How to market beverages to a ‘hipster demographic’ in China

By Andrew Kuiler

- Last updated on GMT

Nongfu Spring.  Picture: Horse design agency.
Nongfu Spring. Picture: Horse design agency.

Related tags Social media China

‘"Hipsters" in Chinese has a special meaning. The closest approximation, 文艺青年, literally translates to “young people into literature and art.”

In the United States, the word "hipster" typically refers to young urban professionals, a trendy in-group with conspicuous consumption habits.

Chinese hipsters identify with products and brands that they feel personally connected to. To market to this group, beverage brands must understand what moves them and respond accordingly.

Who are Chinese hipsters?

This subculture has more access to non-Chinese information and entertainment, which has shaped a culture that blends traditional China with elements of Western and other Asian countries.

Most of these hipsters come from single-child families with doting parents and grandparents. They have disposable income and travel experiences that provide perspective on Western brands and marketing.

Consequently, they flock to social media, which reduces their reliance on commercialized sources in favor of more authentic experiences and brand stories.

AB InBev has leveraged its understanding of this group into a 4% increase in market share​. After purchasing Goose Island and Shanghai’s Boxing Cat Brewery, the brand turned a Beijing unveiling into a social media event, providing free beer and selfie opportunities to grow its presence in the region.

To capture this market, Western brands must adhere to three simple rules:

1. Speak their language

Young, hip Chinese consumers look for traits other than the functional benefits of beverages, such as taste. They crave an emotional connection to brands, and companies can provide that through unique experiences.

Harbin Beer gained a following​ within this group by promoting “happy relationships and happy times.” Using celebrities and social media influencers, other brands can grab the attention of Chinese hipsters and spread their stories organically.

2. Promote authentic purpose

This demographic prizes authentic connections to local culture and old truths. Outside brands can tap into that affinity by infusing their marketing efforts with socio-cultural insights.

Nongfu Spring accomplished this through an excellent water packaging campaign​ incorporating traditional Chinese art to add a vintage touch.

Hipsters want to belong to exclusive groups, however, which means brands cannot sell out to local culture entirely. Striking a balance between authentic connection and established identity is key.

3. Build a selfie-worthy physical presence

Create experiences beyond packaging appeal, as hipsters seek unique stories. Pop-up concepts like artisanal cafes, funky-flavored beverage stands, and craft breweries stand out from the crowd.

Brands should promote these experiences on social media to generate interest. Hey Tea, a popular local brand, created a frenzy for the social experience​ it provides beyond the beverages themselves.

By emphasizing authenticity and providing unique experiences, beverage brands can capture their share of the Chinese hipster market.’

Andrew Kuiler is CEO of The Silk Initiative (TSI), a food and beverage (packaged goods and retail) brand strategy and insights consultancy in China. Clients include Campbell’s, PepsiCo, Arla, Vita Coco, Mars Wrigley, and Tyson Meats.

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