At the beginning of 2011, Fast Company set out to spend a year in China, documenting the transition, transformation and innovation in that country. Our reporters spent time with people from many sectors of Chinese life, and what our team emerged with was a picture of China that is far more complex than we expected, a portrait of a nation that is complicated and searching collectively for its future.
Fast Company asked several of the most creative ad agencies in the world to rebrand baby girls. Their mock campaigns recast girls as the No. 1 choice for consumers from China to the U.S.
Agency: AKQA Target Demo: AFFLUENT WOMEN IN CHINA The Ad Folks: This digital agency based in San Francisco has done campaigns for Heineken, Gap, Nike, and the Xbox 360. Their Campaign Strategy: To help rural Chinese see women as precious, ads will nudge urban professionals, whose cultural influence is vast. The character on the lips is the female version of the word ni (“you”). The ad aims to speak to those who know they have value and those who don’t yet see that.
A rare glimpse at Lenovo, China’s first global brand, from Beijing to the rural hinterlands. Lenovo is ubiquitous in its homeland, with more than 15,000 stores in cities and even the smallest villages. That’s almost as many locations as Starbucks has worldwide, nearly twice as many locations as Wal-Mart, and roughly 14,700 more stores than Apple has.
What does it mean that China’s has become a global force? A superb infographic from the Heritage Foundation offers a rarely seen snapshot of how China, through investments and business dealings, is buying up all the political capital it can get its hands on. As you can see, this includes buying and holding A LOT of our debt. See more…
The Indian government is teaming up with Chinese tech giant Huawei to search imported smartphones and communications devices for signs of malware and spyware. However, some Indians are nervous because of Huawei’s close ties to the People’s Liberation Army and fear that the firm could be complicit in cyberattacks.
On May 2, four helicopters carrying two-dozen U.S. Navy SEALs snuck into Pakistan bound for Abottabad, flying low to avoid detection by radar (that was switched off anyway). Leading the way were a pair of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks modified for extra stealth, including radar-absorbent coatings on their skin and tail rotors with extra blades, dampening the noise. These and other features were borrowed, analysts would later speculate, from the RAH 66 Comanche—a stealth helicopter prototype canceled by the Pentagon in 2004.
You know what happened next: The commandos landed inside Osama bin Laden’s compound before the occupants knew they were there. (Neighbors later reported they didn’t hear the choppers until they were on top of them.) But one of the Black Hawks lost lift upong take off, and clipped its tail on the wall of the compound. The SEALs blew it up before escaping, preventing the top-secret technology from falling into Pakistan’s hands. Or so they thought.
How a split-second stall in a top-secret chopper could lead to a new-and-improved Chinese stealth fighter and greatly alter the international arms race—in four easy steps.
Take a stroll through the aisles in a supermarket this week. In the time it takes you to count to hundred you’ll likely be bombarded with as many brands claiming eco-friendliness.
Companies are piling on the new trend, selling everything from eco friendly baby powder to shaving cream to batteries. And consumers are noticing these brands among the 300,000 new products hitting the shelves worldwide every year. But behind the flashy labels and TV commercials guaranteed to show windmills, solar panels, and endless green fields lies a rotten truth.
TerraChoice, a market research company revealed the results of a study of 1,018 products randomly tested to see if they lived up to their eco-friendly claims. The results were startling. Of all the products surveyed, all but one failed to support their green boasts. The offenses ranged from products that advertised themselves as nontoxic but, frighteningly, just replaced old toxins with new ones that were still banned years ago to, more commonly, products that claimed so-called green status that could never be substantiated.
But the list of lies and techniques aimed at seducing the consumer seemed never-ending. There were hidden trade-offs—one aspect of the product was promoted as environmentally friendly while the negative ingredients’ impacts were obscured. There were irrelevant claims—ones that were technically but unimportant for the planet. There were lesser-of-two-evils claims that were narrowly true but ignored larger environmental problems—the supermarket equivalents to “green SUVs.”
All of these falsehoods and obfuscations take a toll on consumers—and it can be seen in Japan, home to vibrant innovation, where residents’ trust was put to the ultimate test during a food scare in late 2007/early 2008. Japanese people tend to trust a lot (perhaps explaining why there was no widespread looting in the days after the recent earthquake). It is one of those societies where you still can leave your umbrella unlocked in the entrance to the supermarket—and it will actually be there when you return. But the tradition of trust was put to the ultimate test when dumplings, a classic Chinese dish produced in China, packed, frozen and imported to Japan, suddenly caused the death of seven Japanese and sickened thousands of others. It was the first time in Japan’s history anyone had faced such widespread or fatal food poisoning. It created shock waves throughout the country. The sales of dumplings dropped to zero, and the effect trickled into almost every other category of frozen food. Consumers were in despair, unsure of what to trust.
And then something unusual happened.
I noticed this when taking a stroll through a Japanese supermarket. As I passed by shelf after shelf, cartoon drawings of people—like the ones you might see in the Wall Street Journal, appeared on brands. The sugar had one, the fresh salad, the fish—even the dumplings. Next to the head was a name of a person, his title, age, and home address. The title stated: “I’m responsible for this product.” Was it a joke—had Japan once again come up with another cartoon craze, or was this the next big marketing trick? Anywhere else in the world, maybe. Anywhere else, there would at least be a small disclaimer on the back of the product explaining the ruse. Here was a QR code next to every face. It took me to a site where the actual person I’d seen as a cartoon appeared as a real person—in video. He explained how he handpicked the particular product I was holding in my hand. I saw the production line, the transportation, and just in case I still suspected something dodgy about him, I could click on a link to learn more about him and his family.
Continue reading The New Faces of Greenwashing (And Their Mothers)
Among China’s female workforce in managerial positions, 19% hold the title of CEO, according to the Grant Thornton Business Report released this week. That’s 10% higher than averages in Europe and 14% higher than averages in the United States, according to the report.
Thailand came in first at a whopping 30% of female managers holding the title of CEO and Taiwan came in third at 18%, pointing to a possible emerging trend in Asia for women to more routinely hold the position of CEO. (The exception is Japan, where only 8% of senior managers are women.)
Also of note is that of the companies that employ women in senior positions, 69% work in financial departments, not the so-called softer area of human resources.
"With China becoming an economic powerhouse, its society offers more opportunities for women’s development," said Xu Hua, chairman of Grant Thornton Jingdu Tianhua.
Women in China also make up half of the University student population and 34% of senior management, a 3% increase from two years ago. In the rest of the world, the number of women in senior management positions has actually decreased, from 24% in 2009 to 20%. With Asia increasing in global stature and as the region is increasingly willing to try different approaches in business and innovation, out of sheer competition with the West, the emergence of women may become the new trend.
Given the happenings in Egypt, perhaps young people or people who are simply less familiar can now better imagine what happened in China in 1989. Protesters that spring occupied Tiananmen Square not just for a few days but for six weeks, shutting down the capitol city and paralyzing the government. Tiananmen Square is big enough to accommodate a million people at one time, and on many occasions that spring, it was brimming. Protesters fought off pro-government thugs and lit barricades of fire on all access routes surrounding the square, as the army stood back and watched for weeks. People poured into Beijing by train from surrounding regions to take part in the combustion. In the ragtag tent city, young people wrote tear-soaked vows in black ink on white silk, to give their lives to revolution. I was only 17 and I could barely grasp what was happening but I knew I wanted in some way to be a revolutionary. It made my blood boil with the intoxicating promise of freedom.
Happy Chinese New Year! Our February cover story takes you inside The Social(ist) Networks and the battle for the world’s biggest market.
China’s fake Facebooks started as mere copycats but now drive innovation in advertising and gaming. They’ve also built something unique in their country: a place where people can find love, speak out, and be whoever they want to be.
Related: Behind the Great Firewall of China. YouTube = Youku? Websites and Their Chinese Equivalents
Check out April Rabkin’s look into China’s thriving social networks, which just got mentioned over at Longform.
As with Facebook, the membership rolls are astounding and growing rapidly. In a 1.3 billion-strong nation where less than a third of the populace is online, Renren claims about 165 million users. A slogan on a chalkboard in an employee lounge at its HQ claims, “Every day the number of people joining Renren.com would fill 230 Tiananmen Squares.” Kaixin001 says it has 95 million users.