Mascots and Guochao

China’s Gen Z, between mascots and Guochao| Retex

26 Oct 2022

Demand for Guochao, the Chinese new wave between contemporaneity and tradition


The Chinese economic market is constantly evolving, moving rapidly from one trend to the next, with a unique dynamism. The last two years have seen the prominence of Gen Z, which has increased its purchasing power and, thanks to its constant presence on digital channels, is steering consumption and trends. These include the return of certain local traditions, updated in a contemporary key and encapsulated under the term Guochao.


What is Guochao and what does it have to do with Gen Z

Guochao literally means ‘national wave’. The term refers to the customs and style of young Chinese people, born in the last years of the last century, capable of mixing contemporary design, high technology and strong references to traditional culture and goods.

In short, Gen Z is re-appropriating historically national objects, products and themes, placing them into the context of today’s consumption, giving them a new allure and conveying them through WeChat and other digital channels, thus making the phenomenon culturally and economically relevant.

Nationalism − which has always been central in the construction of Chinese identity − thus finds its 3.0 version, launching interesting consumer trends, such as the new Made in China, which prefers local products and traditional recollections.

The Guochao thus best represents the young urbanised and globalised Chinese people, but at the same time tied to their own history and devoted to the rediscovery of customs and traditions that belonged to their grandparents and great-grandparents (traditional architecture, Chinese opera and literature, etc.).


Luxury, fashion and food: an overview of the most involved sectors

Benefiting from this new wave are first and foremost the local brands, with Chinese luxury and fashion driving the revival of traditionalism, but also the entertainment, food and wellness industries are rediscovering typical products and materials, ancient lines and a certain retro taste.

There is no shortage of collections inspired by typical festivities, with social accounts dedicated to new trends of the past, with perhaps a glossy touch appropriate to the times.

The many types of Chinese teas have gained renewed popularity, presented as a common thread between generations and as a symbol of local culture, as well as the traditional symbols of the phoenix and the zodiac, which have always been part of the collective imagination but are now once again being valued by Gen Z and the marketing operations aimed at its digital-savvy components.

There is no sector that is not experiencing this moment of traditionalist renewal and that is not preparing communication strategies to ride the new wave, securing the favour of today’s and,  above all, tomorrow’s consumers.


The return of mascots, an accessory of the new elites

Among the most curious aspects of Guochao is the rediscovery of mascots and a childlike style that has always been part of the traditional Chinese imagination and is now more in vogue than ever. Trendy and cute design calls for soft lines and cartoonish puppets, combined with references to childhood but dedicated to an almost adult audience.

Many brands have refocused their campaigns by introducing a mascot to represent them, involving key opinion leaders able to promote not only their commercial messages and products, but also the newborn representative doll or puppet.

These playful elements are often combined with sophisticated and luxury products, in fashion as in jewellery, so as to create an elitist narrative on the one hand, but warm and accessible on the other, capable of engaging younger audiences. They help consumers to distinguish companies and products, as well as stimulate an emotional connection with followers by acting as virtual brand ambassadors, bringing the necessary breath of freshness and light-heartedness.


The opportunities offered by Guochao for Italian brands

Guochao is not only conquering the market of Chinese companies, but is beginning to characterise the positioning initiatives of major international brands, eager to dialogue with the twenty-somethings on the other side of the Great Wall.

An example of this are the Dior campaigns, with an autumn collection that brings together references to Chinese craftsmanship and contemporary lines by narrating the new garments on WeChat and Weibo, but also Burberry and Fendi, which in recent months have presented their mascots online.

The new traditionalist wave is also a concrete opportunity for Italian export products, since it reprioritises the positioning strategies and allows obtaining enormous visibility.

It is necessary, however, to find the right balance between adaptation to the context and authenticity by studying in depth Chinese culture, topics, relevant public, and highlighting traditional values in the best and original way possible. Vice versa, embracing the Guochao trend runs the risk of turning into an articial, ineffective and even grotesque operation.


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