘realistic’.

A lady must be realistic in terms of expecting the man to be able to provide well – financially. Even in a rapidly evolving country, certain values or expectations of the marital relationship remain firm.

Looking at the younger generations, brands have capitalised quite easily on the ‘little fresh meat’ concept, i.e. young male pop stars – this is not particularly unique to China: young girls do usually like young male celebrities.

Maybe young girls like to follow a ‘bad boy’ (stretching the concept of the word ‘bad’ in those examples) on Weibo, but not only do affluent, more mature Millennials have less interest in following whimsically doe-eyed boy celebrities on Weibo, they value good old security and pragmatism.

We spoke to Jiaqi Luo, China strategy consultant, essayist and indeed, Chinese female herself, to understand more:

“The fact is that Chinese Millennials’ views of love are uniquely Chinese. They are not primarily interested in passionate love in real terms. They may like to watch others act it out on TV soaps, but for themselves, they value pragmatism above all else: security, commitment and reassurance that this part of their life has been dealt with and they have the means to live their desired lifestyle, which involves more practical aspects than romance – such as career accomplishments.”

“One example of what makes Chinese Millennials’ hearts beat is Roseonly, a Chinese florist with a slogan of ‘Love belongs to believers. Love is only.’ Now a 100 million USD business, Roseonly asks that its customers only buy bouquets for just one person, setting the receiver’s name in metaphorical stone when they make the purchase. Along with the floral delivery, a ‘Roseonly True Love Certificate’ confirms the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the gift. This model made Roseonly akin to a romantic commitment and a statement of security that western Millennials would find not just old-fashioned but outright bizarre and, if I can be frank, cheesy.”

This example reveals that modern Chinese culture may have discarded a western motto of ‘sex sells’, changing it into ‘security sells’. To communicate effectively to Chinese Millennial consumers, eschew the erotic and highlight the homely.

Platinum Preferred Proposals

While the Chinese luxury consumer has moved away from big logos and bling to full discernment and knowledge, nay connoisseurship of luxury, when it comes to a wedding ring jewel – size matters. In this industry, a strong trend of note is the preference towards platinum above all other precious metals.

Platinum has been rising in popularity thanks to its qualities presenting ideal opportunities for savvy marketing campaigns in targeted regions. With platinum holding a diamond in place more firmly than other metals, this element lent itself to a marketing campaign of love held more securely, long-lasting, ‘forever’ – ideal for the key aspects of engagement and marriage. In China, these pointers don’t just go without saying but like to be widely announced features of the overall marital boon.

Huang Xiaoming proposed to mega-KOL Angelababy with a Chaumet Josephine Aigrette Imperiale platinum ring valued at USD 8 million

Responsible for this campaign was Platinum Guild International (PGI). PGI also analysed the distinctions between first, second and third-tier cities in China, noting that the opportunity in bridal jewellery was massive in lower-tier regions.

We spoke to PGI about their China promotions, with Tim Schlick, Chief Strategy Officer of Platinum Guild International explaining that “platinum is in no doubt the metal of choice for couples to express love. It is rare, in fact platinum is 30 times rarer than gold. Platinum jewellery does not tarnish or wear off but gets stronger, hence symbolising eternity in love exchanges.”

“Thanks to the marketing of platinum bridal jewellery, and its association with eternal love, platinum enhanced its position in the bridal category and its size grew 22% between 2014 and 2016. The introduction of exchanging wedding bands between brides and grooms by PGI resulted in substantial growth in platinum pair rings, especially in lower tier cities.”

“Acquisition of platinum diamond rings rose by 1% during 2014 and 2016, whilst platinum pair rings had a significant jump of 12% during the same period. A recent consumer survey on jewellery showed that platinum accounted for over 50% of the pair ring acquisition in 2016, with Tier 3 and Tier 2 cities contributing a double-digit growth of 47% and 13% respectively, to the overall increase in preference for platinum to show couples’ promise of exchanging eternal love.”

The Big Day

The ‘wedding’ in China really means the wedding dinner. Couples actually marry at the registry office, which is a perfunctory affair. Some do dress up and make an occasion of it, while others essentially rock up to the non-descript office block, sign the papers and have done with it. The wedding dinner – often held several months after the registry office marriage, and always on an auspicious date, is the no-holds-barred Big Show.

While many aspects of Chinese society change, shift, evolve and so on, the wedding dinner has largely remained the same for the last couple of decades – and it’s not for the couple, it’s for their parents: one key day in the entire lives of the older generations to have their golden child wed in pomp and ceremonial largesse. They have seen their friends’ children’s weddings ad nauseum, and they want exactly the same tub-thumping pageantry for their own offspring.

A fleet of cars are hired to parade the couple around the city, visiting both sets of parents and going through a set ritual including teas, hongbao (red envelopes with money inside) and fixed routines such as the groom knocking on the door to be ‘allowed in’ to see the bride.

At the dinner itself, changes of clothes, a ‘wedding host’ as the event MC and musical performances are all necessary aspects. It is true that some couples these days will try to lessen the love-based rigmarole of their wedding dinner, well aware that their guests have seen the same identical thing a thousand times over – while their parents will still likely insist on as much routined joy as is possible in the allotted time period.

This urge to escape the culturally-imbued clutches of the passé has created a booming business of destination weddings. For the HNWI luxury Chinese consumer, life is about breaking from the norm and seeking the finest available option worldwide, and their wedding is no different.

Wen Collection is part of the 8 Continents luxury Chinese travel group. Started in 2015 after the GM, Wenwen Zou arranged the wedding of JD.com CEO Richard Liu, they now specialise in the field. Wenwen told us more:

“Looking at trends, Bali has been a very popular choice in the last two years, as the hospitality industry there is well-used to Chinese weddings. More recently, we have seen that smaller European cities and towns are chosen for their qualities such as architecture and atmosphere – and that our clients have not seen anyone else have their wedding there.”

“For how I believe that a resort can better serve Chinese clients, they need to understand that as well as the complications of organising such an event, all guests need to feel like VIPs, even if they are not the bride and groom. Otherwise, it is certainly crucial to have many Chinese-speaking staff – not just one or a few! – Chinese food for breakfast, all materials such as menus in Chinese and more. The Chinese wedding group is indeed a lucrative industry, but the set up is bigger and the needs greater than with clients from other countries. To go in to this business, a hotel or resort must be fully prepared to take it on properly.”

Cyrielle Mohara, Founder of Spectrum wedding and event agency in Shanghai, concurred that these elements are all vital:

“The big brands resorts are still preferred in South East Asia like Alila, Ayana, Bulgari or Ritz Carlton but we’ve recently done some weddings in Europe for an intimate and authentic feel on private estates and villas. To develop that offer we’ve started working with Relais & Chateaux which offers a high level of service for unique hotels, family owned venues, or historical estates & Chateaux.

As well as a Chinese chefs, critical point is the digitalisation of payment such as WeChat pay and Alipay. We are so used to it in China that it makes it difficult when traveling abroad to not have these payment methods available.”

Project an Image of Success at All Times

The wedding photos are just as important as any aspect of the entire saga.

Only Photo is one such company, with over 200 employees and tens of thousands of clients per month. We spoke to a source at Only Photo, to learn more.

“Based on our knowledge, approximately 30-40% of HWNI in first-tier cities have a wedding ceremony – or celebration event – overseas, and this has been rising year on year. The top destinations are Bali and the Maldives – with China’s Sanya as another popular beach location for clients to have a wedding outside of their home city. This trend was started by celebrities who were the first to have beach-resort weddings.”

“One of the most important aspects of the entire thing is the photos. Wedding photos are of course an entire industry in China, with all weddings being accompanied by similar-looking photo albums. So our wealthy clients want to go to the next level up from this, with their wedding photos being as high-quality as an international fashion publication. The look and presentation of the event to their network back home and internationally is as, if not more important, than the ceremony in the resort.”

The Luxury Conversation Takeaways

  • While it is continuously emphasised by the experts that your China strategy must be unique and specific to China (it sounds obvious, yet isn’t always the case!), this is especially true in anything pertaining to emotion, love and the tradition of marriage.
  • While the younger generation may be interested in young male pop stars, this preference is clearly age delineated. While in the West, this adoration of hunky male celebs may continue, once those in China reach marrying age then they quickly change lanes, with clarity for goals and necessary achievements: the practical versus the emotional.
  • The modern, affluent and globally-travelled Chinese luxury consumer is looking for adventure, and for something new that their peers haven’t yet posted on their WeChats – yet, certain traditions still remain. Any travel resort needs to position itself as more than ‘China-friendly’ but ‘China-specialised’ in terms of weddings and related celebrations.
  • As said above, even if a ceremony is not held at an overseas resort, HWNI/UHNWI still engage specialist photo companies to create a celebrity-like visual presentation of the honeymoon. There is further potential for many industry categories to involve this preference somehow – top-quality photo/video production to capture and present various life moments.
  • And what happens after the wedding, when it’s time to build a family? Read about China’s Spicy Mums and Wonder Dads.

Photo credit: Only Photo

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