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Sample Research Proposal on AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE MOST INFLUENTIAL ADVERTISING METHOD AMONG YOUNG CHINESE PEOPLE

RATIONALE OF THE STUDY

 

 

            This study seeks to investigate the types of advertising used in China to address the youth and determine which approach is most influential to them. The term influential is used in this study as a term to define a Chinese youth's positive decision to purchase a product because of specific styles in advertising they like, or to define a Chinese youth's plain preference to a particular advertisement and his or her reason for that behavior. This issue is decided to be investigated because the Chinese youth makes up 630 million of the whole Chinese population (Simpson, 2000). That number is a potential target for companies marketing in China. China, over the years, has progressed in the advertising industry. There is a drive to increase the use of advertising in the country. However, while there is a potential to increase market sales of companies in China through advertising, most studies are general and are not focused on a specific demographic group. For instance, it is still undetermined which advertising approach is most influential to Chinese youth. The rationale of this study is basically to determine which type of advertising approach or combination of different advertising strategies will have an appeal on a specific demographic group such as the Chinese youth. This study may begin to determine the types of strategies needed in advertising to penetrate China's youth market. Advertising is a broad issue and there are many approaches to consider. However, the preferences of the youth in advertisements can be narrowed down in a single combination of advertising strategies. This study may be useful for companies that are willing to market in China and target the youth as their main consumers.

 

OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

 

 

          The study will address three key objectives. They are the following:

1.                  To determine the most effective communication process and message medium of advertising that can be effectively used to gain the attention and support of the Chinese youth.

2.                  To determine which advertising features do Chinese youth mostly prefer and what types of themes can capture their attention easily; and also to determine which medium used for advertising (i.e., TV, radio, magazines, etc.) they usually use.  

3.                  To increase the overall understanding in the current Chinese youth culture and to build theories through that culture on how advertising can be used effectively on them. This may also be an opportunity to build new theories in advertising to the Chinese youth.

 

CONTRIBUTION OF EXISTING LITERATURES

 

 

            The isolated China the world once knew is now extinct. Over the years, China has been in a period of economic transition, becoming a manufacturing superpower in the process. In economic terms, China's market-oriented reforms have brought highly visible success and economic transformation, raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty (Country Watch, 2005). The country's economic success attracted many foreign investors and continues to do so (Jagersma and van Corp, 2003). Some examples of multinational companies that became successful in China include the likes of Motorola, Philips and Unilever (Jagersma and van Corp, 2003). What makes China attractive to investors is that its reforms and economic growth made the country a consumer powerhouse; including 1.3 billion consumers who have begin to demand more expensive consumer goods such as washing machines, cars and CD players to name a few (Tse, 1998; Jagersma and van Corp, 2003). Not only that, China is also a home of cheap raw materials and affordable labor, and is also considered as a perfect export site of inexpensive semi-finished and finished products (Jagersma and van Corp, 2003).

 

            With all these market potentials in China, there are many marketing factors that are needed to be investigated, and how to incorporate advertising strategies in the country is one of them. Along with the growth of Chinese markets, the advertising industry has grown head to head with it – their growths are almost intertwined. Since the end of China's isolation to the world, there has been a serious drive to promote advertising in the country. For instance, in 1987, Wan Li, prime minister of the Chinese State Council, declared advertising essential to the promotion of economic prosperity (Chan, 1995). Since then, the advertising sector has experienced very rapid growth. Chan (1995) stated that the average annual growth rate of advertising revenue for the period between 1983 and 1993 was 50%. Similarly, Ha (1996) cited that from 1992 to 1993, the number of advertising agencies almost tripled (Ha, 1996). It is said that China's open-door policy has influenced this growth greatly (Chillier and Denis, 1999).

 

            However, despite this growth in advertising, Chillier and Denis (1999) argued that there are still many questions that need answers concerning this rapidly expanding and culturally complex market. Some of the unanswered questions they pointed out include: What is the current advertising context in China (customs, constraints, distinctive cultural features)? What lessons must foreign firms operating in China learn about advertising strategies?

 

 But while those questions have a definite weight in them, they are too general and broad because there are many demographic groups in China. In this current study, it is decided that if ever such questions are explored, the focus should be on specific demographic groups. The specific demographic group chosen for this study is the Chinese youth group. This group is chosen because Chinese youth is perhaps the most definite target of advertisements. Simpson (2000) from the BBC world news stated that the estimated population of China is more than 1.2 billion and more than half of them - about 630 million - are under the age of 24. Simpson (2000) emphasized, without any exaggeration, that the entire Chinese youth population is more than the entire population of United States, Russia, Canada and Australia combined. Furthermore, young people account for 35.9 percent of China's 21.9 internet users and 23% of them have mastered at least one foreign language (Smith and Wylie, 2006).

 

One of the issues that advertisers need to consider when addressing and capturing the hearts and minds of Chinese youth is the changing Chinese youth culture. One of these changes is that Chinese youth has already jumped into the 'cool' mentality (Smith and Wylie, 2006). In a particular study that asked Chinese university students to state what makes a company 'cool', under half of the respondents made the correct description – individuality and innovation make a company cool (Smith and Wylie, 2006). Chinese youth now wants products that will make them stand out from the rest of the crowd. Smith and Wylie (2006) stated that if companies want to succeed in advertising to Chinese youth, they must incorporate values that Chinese youth perceive as 'cool' – an image of individualism, entrepreneurship, and empowerment.

 

Being 'cool' among Chinese Generation Yers is also characterized by rebellion, openness, aggressiveness, and electronic music, avant-garde, dyed-hair and weird wardrobes (Min, 2004). Min (2004) stated that Chinese parents mostly do not understand the behavior of their teen offspring. It was cited from a famous Taiwanese writer that the current generation gap in China is just unavoidable, and that mutual understanding and respect should be pursued because each generation has their own shared experience (Min, 2004).

 

The Chinese youth's embracement of the concept of 'cool' can also be reflected from the media, specifically Chinese television shows. Recently, teen-focused television shows emerged across China and one notable example that can be cited is the 'Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl contest' that took place last year (Lynch, 2005). The contest is similar to Idol search contests (i.e., American Idol, British Idol, etc.) that are sweeping in different countries across the world. The Super Girl contest in a nutshell gives a shot to young women all over China for televised fame and fortune (Lynch, 2005). The contest featured five finalists: a moody, Avril Lavigne-type rocker; a prepubescent baby doll; an energetic schoolgirl; a glamour queen in evening wear; and a rough-and-ready tomboy (Lynch, 2005).  This shows that Chinese girls are now becoming familiar with the global concept of popular culture, which is the beginning of being conscious to the concept of 'being cool'.

 

Wang (2005) stated that dress code is the first priority in Chinese youth culture in order to be labeled as 'cool'. Music is not being taken as a form of self-expression unlike in other countries adhering to the concept of 'cool'. According to Wang (2005), "Music is a backseat driver, second to the dress code, in the total picture of cool culture consumption, and should not be taken as a privileged force in influencing brand adoption". In China, music is seen primarily as an entertainment culture rather than a vehicle of serious self-expression.

 

Aside from the 'cool' concept, advertisers in China might also want to look at the 'sex appeal' approach in advertising to gain the attention of Chinese youth. According to Liu, Li and Cheng (2005), China is now experiencing a period of sexual revolution. The evidence is all over China: billboards advertising of Calvin Klein underwear; increase of most often sexual-themed fashion magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Vogue; and the increase of love-making scenes on Chinese movies (Liu, Li and Cheng, 2005). There are also news that reflects China's sexual awakening such as the increase of sexually-themed news, and the introduction of adult products exposition. Liu, Li and Cheng (2005) stated that sex is not a taboo in China anymore, and the most liberal demographic about it are the Chinese youth. Although there are government efforts to stop sexually explicit advertising, such themes keep coming back and basically shows that the Chinese people are now open for such a sensitive issue.

 

            Aside from the communication approaches in advertising such as the 'cool' and 'sexual' approach mentioned above, there are also other traditional advertising approaches that may gain the attention of Chinese youth. For instance, advertisers have also been known to use emotional and informative appeal in advertising. Informative and emotional advertising are two basic types of creative strategies (Chan and Chan, 2005). Informative advertisements communicate facts about the product or the brand (Chan and Chan, 2005). The targeted response is usually a logical thinking process. Emotional advertisements on the other hand attempt to establish a favorable feeling and associate it with the brand (Chan and Chan, 2005). Currently, Chan and Chan (2005) found that the percentage of informative commercials dropped from 58% in 1993 to 55% in 2002. The research shows that the amount of information content carried by individual commercials dropped significantly. Chan and Chan (2005) explained that the continued shift of direct informative advertising to emotional or symbolic appeal advertising further illustrated that China was now entering a post-scarcity age. However, it is still unclear if this type of advertising applies to the Chinese youth. Further researches are needed to be conducted to confirm this hypothesis.

 

            The advertising law in China is simple. There are few points that are prohibited in any advertising campaign. They are: the use the National Flag, the National Emblem or the National Anthem of the People's Republic of China; use the names of State organs or their functionaries; use terms such as "State-level," the "highest-grade" or "the best"; hinder social stability or endanger the safety of persons or property, or harm the public interest; hinder public order or violate sound social morals; contain information suggesting pornography, superstition, terror, violence or hideousness; contain information that engages in ethnic, racial, religious or sexual discrimination; hinder the protection of environment or natural resources; or; other circumstances prohibited by laws or administrative rules and regulations (China Online, 2004). Those who are planning to advertise to Chinese youth should consider those prohibitions to develop an effective advertising campaign that can penetrate the Chinese youth culture.

 

            Language may also be an issue when advertising to Chinese people in general. Liu and Pecotich (2000) stated that language is a basic communication tool so it plays an important part in advertising. The concepts such as memory, recall or persuasive power will unavoidably affected by the languages. Since dialects are spoken languages, it is believed that dialects will also affect those variables in advertising. Liu and Pecotich (2000) cited that there are more than 80 languages currently used in China but since more than 98% of the people in China are from the Han ethnic race. The choice between the use of mother tongue or foreign language should also be considered as an issue. Cited from Lynch (2005) again on the Super Girl contest, a rocker, Huang Jing, a college student majoring in advertising, seemed the favorite of the crowd. However, after she belted out her opening number in English, one of the four judges, music producer Cang Yanbin, chastised her. "You should trust the charm of the mother tongue," he said. This shows that the Chinese are very much keen in preserving the use of their mother tongue despite the fact that English is already considered as the international language that every nation can use to communicate. But then, it is still unknown which language do Chinese youth prefer to hear in TV and radio advertisements or read in newspaper advertisements. As mentioned earlier, many Chinese youth today have already mastered one foreign language. This may have a link to how they want to hear or read their daily advertising experiences.

            Aside from themes and communication approaches, another area of advertisement that advertisers should look at in addressing Chinese youth is the type of medium used for the ad. There are basically many media that can be used for advertisement. These may include: newspaper, television, radio, magazines, internet, yellow pages, and direct mail (Bruneau, 2004). Among those medium, television may be the best bet. According to the Center for the Study of Intelligence (2006), current estimates indicate that there are now about 25 TV sets per 100 people and that roughly a billion Chinese have access to television. Furthermore, an official estimate shows that there are now more than 7,000 magazines and journals in the country, which means that the usage of published materials in the country may have increased (Center for Study Intelligence, 2006). Also, it has been reported that there is a continuous increase of Internet usage in the country (Center for Study Intelligence, 2006). This also shows a great opportunity for companies to advertise on popular local internet sites in China. These variations in advertising medium make it more complex to determine which advertising medium greatly influenced the Chinese youth.

 

METHODOLOGY

 

 

            The research strategy that the study will utilize is the descriptive method. A descriptive research intends to present facts concerning the nature and status of a situation, as it exists at the time of the study (Creswell, 1994). It is also concerned with relationships and practices that exist, beliefs and processes that are ongoing, effects that are being felt, or trends that are developing. (Best, 1970) In addition, such approach tries to describe present conditions, events or systems based on the impressions or reactions of the respondents of the research (Creswell, 1994). This research is also cross-sectional because of limited time. This research is a study of a particular phenomenon (or phenomena) at a particular time. (Saunders et al, 2003) Accordingly, cross-sectional studies often employ the survey strategy, and they may be seeking to describe the incidence of a phenomenon or to compare factors in different organizations.

 

In this study, primary and secondary research will be both incorporated. The reason for this is to be able to provide adequate discussion for the readers that will help them understand more about the issue and the different variables that involve with it. The primary data for the study will be represented by the survey results that will be acquired from the respondents. On the other hand, the literature reviews to be presented in the second chapter of the study will represent the secondary data of the study. The secondary sources of data will come from published articles from business and e-commerce journals, theses and related studies on advertising and specifically advertising to the youth not only in China, but in other parts of the world. For this research, the researcher, after gathering the relevant data needed, will collate them together with published studies from different local and foreign universities and articles from social science journals, then afterwards render a critical analysis on the collected documents and verbal materials.

 

Data Collection

 

 

The survey method, also known as the questionnaire method, will be used in gathering the data for this study.

 

Surveys are the most common form of research method for collection of primary data (Commonwealth of Learning, 2000). One of its purpose is to describe, e.g., to count the frequency of some event or to assess the distribution of some variables such as proportion of the population of different age groups, sex, religion, castes and languages, knowledge, attitude and adoption of practices about particular issues, and other information of similar nature about the population (Commonwealth of Learning, 2000). The descriptive survey of the population is valuable in understanding the audience, and in the definition of the existence and magnitude of the problems, and the survey data are also helpful in determining cause and effect relationships between variables (Commonwealth of Learning, 2000). Further, the preliminary descriptive survey results can prove useful for planning more sophisticated survey studies with a view to identifying areas where problems occur or where changes are required, to understand why people behave in a certain manner and what can be done to provide alternate solutions to the problems, where an attempt is made to understand the relationships between different variables, and the purpose of survey becomes to diagnose or analyze the situation rather than just describe the situation (Commonwealth of Learning, 2000). Surveys may also be done to measure the extent and nature of effect and impact of a project to the population exposed to it for a reasonable length of time (Commonwealth of Learning, 2000).

 

A semi-structured questionnaire will be used for this study. Accordingly, semi-structured interviews provide the researcher the opportunity to 'probe' answers, which can be done in instances where there is a need or want for the interviewees to explain further or build on their responses, and this is important if one is adopting a phenomenological approach, where the researcher is concerned to understand the meanings that respondents attribute to various phenomena, as interviewees may use words or ideas in a particular way, and the opportunity to probe these meanings will add significance and depth to the data obtained and may also lead the discussion into areas that had not been previously considered but which are significant for understanding and may help in addressing research questions and objectives (Saunders et al, 2003). Basically, the questionnaire will contain statements that can be answered through ranking and will also contain open-ended questions. A five-point Likert Scale is the technique to be used to measure the responses of the respondents on the ranking statements.

 

Sample Frame

 

The study will sample a target number of 500 Chinese middle-class university students age 17 to 21. The samples will be chosen through convenience sampling. Convenience sampling is picked over types of probability sampling because it will make the survey faster and easier. The total number of youth is China is by millions and the use of non-probability sampling such as convenience may be advisable because 1 percent of that total population is too much for the study to cover.

 

            The criteria for the sampling is that the respondents should be Chinese citizens, Chinese in lineage, should be studying in a university, their family should have a good yearly income, and that they should be 17 to 21 years old. These specific demographic requirements have been put in the study so as to make the results more specific. Middle class youth are chosen because they are the ones who have access to different types of media and are most likely to purchase branded products and rely on advertisement for purchase guidance.

Data Analysis

 

The data results of the study will be analyzed by determining their corresponding frequency, percentage and weighted mean. The following statistical formulas will be used:

 

1.       Percentage – to determine the magnitude of the responses to the questionnaire.

            n

% = -------- x 100        ;           n – number of responses

            N                                 N – total number of respondents

 

2.       Weighted Mean

            f1x1 + f2x2  + f3x3 + f4x4  + f5x5

x = ---------------------------------------------  ;

                        xt

where:             f – weight given to each response

                        x – number of responses

                        xt – total number of responses

 

Potential Limitations

 

 

            One of the potential limitations of the study is the number of samples. The target number of sample is small if converted as a percentage of the total Chinese middle class youth population. However, this may also be valid because the number of sample is enough to produce a general idea on the preferences of Chinese youth in advertising. Furthermore, a recommendation for future study will be provided so as to promote the continuous investigation on this issue.

 

            Another limitation of the study is the availability of related literature about the preference of Chinese youth in advertising or which one is most influential to them. An initial research on the internet was already conducted prior to this proposal and it was found that resources that exactly relates with the topic are scarce. However, a good contingency for this is by reviewing literatures on specific variables related to the study topic i.e. sexual appeal in advertising, cool appeal, etc. Foreign literatures can also be used as a substitute.


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