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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 01:09 GMT 02:09 UK
China's lofty ambitions

By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Shanghai

Some of the biggest names have arrived in Shanghai, courtesy of Madame Tussaud's wax museum.

Waxwork of basketball player Yao Ming
Basketball player Yao Ming has become China's biggest brand

There are plenty of celebrities here, but only a few of them are Chinese.

The most famous faces are foreign.

China's making a huge impact in the world, but it still punching far below its weight when it comes to the brand recognition.

There are plenty of big name celebrities in China, but few of them have made overseas.

The biggest star at the waxworks is the basketball player Yao Ming, already China's biggest global brand.

Chinese companies have got a long way to go if they are going to match his kind of success.

Do names like Haier, Konka or Baidu strike a chord?

Perhaps, but it is safe to say these Chinese companies do not have the same brand recognition as names like Philips, Sony or Google.

Chinese brands are taking their first steps into the global market.

Lenovo is a name that already has some recognition, even if it is based on the success of buying IBM's Thinkpad business.

But when will we see our first truly Chinese global brand?

Foreign preference

Western companies have taken to China in a big way.

Baidu logo
Baidu is big in China, but not well known in other countries

Chinese brands are now taking to the world, but according to the experts they still have a lot to learn.

Tom Doctoroff, of JWT, is one of the longest serving advertising specialists in China.

"When I talk about real brands, I'm talking about being able to compete on more than just price," he says.

"There's an active preference for the trademark, and that is something that most Chinese brands don't have yet, even here in China, let alone around the globe."


In China, Mr Doctoroff says, consumers still make the distinction between global and Chinese brands.

Liana Chang of Wieden + Kennedy advertising agency
Ad pro Ms Chang says Chinese firms ask the wrong questions

Choosing the global variety for goods that will be seen publicly, and Chinese brands for the privacy of their own homes.

"Despite price premiums of between 100% and 300%, the leading mobile phones (being purchased) are still all multinational brands, but when you go into the house, then price sensitivity becomes important," he says.

China has faced an onslaught from the largest western brands, tailoring their message especially for the Chinese market.

Nike, McDonalds and KFC have had a lot of success, but Chinese companies have been paying close attention.

Many Chinese firms were formerly state owned, and still have a focus on sales, rather than developing their own unique products and identities.

Flair for originality

The most important lesson for them is to start getting the basics right, according to Liana Chang of Wieden and Kennedy advertising agency.

Hyundai factory in India
Chennai is known as the Detroit of India
HS Lheem, managing director of Hyundai India

"'What do you do well? Who are you?' These are the questions they should be asking internally," Ms Chang says.

"'What is it that you want to communicate to people that you sell to?' These are all things that, thinking about your company long term, can help Chinese companies foster their independence, both in the domestic market and also internationally."

Some Chinese names are growing in confidence, but most are copycats.

A Chinese brand with clout will only appear when they develop a flair for originality.

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