Posted by admin on Dec 4, 2011 in Welcome

Hello and welcome to Brand Mania, the brand journal of a rambling fanatic named Sherry! Although some of my entries were written out of chronological order, it’s still probably best to start with the first post at the very bottom. :)


Luxury Good Consumption in China

Posted by admin on Nov 25, 2011 in Luxury Goods

One day, I was walking to class when I saw a beautiful black Mercedes-Benz roaring off after briefly pausing at a stop sign on campus. I looked through the dark window and saw that the driver was an Asian guy. I shrugged, knowing that he was a wealthy international student, and continued on my way. About a month later, I was chatting with my teammates in my IST class and we had landed on the topic of international students. One of my teammates, an American guy, mentioned seeing “an Asian dude driving around campus in his $350k black Mercedes” every day. Another teammate, a girl from Thailand, piped up and said she thought she knew who he was referring to. She told us point-blank that he was a rather unattractive Chinese guy who had a gorgeous girlfriend. (It didn’t take a genius to read between the lines and understand her implication.) Just earlier this week, I was eating lunch with a Malaysian friend who rambled about other international students and mentioned that there was a Chinese couple who often drove around campus in a white Mercedes.

Clearly, I was not the only person who had noticed high-end cars being shown off by Chinese international students on the Penn State campus. I was both repulsed and intrigued by this kind of consumer behavior. After all, the vast majority of well-off working adults can’t afford such luxurious vehicles, much less college students. Yet these privileged young people, clearly spoiled rotten by their millionaire or billionaire parents, take great pleasure in driving in circles around campus to impress their girlfriends, friends, and fellow students. This led me to wonder how scarily rampant luxury good consumption in China must be if all the wealthy like to flaunt their money that way. I didn’t need to read articles like BusinessWeek’s “In China, to Get Rich is Glorious” (which was actually written in 2006) to confirm my fears. Even the Chinese television shows that I liked to watch on occasion affirmed these trends and attitudes.

Shou Junchao was a rapper on China’s Got Talent in 2010 who made it to the final four and has since signed with Starlight Entertainment Management Inc. and released his first original album. During his audition performance, he rapped about the plight of the “lucky” generation of young people born after 1980. The part of his rap that struck me the most was: “We’ve got to save money to buy luxury brands for our girlfriends. If our gifts aren’t as good as those given by others, we’ll probably be told ‘bye-bye.’ This is the generation of piling up money like bricks. Yo, this is the helpless ‘luck’ of our 80s generation.” (Translated by yours truly.) I admire Shou Junchao from the bottom of my heart becomes he understands and shares the experiences of so many young people in China.

His words echoed in my mind as I watched episode after episode of Fei Cheng Wu Rao (“be sincere or don’t bother”), a wildly popular Chinese dating game show. In one episode, a female contestant told a male contestant that she would rather cry in a BMW than laugh riding on the back of a bicycle. Criticized by government officials for promoting materialism, Fei Cheng Wu Rao was forced to change its format. But long after the program omitted contestant information like personal wealth, I’ve observed that the male contestants who hinted at their wealth or showed their expensive cars and richly furnished homes in their videos were far more likely to end up with several willing female contestants to choose from.

According to a Bloomberg article from June, China is now home to a million millionaires, which still “grossly underestimates true overall wealth in China.” Naturally, these millionaires are driving the rapidly growing market for luxury goods, and the purchasing power of the Chinese consumers in the international market has increased due to the appreciation of the yuan and depreciation of the euro. Brands like LV and Gucci are in such high demand in mainland China that they are sold at sky-high prices and are far more expensive than the same brands overseas. Even byproduct food like swallow’s nest soup is sold at exorbitant prices. Fine art and ancient relics worth fortunes are purchased by collectors who don’t even blink at the price tags. And recently, Yao Ming launched his own wine brand targeted at the Chinese market: the 2009 Yao Ming Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $289 per bottle.

Luxury good consumption in China is such an enormous topic that can’t possibly be covered in depth in a measly blog post. I’ll just use this space to draw some of my own conclusions about consumer behavior when it comes to luxury goods. I believe that this extravagant spending on famous brands is due to the desire of China ‘s ever-growing upper-class and even middle-class to enhance their identity by buying luxury brands that elevate their social status and lifestyle.

Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics that affect consumer behavior. I believe that cultural, social, personal, and psychological factors all influence consumer purchases of luxury goods. Cultural values like hard work, success, and material comfort are deeply entrenched in the Chinese mindset. The upper class (upper uppers and lower uppers) and upper-middle class tend to buy expensive homes and cars and send their children to the finest schools. Consumer behavior of buying famous brands can also be strongly influenced by the desire to appease and impress family and friends. Personal desires to showcase a sophisticated personality and cosmopolitan tastes can also play a role. Of course, it can be argued that flaunting ownership of luxury goods is a sign of low cultural capital rather than high cultural capital.

Finally, psychological factors like perception and beliefs and attitudes can impact buying choices. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, luxury goods definitely fall under esteem needs (self-esteem, recognition, status). For consumers who want to boost their confidence, wearing classy jewelry and high-end watches might be the answer. For a troubled man going through a mid-life crisis, buying that slick Ferrari might sooth his anxieties. For arrogant pricks, exhibiting their lavish mansions may be their way of commanding respect from others. There’s such a plethora of motivations behind consumption of luxury goods that I can go on forever!



Posted by admin on Nov 25, 2011 in Wegmans

It’s time for me to make a confession: I hate shopping with a passion. I know, I know, what a terrible thing for a girl to say! Actually, I enjoy browsing through online retailers, but my knees grow weak at just the thought of wandering aimlessly for hours, looking at items I don’t want, don’t need, or won’t pay for, and walking in circles looking for the exit with heavy shopping bags looped through my arms. I don’t like grocery shopping any more than mall shopping, especially since there are always the inevitable shopping cart collisions and horrendously long lines. However, I just loooooove shopping at Wegmans, which is my grocery store of both choice and necessity.

Because I suffer from a rare and chronic skin disorder that has so far manifested almost entirely on my scalp, I have to make careful and restricted lifestyle choices. After medicated shampoos and prescription creams failed to control my worsening condition for years, I consulted dozens of sources and decided to play doctor to relieve my unsightly and irritating symptoms. I’ve put myself on a gluten-free, yeast-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free diet (terribly difficult, but with promising results), and I adhere to strict exercise and sleep schedules and use a variety of natural treatments on a daily basis. Wegmans is the only store in town that meets all of my food and treatment needs, and it has become my ideal place to shop. I am so bound to this supermarket that my culture code for Wegmans is LIVESAVER and my culture code for shopping at Wegmans is FREEDOM.

Although I’m a townie and live at home with my parents, I almost always drive to Wegmans and shop alone. The allure of the Wegmans atmosphere is irresistible: it’s clean, homey, organized, spacious, and even smells delicious. I’m completely at home strolling down the wide aisles among polite and health-conscious shoppers. I hate parting with my money, but I’m satisfied with every dollar I spend, even if I pay $8 for every tiny 11 oz. bottle of organic shampoo. I know off the top of my head that I use Wegmans brand cotton swipes, antibacterial soap, and bottled water, and if anything I take pride in using the less expensive Wegmans brand because its products work just as well as name brands. If I were to hunt around my house, I’m sure I could find many more Wegmans products.

Wegmans really has an outstanding retailing mix, which consists of six Ps: product, place, price, promotion, presentation, and personnel. Wegmans’s product offering is huge in both width (assortment of products offered) and depth (number of different brands offered within each assortment). I know the nature’s marketplace like the back of my hand and have the freedom to choose from the numerous assortments and brands available. It’s a treasure trove that contains everything I need: organic shampoos and conditioners, aloe vera gel, tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, fish oil, and probiotics. It’s also a gluten-free paradise, although I can’t eat most gluten-free brand-name foods because they still contain yeast, dairy, or sugar. However, I can easily buy oats and nuts, both of which I consume in large quantities, from the many dispensers at Wegmans. In addition to all its grocery aisles, Wegmans also offers a market cafe, patisserie, nature’s marketplace, pharmacy, sub shop, pizza shop, bakery, and sushi bar. What else can even the most enthusiastic foodie possibly ask for?

Located at the Colonnade at State College, Wegmans is situated near Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, Kohl’s, and Petco. Even though it’s part of a shopping center, Wegmans is definitely a destination store for me because I purposely make plans to visit it, though sometimes I also drop by Petco to buy supplies for my three adorable little fishies. The store is open 24/7 and ready to serve customers at any time, on any day. Wegmans does try to keep its own prices competitive against name brands, and bright yellow “new lower prices” tags can be found in every aisle, although the prices of most of its products are still higher than at other grocery stores like GIANT, Weis, and Wal-Mart. Wegmans promotions are evident in flyers, price markdowns, posters, and holiday specials.

The Wegmans retail environment is upscale, neat, and uncrowded, the fixtures are elegant and contain rich wood, and the aromas from the various shops are so pleasant and enticing. The atmosphere is warm, relaxing, and brightly lit, just like how a home should be. The product presentation at Wegmans is wonderful. I don’t even like cheese and I can’t eat those delicious chocolate fig cakes anymore, but I drool over them every time I walk by their delectable arrangements. The sushi bar looks like heaven. Wegmans personnel provide excellent customer service, partially because they enjoy higher wages and greater benefits than employees at other supermarkets. Checkouts are generally well-staffed and cashiers are amiable and service-oriented.

I can’t even dream of a better place to shop than Wegmans! I climbed up the brand equity pyramid in no time. I’m totally aware of the brand, it satisfies my psychological and functional needs, its performance and imagery evoke positive emotional reactions and favorable opinions from me, and Wegmans and I are the best of friends!




Guerrilla Marketing

Posted by admin on Nov 25, 2011 in Guerrilla Marketing

After watching a classmate’s 10-minute teacher presentation on guerrilla marketing, I became extremely interested in the subject and decided to search for more striking examples. As soon as I heard the term guerrilla, I immediately thought of guerrilla warfare, and the first image that came to mind was a riveting scene from The Patriot in which a South Carolina militia used guerrilla warfare to impede British forces from advancing north during the Revolutionary War. After researching for a while about guerrilla marketing, I discovered that this unconventional promotion strategy is quite aptly named, since it’s all about achieving maximum results using minimal resources. Just like a guerrilla militia, the guerrilla marketing force is small and agile, and its weapons are creative and unconventional.

I browsed through a hundred or so examples and ended up classifying guerrilla marketing campaigns into two categories: brand and cause. The first kind of guerrilla marketing seeks to promote a brand to consumers in an astonishing and engaging way. The second kind conveys an important message to an audience in an attention-grabbing, unexpected way. Both kinds are thought-provoking and don’t use up much of an organization’s marketing budget, but may require other inputs like time and energy. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of each kind.

Nike, the world’s leading supplier of athletic shoes and apparel, is one of the most ubiquitous brands in society. Its motto, “just do it,” is so prevalent that perhaps it may start to sound like a broken record. So somewhere down the line, Nike decided to try out guerrilla marketing for “Nike Extreme,” accompanied by the motto of “just experience it.” Wow! The Nike swoosh has been transformed into a huge red ski ramp on the snowy slopes of a ski resort. I can spot daredevil skiers navigating around the trees and gliding down the slope near the swoosh ramp. Even if the Nike ramp isn’t actually safe to attempt in spite of how tempting it looks, it’s still a big fat advertisement for all those skiers to use Nike’s extreme sports gear.

Nikon, on the other hand, is a Japanese manufacturer of cameras and other optical devices. The flashing Nikon paparazzi billboard and red carpet campaign is quite ingeniously designed, although it probably also cost quite a bit. This innovative spectacle is located at a Seoul subway station and works like this: the unsuspecting passersby strolls down the red carpet on his way out and passes the life-size paparazzi billboard, which immediately triggers flashing camera lights. The passersby gets a taste of what being a celebrity feels like when lights pop and flash from the Nikon cameras of the paparazzi who are jostling for the best angle.  The red carpet takes the celebrity out of the subway station and leads him straight into a nearby store selling the Nikon D700. The billboard itself is dazzling and impressive, but the luxurious red carpet that directs the potential customer directly to the fabulous product awaiting him is just unforgettable! It can even be considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience, courtesy of Nikon.

Guerrilla marketing can also be used for nonprofit motives, such as raising awareness of a social problem. I’m not a squeamish person, but I would definitely cringe if I saw 27 fake bodies littered on the streets of Vancouver one November morning. The bodies were placed downtown in scenes of murder or suicide and accompanied by signs that urged people to visit vitalaction.ca. The mission of the campaign was to raise awareness about the case Carter vs. Canada, learn about the dangers of assisted suicide, and encourage signing of a petition to the Attorney General. The shock value of this guerrilla campaign must have been incredible. I’m sure that people who were still half-asleep would rush past the bodies and then do a double-take, backtrack, approach tentatively, read the sign, and snap photos with their phones to upload to Facebook or Twitter. Traffic to the website skyrocketed and the campaign was mentioned on national radio stations. It was a daring project for sure, but it required only a small budget and successfully got Vital Action all the public attention it could ever want.

The guerrilla campaign that left the deepest emotional impact on me was the one launched by Feed SA, a charity dedicated to feeding disadvantaged people in South Africa. When I first laid eyes on the shopping cart on the left, I was stunned speechless. At first I thought there was actually a child crouching in a shopping cart with a dark-colored bottom. It took me a few seconds to realize that both carts are pasted with decals of hungry street children with hands outstretched plaintively, begging for food. A sign asking rhetorically “See how easy feeding the hungry can be?” is displayed on the handle. Any food that the shopper places in the cart will seem to be given to the child. The plea to help hungry people in the streets couldn’t possibly go unnoticed by the shoppers who used those carts at grocery stores. Bins for food contribution were placed at the exits, allowing shoppers to easily donate some of the food they had just purchased. I applaud this campaign and still marvel at it to this day. Even though I’m just staring at a photograph, the cold, harsh reality of widespread hunger hits me like a bucketful of icy water.

I think that guerrilla marketing is so effective because it completely takes consumers by surprise, challenges them, and leaves a deep impression of such an explicit interaction. Because these campaigns are so creative and picture-perfect, they’re likely to be circulated far and wide by the people who came across the ads and were impressed by them. There are so many tactical areas where guerrilla marketing can be applied: cars, benches, bus stops, sidewalks, “bagvertisements,” vending machines, and trash cans, just to name a few. The scope of guerrilla marketing is limited only by the imagination, and the buzz generated can be potentially limitless. It’s just a perfect idea for grassroots organizations and small businesses that are on a tight budget and willing to take the chance.


Business Card

Posted by admin on Oct 27, 2011 in Business Card

The front and back of my business card:

This business card represents me as a brand quite faithfully, especially in the context of selling myself to my target market: individuals and organizations in need of a Chinese-English translator. I prefer to translate literary works (novels, short stories, poetry), television dramas and movies, and encyclopedia and news articles. During 2011, I’ve translated more than 100,000 words, mostly chapters of multiple-volume novels (examples) and subtitles for variety shows.

The front of my business card introduces myself in a cheery, semi-traditional manner that is neither out-of-this-world extraordinary nor terribly mundane, which accurately reflects both my personality and my translation style. My slogan is “Never Lost in Translation” because while it’s true that the nuances of certain words and phrases (such as idioms, proverbs, honorifics, kinship terms, terms of endearment, and cultural phenomena) can’t be perfectly translated across languages while still retaining their original meaning, I don’t believe that the idea of “lost in translation” is a valid excuse for not coming up with the most suitable, if not best, translation. Someone once said, “Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful.” While I vehemently disagree with this statement in more ways than one, my main contention is that a skilled translator should be capable of bridging the gaps between languages without sacrificing either accuracy or style. When translating, I follow these priorities, which a fellow translator also abides by: Original Meaning > Literalness > Original Style > Time Saving > Readability. I hope that my slogan will position myself as a translator who takes great care in offering the best possible interpretation that suits my client’s tastes.

My logo is a sprig of plum blossoms, which is not only one of my favorite flowers, but also one of the most beloved and celebrated flowers in East Asia. As opposed to the equally beautiful peach, cherry, and apricot blossoms, plum blossoms alone bloom during the cold winter, thriving in snow and frost and exuding a delicate fragrance even in the harshest conditions. An emblem of winter and harbinger of spring, the plum blossom symbolizes perseverance, hope, beauty, and virtue, making it one of the most popular subjects in Chinese art and poetry for centuries. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better cultural motif for branding myself as a translator who seeks to preserve and share with the rest of the world something that is so deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. Moreover, the staunchness of plum blossoms in the face of adversity echoes my own never-give-up personality and ability to work well under a tight deadline.

The back of my card serves not only an aesthetic purpose, but also demonstrates my creativity and writing style. I composed a 32-character poem in Chinese that reads from top to bottom, right to left. I rendered the poem in legible calligraphy and also used my own seal. The poem is accompanied Xu Beihong’s famous 1943 ink painting “Red Plum Blossoms.”

Just for fun, I tried my hand at translating my own poem into English, but I decided against overcrowding my card with the translation. While it’s difficult to gauge whether or not a potential employer in need of a Chinese-English translator can read Chinese, I think that not including the English translation is the best decision in both cases. Even if my target market is unable to understand the poem, the artistry and mystery should still bring about a sense of satisfaction and pleasure.

I believe my English version recreates the original scene perfectly, fully capturing the original meaning without losing sight of the original style. I even managed to keep every line at nearly the same length, so perhaps not even the meter was lost in translation. ;)

A Thousand Miles of Plum Blossoms

The crescent moon in deep winter is clear and exquisite like a dream
The freezing wind pierces the bones and lingers in the eternal night
Drifting snowflakes accompany dancing blossoms in unmatched splendor
I gaze forlornly at withering beauty that fills the eyes in every direction

The back of my business card is extremely transferable and can be easily converted into a wall painting (with the accompanying poem written in my own calligraphy) or a calendar (with classic paintings and my own poems filling up every month of the year). An attractive calendar that’s frequently consulted can be an effective marketing tool because my brand elements and contact information at the bottom will become memorable after regular glances.

While it can be argued that other (female) Chinese-English translators can probably steal elements from my business card and transfer them onto their own, I don’t think this will deter me from successfully representing myself with my original business card. Plum blossoms are a gift of nature, not my own creation, and are admired by millions upon millions of people. Other translators will still have to compose their own poetry, most likely in a different meter because 8 characters per line is extremely unconventional and can even be considered my signature poetic meter. Furthermore, if they also choose to feature plum blossoms on their business card, they will be restricted to this subject in their poem, which may not be as meaningful to them as to me. Therefore, I’m optimistic that the exact nuances of my business card are difficult to replicate, and I can sleep soundly at night knowing that while it’s not flashy or jaw-dropping, it’s perfectly me.


Startling by Each Step

Posted by admin on Oct 15, 2011 in Bu Bu Jing Xin

Pretty song from the OST: Snowflakes and Red Plum Blossoms

Stories have always been my greatest source of entertainment since childhood. Because I’ve read and watched far more books and television dramas than the average teenager, I’ve developed extremely high standards and an uncannily keen eye for picking out plot holes, weak characterizations, historical inaccuracies, logical fallacies, and miscellaneous other failures. The drawbacks of such a meticulous mentality are quite obvious: as soon as enough “no”s accumulate in my mental checklist, I’ll be entirely unable to continue reading or watching a work that has already established itself in my mind as mediocre at best. As the number of books and dramas that spark my interest dwindle with each passing year, every satisfactory story that meets my criteria will pass in flying colors. Thus I was immensely happy to find myself enjoying Startling by Each Step, a fandom that has gained an unbelievably enormous following among all ages and across many non-Chinese cultures thanks to both its inherent quality as well as extensive marketing.

I first discovered Startling by Each Step exactly a year ago. Two television adaptations were in production at the same time, and both used the storyline of the same novel, Startling by Each Step, which was serialized online by Tong Hua in 2005. The heavily modified, cookie-cutter spin-off drama, Palace, was released first. I breezed through Palace out of curiosity, but the drama left no impression on me. Unable wait an indeterminate amount of time for the release of the more serious and faithful adaptation, I started to read the novel.

While the plot was fast-paced, the prose was so dull and lacking in depth that I was soon bored to tears. I stopped after reading about one-fifth of the novel and never picked it up again, although I skim through the in-progress fan translations every now and then. My interest in Startling by Each Step still hadn’t been extinguished, however, because my favorite actor had been cast in a supporting role in the upcoming drama. Fortunately, after waiting another six months, I was rewarded with a magnificent 35-episode drama that not only swept me off my feet, by also swept mainland China off its feet and incited heavy anticipation from other East Asian regions that wanted it to air on their channels.

Startling by Each Step belongs to the popular Qing Dynasty time-travel genre, but it trumps all other fanfiction-esque stories set in the same time period. Here’s my quick introduction to the story: Zhang Xiao, a 25-year-old ethnically Han Chinese woman from the 21st century, accidentally travels back in time to the 18th century Qing Dynasty after experiencing a deadly combination of traffic collision and electrocution. Zhang Xiao ends up stranded in the body of one of her previous incarnations: Maertai Ruoxi, 16-year-old (13 in the novel) daughter of a Manchu general and younger sister of the Eighth Prince’s second concubine. Ruoxi experiences a near-fatal incident in her own time, which Zhang Xiao awakes from.

Family and friends assume that Ruoxi’s memory loss and sudden change in behavior are a result of her head injury. After failing to return to her own time, Ruoxi hurriedly adjusts to life under the reign of Emperor Kangxi. She knows that a deadly struggle between the scheming Aisin-Gioro princes for the throne will result in the Fourth Prince succeeding as Emperor Yongzheng after his father’s death. Hoping to prevent the casualties written in history, Ruoxi tries to change the future for the better. However, Ruoxi ultimately realizes that not only does she fail to alter the course of history, but also, under a predestination paradox, she is fated to become an instigator of the very tragedy she tries to prevent.

A tragic and bittersweet story like Startling by Each Step is just my cup of tea, but the real head-scratcher for me is why so many other people, especially those who aren’t Chinese, can accept it as easily as I do. On the surface, Startling by Each Step seems to fulfill the wishes of every hopelessly romantic girl because it appears to be a time-traveling Cinderella story. In fact, this Cinderella is so amazing that she catches the attention of not just one Prince Charming, but six imperial princes! One prince becomes her best friend and the other five princes all express interest in marrying her. Three of them are deeply in love with her.

But the catch is…all the princes already have at least one wife, one of the princes is her sister’s husband, several of the princes are a lot younger than her real age, and alas, all the men in the Qing Dynasty wear the distinctively unattractive hairstyle that consists of a half-shaved head and long queue. Moreover, since Ruoxi is merely a pawn in the princes’ rivalry and contention for the throne, self-preservation becomes her greatest concern as every step could be a matter of life or death. Needless to say, I had predicted that these factors would scare away all the girls who were accustomed to fairy tales with happily-ever-after endings. To my astonishment, I was dead wrong!

It’s true that Startling by Each Step is a grand production featuring outstanding cast, plot, romance, humor, costumes, backdrops, and cinematography. Perhaps viewers have simply flocked to this drama because no worthy competition exists to lure them away. Perhaps this story is just a stroke of genius that vividly comes to life in such an exceptional drama portrayal. But I’m not entirely convinced. Somewhere along the line, marketing came into play and solidified Startling by Each Step into an attractive brand. Otherwise, how on earth would it have been possible for my parents, my friend’s mom, and many non-Chinese netizens to discover this drama by chance and express enough interest to start watching it? They certainly don’t fit Startling by Each Step’s target market of female students and professionals living in mainland China. It’s time for me to investigate what kicked off the astounding fame and success of this fandom!

While the novel was popularly received, Startling by Each Step didn’t gain national and international recognition until the airing of the drama. The first observation I made is that the drama is extremely high in cultural capital, which is evident in the authenticity of all the costumes and props. The production company, Tangren, poured at least 100 million RMB into Startling by Each Step, its most expensive drama to date, and even went so far as to borrow authentic jewelry, hairpins, teacups, and other props that are worth fortunes from collectors. A well-known professor from a prestigious university was also hired to be the drama’s historical consultant. Even the princes’ costumes were designed according to historical detail.

The exquisite costumes and genuine antiques used in Startling by Each Step reflect elegant tastes as opposed to the colorful and gaudy clothing and props used in other period dramas that are unfaithful representations of historical culture. The authenticity of Startling by Each Step was so stunning that even someone as picky as me was mesmerized. I felt like I was the one who had time-traveled and become ensnared in the splendors and intrigues of the Forbidden City. As the story approached its inevitably tragic ending, I was struck by the most fantastic realization that I could easily believe this was how history had actually happened. I believe that if a drama can elicit such a response from its viewers, it has reached the highest pinnacle of cultural capital.

However, no one can enjoy such a beautiful experience without first discovering the existence of this story, so let’s take a look at how far Startling by Each Step has expanded from its humble beginnings as an online novel. In just six years, it’s become an explosive fandom consisting of a published novel, an award-winning television drama, and a popular online game. In October, the drama was picked up for broadcast on the Korean CineOn TV network, and it’s highly likely to air in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the future. On Viki.com, the first episode has been subbed by volunteer translators in ten languages (English, German, Slovenian, French, Vietnamese, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Dutch, and Malay). The fully subtitled episodes and the English fan translation are labors of love that have promoted Startling by Each Step to non-Chinese netizens and ushered in hoards of international fans without requiring Tangren to even lift a finger. Once a brand has garnered as much love as Startling by Each Step has, its loyal followers can be counted on to market it even more enthusiastically than its own production company.

Startling by Each Step was first serialized online on Jinjiang Original Network before being published by Ocean Press, National Press, Huashan Arts Press, and Hunan Literature and Art Publishing House. Tong Hua revised the novel twice in 2009 and 2011, and it was re-issued in September 2011 to coincide with the drama release. The new edition comes in a beautifully packaged box set and contains an additional 30,000 word epilogue.

Packaging is an important brand element that must be both functional and aesthetically pleasing to be effectively marketed and meet consumers’ needs. Compared to previous issues of the novel, which consisted of three volumes with cover art depicting a nondescript heroine (who looked like a different person in each volume), the box set is far superior in both respects. Functionally, it packs all the previously separate volumes into one convenient box. Aesthetically, it’s eye-catching and clearly identifies the Startling by Each Step brand in a large, legible font. On the side of the box, Startling by Each Step is rendered in a red square seal, which brands the title just as poets and painters mark their names on their calligraphy and paintings. The female protagonist smiles amiably at the viewer while the male protagonist stares imperiously, one inviting and the other daring the potential customer to buy it. If I came across this box set in a bookstore or on an online retailer, my interest would be piqued as soon as I saw the pretty costumes, and I would be compelled to buy the novel thanks to the attractive packaging, which is fondly called the “last five seconds of marketing.”

Anticipation for Chinese television dramas is often built by the release of lengthy trailers (36 minutes in the case of Startling by Each Step). Prior to and during the airing of the series, an entire series of ads play regularly on the television channel (HunanTV), separately featuring every major character and every upcoming episode. Dramas are also promoted aggressively on video streaming sites like PPTV, Tudou, and Youku, online communities bound to search services like Baidu Tieba, and social networking sites like Renren and Weibo. Back in October, it simply wasn’t possible for a Chinese netizen to not notice colorful banners of Startling by Each Step plastered on the home page of every major online community or the drama title topping the most-watched rankings on every streaming site. Such omnipresent visibility was sure to grab the attention of everyone visiting those sites, and my parents and my friend’s mom were clearly no exception. It would have also been difficult for avid TV watchers and magazine readers to miss out on Startling by Each Step, as it was promoted on popular variety shows like Happy Camp and in magazines like Elle China and Easy Magazine.

Finally, the success of the drama culminated with television award ceremonies, such as the Sohu Fall Television Awards, which celebrated China’s fall television hits. The lead actress Liu Shi Shi and lead actor Nicky Wu won the Best Couple award, Liu Shi Shi won Most Popular Online Actress, Nicky Wu won Most Popular Online Actor, and newcomer Lin Geng Xin (who played Fourteenth Prince) won Best New Actor. Basically, anyone in China who even remotely kept up with entertainment news and didn’t know anything about Startling by Each Step was surely living under a rock.

Shortly after the release of the drama, an online game based on Startling by Each Step was launched. I think the brand extension of Startling by Each Step into the gaming realm was a smart move that offered the benefits of greater credibility and faster acceptance. It’s quite common for popular Chinese RPG games such as Chinese Paladin to be produced into television series to promote the game franchise, but this time it’s the other way around. The full merchandise of the online game comes with 42 items, including the game discs and tons of accessories. I haven’t been able to gain access to the game, but just one glance at the t-shirts, stickers, and action figures confirms the unprecedented and phenomenal brand resonance that Startling by Each Step has created. And to think that all this came out of a story that a bored lady regularly updated online just for fun! Such is the power of marketing!


Book Promotion

Posted by admin on Oct 15, 2011 in Books

I’ve been an avid devourer of novels (read: bookworm) for most of my life. When clueless five-year-old me arrived in Australia after leaving China behind, the only two English words I knew were “hello” and “grape” (the result of my grandpa’s best efforts to teach me some vocabulary before I moved). I was immediately placed into the ESL program in first grade and began the adventure and challenge of learning a new language. It was around this time that I received the gift of my first English book: The Secret Garden, a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett published in 1910. Of course I couldn’t comprehend any of it, but I was determined to be able to read every word in the near future. By second grade, I was already beating my classmates in spelling bees, and by third grade I was the star student (read: teacher’s pet) and had a better command of English than most of my peers. I spent my childhood pouring over Roald Dahl’s books, the Encyclopedia Brown series, Harry Potter, and countless Newberry Medal books. Slowly I realized that my love for reading directly improved my writing abilities, and as early as fourth grade I was penning my own stories. When my senior year of high school came rolling around, I discovered that submitting essays and poetry to contests, while immensely rewarding, wasn’t quite what I wanted. It turned out that I had always unconsciously wanted to publish my writing, but such an ambition had been so vague and improbable that the realization hadn’t struck me until then.

I wrote about 30,000 words of my first novel (a sci-fi adventure) in high school and planned out the entire plot in detail before losing interest. Since May 2010, I’ve been working on-and-off on my second novel (historical fiction), which is currently sitting at around 60,000 words (the average novel is between 50,000-100,000 words) but only one-fourth completed. Knowing that the road to publication is extremely long and difficult, especially when the economy’s down in the dumps, I decided to research the book industry and learn from the examples set by successful writers. Starting early this summer, I’ve regularly followed the blogs of three published authors: Jeannie Lin, Cindy Pon, and Malinda Lo.

What do the three of them have in common? They all write in a niche market that’s extremely difficult to sell: Asia-based fiction, which happens to be exactly the category my novel falls under. While my novel is historical fiction mixed with wuxia (Chinese martial arts genre), Jeannie’s novels and novellas are romances set in Tang Dynasty China (not historically accurate), Cindy Pon’s novels are set in a fantasy kingdom based on ancient China, and Malinda Lo’s novels are also set in a fantasy world with Asian influences. After following their blogs for so long, I’ve observed many of the subtle marketing tactics they use to establish themselves as a brand, attract new readers (both blog readers and book customers), feed the appetites of current readers, and bring attention to their tours and workshops.

Giveaways (hosted on Goodreads or on the author’s blog) receive the most buzz from readers by far. After all, who wouldn’t take a shot at winning free and desirable giveaways without needing to exert any more effort than posting a Facebook status, tweeting, or blogging about the author’s new book? The giveaways up for grabs at these launch celebrations include an entire set of another author’s books, annotated/signed copies of the author’s newest book, the author’s detailed critique of a chapter you wrote, brush paintings by the author, and even butterfly swords and a customized dragon chop. Books and other goodies are a small price for the author to pay in exchange for buzz marketing that can generate tons of traffic and sales. It’s not unusual for hundreds, even thousands, of readers to contend for just a couple of book giveaways. To be eligible to win, all participants would have to give shout-outs to the author’s new release, which would subsequently be brought to the attention of all the participants’ friends or followers.

In addition to blogging regularly, these authors also maintain mailing lists and have established a strong online presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Back in the day, if readers wanted to contact an author, they would have to mail a letter to the author’s agency, and if they also wanted a reply, they would have to include a pre-stamped envelope and keep their fingers crossed. In today’s ultra-connected world of social networking, entering into a conversation with a favorite author is as easy as a click of the mouse. Some authors are so active on social networking sites that they respond within the minute! These two-way interactions can help forge stronger consumer-brand relationships between the reader and the author (the brand).

It’s also become the new trend for authors to tour online in addition to physically attending writer’s clubs, conferences, panels, readings, release parties, book signings, and book festivals. Online touring usually involves the author writing articles about various topics and featuring them on the blogs of other authors or writing groups. Other content on the authors’ websites with the potential for attracting more visitors include free goodies like signed bookplates and bookmarks, novel excerpts, trailers for the novels, recommended reads, newsletter press kits, online workshops, and advice for writers aspiring to get published (like me).

In the end, it all comes down to giving visitors reasons to become readers, and readers reasons to become loyal fans. When I become a published author (I’m so optimistic that I’m using when and not if), I’ll give my own longstanding empire of websites a makeover and market my books by offering giveaways, freebies, and advice too. However, I don’t want to join the ranks of mediocre bestsellers that heavily rely on hype to attract readers, so I’ll never allow marketing to overtake the inherent merit and entertainment value of my novels as the primary driver behind readership.


YG Entertainment

Posted by admin on Sep 25, 2011 in YG Entertainment

I’ve been a hardcore fan of kpop (Korean pop music) for about three years, although my interest has gradually started to taper off. Even during this short window of time, I’ve witnessed the popularity of kpop among teenagers and young adults spreading across the globe like wildfire. The rapid expansion of kpop, a large part of the Korean Wave, hardly comes as a surprise, however, considering that artists in the increasingly competitive South Korean music scene are almost universally young, attractive, talented, well-trained, and free from scandal. The catchy beats of their dance numbers are infectious and the passionate melodies of their ballads are heartwrenching. Their frequent appearances on variety shows and celebrity events give them enough screen time to become household names, and their ventures into acting, musicals, radio hosting, and modeling help their popularity skyrocket even higher. Their “Guerilla Dates” with fans in the streets of Seoul and other major cities drive fangirls and fanboys of all ages absolutely wild.

Most kpop artists with worldwide fame are signed under one of the “big three” record companies that dominate the Korean music industry: S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment.  While the remaining members of my all-time favorite group TVXQ belong to S.M. Entertainment, I admire and respect YG Entertainment far more for taking better care of their artists than controversy-infested S.M. Entertainment.

YG Entertainment’s most famous active artists are 5-member boy group Big Bang (debuted in 2006) and 4-member girl group 2NE1 (debuted in 2009). The stylish hip-hop YG family has essentially created its own appealing brand of music and fashion. Big Bang’s influence in particular has extended beyond the music industry to shape major fashion trends. Dubbed as “Big Bang fashion,” their style has gained a large following throughout Asia.

One of the most remarkable qualities of YG Entertainment is that while all of its artists have already launched solo careers in between group album releases, everyone still falls under the overarching umbrella of the YG family, whose perfect culture code is STYLE. Even if YG artists make occasional mistakes in singing and dancing during live performances, their charisma and fashion have always been flawless and never failed to impress their audience.

It seems that YG Entertainment is even more determined to be a trendsetter than a record-breaker, and its stylish approach to the kpop industry has always been reciprocated with tremendous love and support from fans. The biggest criticism about YG artists that anti-fans are quick to condemn as a weakness is that they aren’t as attractive as their competition from SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and Cube Entertainment. However, STYLE and talent are what propels its artists toward fame and popularity, not pretty faces enhanced by plastic surgery.

The culture code that specifically suits Big Bang is FRESH, while 2NE1 is best represented by REBEL. Big Bang debuted only five years ago, but has already released two Korean studio albums, four Korean EPs, three Japanese studio albums, and two Japanese EPs. All of its five members have pursued solo/duo activities by now, the most successful of which have been Taeyang, G-Dragon, and duo GD&TOP (G-Dragon and T.O.P). The attention-grabbing cover art of the GD&TOP debut album (left), for instance, is a refreshing twist on the Playboy logo to show the duo’s fun and playful side, and their signature “peace sign” is often used for promotional activities. Always undertaking new projects, writing new songs, inventing new choreography, and churning out new fashion, Big Bang continuously showcases FRESH new appearances, songs, dances, and even drama parodies.

Big Bang are walking advertisements for brands such as Bape, 10 deep, Louis Vuitton, Jeremy Scott, and Phenomenon, and they also wear custom printed hoodies for many of their performances and music videos, such as Tonight (below). The group’s popularity and success have led to numerous endorsement deals. Big Bang has endorsed Fila products, the Korean online video game Sudden Attack, Baskin Robbin’s, Skoolooks, LG CYON, and NII.

Endorsements are mutually beneficial exchanges that give brands more publicity and celebrities more visibility. Consumers are far more likely to buy products that are clearly affiliated with their favorite celebrities. For example, Korean stores selling the NII brand often display life-size cardboard cutouts of kpop artists wearing NII clothing. It’s quite easy to imagine fans stopping in their tracks, browsing through the selections, trying on their size, and eventually purchasing the clothes that gave them a strong sense of satisfaction because of association with their beloved idols. In fact, the clothes worn by Big Bang on stage have elicited such enthusiastic responses from fans that they are sold in boutique stores. For example, during promotions for their 2011 Japanese comeback, Big Bang collaborated with Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo to create t-shirts that reportedly sold out within 15 minutes of the store’s opening!

2NE1 (pronounced “to anyone” or “twenty-one”) is a 4-member girl group formed in 2009. The group’s name stands for “New Evolution of the 21st Century.” 2NE1 is known for a unique and edgy style that borders on fierce, hence the culture code REBEL. Their debut single, “Fire,” (below) set the stage for a new era of strong female vocals and aggressive dancing.

A significant edge that I believe YG Entertainment artists have over their competition is their appeal to both genders. Usually, boy groups are exclusively idolized by drooling fangirls, and the same is true vice versa. However, Big Bang’s fashionable hip-hop style has earned them many male fans, some of whom emulate Big Bang’s wardrobe and hairstyles, especially Taeyang’s half-shaved, half-mohawk hairstyle. Similarly, 2NE1′s unprecedented tough, tomboy attitude has attracted female fans who care nothing for the aegyo (cute) look sported by other girl groups. YG artists’ dual appeal creates diversity in their fan bases and enables their mainstream popularity to reach an even larger audience. The impact of this appeal is reflected in many situations: for example, NII’s men’s clothing line is obviously targeted toward males, so with the exception of fangirls buying NII clothes for their boyfriends, only males can be relied upon to purchase NII products endorsed by Big Bang.

The close-knit YG family has become increasingly dominant in the Korean music scene in the past two years. YG Entertainment is extremely cognizant of the fact that it must possess significant competitive advantages in order to secure a foothold in the cutthroat kpop industry, especially since some of its artists are disadvantaged in physical attractiveness and consistency in live performances. By giving its artists more freedom to individualize and innovate, YG Entertainment successfully brands them with distinctive styles that are far more impressive than the typical doll-like idol singing perfectly with autotune. Because the fresh styles and daring charisma of YG artists never fail to pleasantly surprise and dazzle me, my brand relationship trajectory with YG Entertainment is steadily climbing upward into maturity while my relationship with the overall kpop industry has become merely cyclical resurgence.


My autographs of Big Bang and 2NE1! CL’s autograph includes her motto, “the baddest female!”. Even on paper she’s determined to prove how much of a REBEL she is. Now that is the infectious YG attitude!



Posted by admin on Sep 24, 2011 in SoBe

I had never been particularly inclined to purchase a certain beverage brand over another, or professed undying loyalty to any personal favorite, until I discovered Glacéau (VitaminWater 0 calories) in high school and now SoBe (Lifewater 0 calories). While the only SoBe product I drink is Lifewater 0 calories, the brand offers a huge selection of other enhanced water beverages, teas, and smoothies. The brand name SoBe is a compound (Landor’s Brand Name Taxonomy) of two words, South Beach, an upscale neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida, and thus suggests that its products are classy and bring sunshine to the consumer’s life.

About a month ago, I bought a bottle of Fuji apple pear SoBe Lifewater on a whim because I was tired of drinking the usual flavorless Aquafina at lunch. I twisted open the lizard-decorated cap, took a large gulp, and the rest was history. The 20 fl oz. wasn’t nearly enough to satiate my thirst for the delicious 0 calorie drink. Following that drool-worthy experience, I obsessively bought a bottle of SoBe Lifewater wherever I ate on campus, whether it was the HUB, Redifer, or the IST cafe. After that first bottle of Fuji apple pear, I tried out yumberry pomegranate, black and blue berry, strawberry apricot, and even the non-0 calories pomegranate cherry by accident (I was too excited to taste a new flavor that I failed to notice the different bottle design). Before I was even consciously aware of what I was doing, I had already fulfilled SoBe’s motto of “Try Everything.”  

Naturally, the next step for a newly inducted SoBe fanatic was to check out the brand’s virtual home. I soon found myself addicted to discovering every nook and cranny on SoBe’s interactive, flashy website. Half the site is dedicated to videos featuring fun commentary by quirky SoBe beverage drinkers on every flavor offered. The other half is an experimental playground for the “bold, young grasshopper” to really “Try Everything.” I could try playing air guitar, try tickling excessively responsive kiwis, or try kissing the office hottie (almost literally!). No doubt countless SoBe fans got just as much a kick out of the experiments as I did.

While playing to my heart’s content, I couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenious and subtle marketing that SoBe’s website showcases to show the personality of the brand. I asked myself projective questions and answered them faster than I could count to three. If SoBe were an animal, which one might it be? A slinky, slithering, shiny, hip, exotic lizard, of course! If SoBe were a musical instrument, what would it be? A rockin’, jammin’ guitar for sure! If SoBe were a fruit, what would it be? A warm and fuzzy kiwi, duh! These are all positive associations of the brand that have already been unconsciously impressed upon anyone who spent too much time on the SoBe website.

SoBe is also avant-garde in commercial appeal. For the SoBe Lifewater Skinsuit campaign, Ashley Greene promoted SoBe Lifewater using the “Wear Zero” motto by appearing nude in a bodypainted swimsuit. The skinsuit campaign effectively caters to viewers of both genders, serving as an aspiration for females and eye candy for males. The commercial’s ad execution style builds a casual mood that emphasizes the wet, exotic, and attractive nature of the product. The commercial ends with “0 calories. 0 inhibitions,” suggesting to the viewer that SoBe’s vitamin-enhanced 0 calorie beverage will give anyone who drinks it a new skin and unlimited possibilities.

Because just one unit of beverage sales can’t generate much income, SoBe tries exceptionally hard to ease the first-time consumer into a brand relationship that’s either a committed partnership or a best friendship. The difference is that a committed partnership is more long-term and exclusive than a best friendship. For example, I still drink bottled water more than vitamin-enhanced water, so at most I can only claim a best friendship with SoBe, and I don’t know if the novelty of it will last for a long time. On the other hand, someone who loyally drinks SoBe for years and turns up her nose at beverage substitutes like Glacéau’s VitaminWater, Gatorade, and Dasani is considered to be in a committed partnership.

First off, SoBe increases its chances of entering into such a strong brand relationship by creating customer satisfaction. It accomplishes this by delivering a colorful and tasty variety of refreshing drinks and boosting consumer self-esteem by ridding any guilt over packing on the calories. But SoBe also goes above and beyond to encourage deeper consumer involvement with its interactive website, which also includes the SoBe Lizardverse (with e-newsletter Lizard Tales), as well as its social networking presence. This way, SoBe can carry on a two-way conversation with its customers and offer them a voice and role in their brand experiences.

Brand Mania © 2011 by Sherry.