Looking Good When Doing Good

Initiatives promoting sustainable consumption have been rapidly growing in China over the last decade. Unlike western economies, where many of the sustainable trends have been promoted by organizations and pushed by consumers, in China, these initiatives have been driven by governmental programs, more than by consumer demand.

As Chinese consumption power and education levels increase, will Chinese consumers adopt sustainable consumption preferences that have been growing in North America and Europe? How will this impact the fashion industry and fashion brands that are looking to engage with this target audience? Will the need to own the latest cool style on social media be influenced by sustainable trends? How important will “looking responsible” be on social media in China compared to other trends?

Understanding the green consumption pattern in China.

According to a 2017 China Sustainable Consumption Research Program Report  sustainable consumption was largely accepted by 70% of Chinese consumers, however sustainable fashion was not considered a main point of interest. Data from an Alibaba Research Institute 2017 study indicated that clothing was only the second to last category when words related to sustainability were searched for by its consumers online. Food was the most important sustainable category. Even though sustainability is generally well-understood by Chinese consumers, fashion does not appear as a priority when choosing sustainable orientated consumption patterns. While a considerable portion of customers are willing to switch to electric cars or purchase organic food, fashion seems to follow a different trend. Considering that fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world and a huge pollution problem in China, it is relevant to try to understand how this trend will develop in the Chinese apparel industry.



Even though the global market for eco-friendly apparel represents only 1% of the total worldwide apparel market, the market is predicted to double over the next ten years. Trend forecast for mid-2020 from Alibaba’s Tmall Trend Center places sustainability as a key point for Chinese consumers when purchasing from a seller, brand or retailer. As the share of customers willing to align with these new environmental standards increases, it is important for companies to add sustainability to their marketing campaigns and strategies.

Consumers’ green awareness in China is stimulating interest and action by local brands, and research on this subject shows a clear growth pattern for these responsible consumers. These conscientious consumers are usually younger generations especially millennials or Gen Z. In general, they are from cities with higher levels of economic development. These consumers are often willing to pay premium prices for transparent, sustainable and qualitative fashion products. A 2019 study led by the market research firm Mintel, reported that 58% of Chinese consumers are ready to pay for ethically-produced fashion products.

It seems logical for fashion brands to start integrating sustainability into their marketing programs and brand messaging.  As interest grows spending can increase. But is addressing sustainable issues this simple? How can Chinese brands successfully support complicated environment issues in a way that create brand value? How can companies that produce products that damage the environment develop a sustainable brand image?

In China, the satisfaction generated by actively contributing to and sharing pictures/videos about environmental conservation on social media platforms will support a long term willingness to buy and use eco-friendly products. This aspect of sustainable consumption is closely linked to a need for self-image enhancement and social status. Chinese consumers are attracted by engaging story-telling about “green fashion products” that they can effectively share with their digital communities and sustainable fashion items that make them look good in digital posts.

Ant Forest App

500 million Chinese Alipay users have used Ant Forest to plant 100 million trees in China. The success of this social reward based eco-friendly digital experience has helped connect sustainable behavior with responsible consumption. / SOURCE: ALIBABA

Purchasing clothing products from eco-friendly brands should provide ways to boost Chinese consumers’ social status. It is not enough to do good, you need to provide digital opportunities to document and share that good act. Although selfless green behavior does exist in China, consumers’ preoccupation with their social position seems important to take into account when launching green marketing programs.

Eco-friendly fashion brands have been lacking visibility in the Chinese market. Contrary to other industries that have been successful in exploiting the tension between personal branding and social responsibility in their Chinese campaigns, local fashion brands have rarely addressed this opportunity. For example, electric car manufacturer Tesla, while not being the first electric car manufacturer on the Chinese market, was the first one to manage to give its consumers the ability to access a particular social status while also promoting an eco-friendly lifestyle. This strategy seems to have been relatively successful since Tesla revenues in China rose by 64% to $669 million in the third quarter of 2019.

Sustainable brands should also be careful to be coherent with cultural and conceptual barriers and adopt a clear China narrative for their campaign. Despite the fact that Chinese consumers are increasingly aware of the impacts of their consumption patterns on the environment, some conceptual gaps remain. For example, Gucci’s decision to go fur-free in Spring 2018 was misinterpreted by some of its Chinese consumers. Since Gucci is not well-known for its fur products, consumers have questioned the brand’s motives and considered it a superficial gesture. The reaction from Chinese consumers could also be explained by the acceptance of fur as a legitimate fashion choice. The fact that in China fur is often associated with luxury, wealth and social status is often preventing Chinese consumers from associating fur with sustainable fashion causes.

Jing Daily - Female Consumer Holding a Gucci Bag. JING DAILY (2017)


Connecting sustainability to social status is therefore a must in order to engage successfully with Chinese consumers. However, brands should connect with Chinese consumers based on believable and China-specific sustainable narratives.

Managing your sustainable brand like a luxury brand.

Sustainable fashion initiatives in China mainly emerged from luxury brands. These luxury brands are using visible green branding and eco advertisements that is easy to identify as sustainable and highest quality. These campaigns attempt to mobilize consumers’ green consciousness and willingness to pay more for eco-friendly branded products.

Prada has developed product-driven sustainable campaigns that have been well received on Chinese social media. The Re-nylon initiative launched in 2019 is a re-edition of the classic Prada backpack redesigned with recycled sea waste. The bag is 20% more expensive than the non-eco-friendly bag and it carries a «continental badge » that allows consumers to be part of a private brand community contributing to the health of the environment.


Sustainable campaigns have also been relatively successful by working closely with famous personalities. The Prada Re-Nylon initiative made a big impact on the awareness of Chinese consumers for environmental issues. To achieve this result, the Italian brand has been working with actor Wei Daxun to promote its backpack re-edition. The campaign has been positively received by the actor’s Chinese fans who immediately recognized the importance to raise awareness for eco-friendly initiatives in the fashion industry. The Re-Nylon post on Weibo was liked by more than 80,000 users and commented on more than 24,000 times.



Interacting with digital native generations such as Millennials and Gen Z is also a determinant of success for brands wishing to take advantage of the sustainable awareness consumption patterns. According to the global luxury conglomerate Kering, sustainability appears as a business opportunity that has to be conveyed through digital channels used daily by younger generations. By using social media campaigns to promote a particular sustainability digital experience, brands have more opportunity to take advantage of this emotionally engaged new consumer category.

Taking into account communication strategies from luxury brands, some non-luxury brands are relatively successful in China. The environmentally responsible footwear brand Allbirds that established its first store in China on April 2019 is an example of this success.

It has a Tmall store and a Weibo account followed by more than 91,000 users. The brand has managed to capture significant attention by understanding Chinese consumption patterns and focusing on detailed product descriptions which are appreciated by local green shoppers. The success of the Chinese campaign is supported by their use of actor Leonardo DiCaprio as a KOL. He invested in the company in August 2018 and often promotes its products. The Oscar-winning actor’s publication last October of a short video for the brand on its Weibo account has been very popular among Chinese consumers. The post, designed to question consumers’ materialistic habits, was liked more than 32,000 times, received 21,000 comments on Weibo and was also popular on Youku and QQ. More impressively, the hashtag #areyoumaterialistic (#你追求物质吗?), initiated by the video has been read more than 4,865,000 times.



The eco-friendly fashion phenomenon is becoming a pivotal element for the fashion industry. Sustainable fashion is especially important for younger consumers who are not only looking for eco-friendly alternatives but also want a way to elevate their social status in front of their friends, families and co-workers. China-specific narratives via digital channels have been proven to be important for sustainable campaign success. Fashion brands with sustainable prospects should thus take advantage of this new opportunity with consistency.

Chinese Consumers and Sustainable Fashion Brands statistics and informations :






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China’s Silver Generation is Marketing Gold

People over the age of 55 buy more than one third of all products in China.

They have more money and savings to spend than any other group.

They are brand loyal and are less distracted than younger consumers.

They are featured in some of the most popular and engaging digital content.

Why are brands spending so little time and money on this attractive “Silver Generation”?

Why are marketing managers afraid to target them or use them in campaigns?

The Silver target market is the most profitable and fastest growing segment in China and should be a core focus for many brands in China.

PBB helps its clients identify attractive target audiences and brand messages. We believe that the following information will inspire brands to more actively consider addressing this attentive, open-minded and affluent group.

55 + consumers are traditionally very loyal, and more likely to become active brand fans. They enjoy social media, reviewing products, writing comments and sharing product content with friends and family. “China’s elderly population are now the most frequent users of the country’s top social media app WeChat, with over-60s using 80 percent of their cell data on WeChat as opposed to just 6.8 percent by the 18 to 35-year-old generation”. In the US, over 60% of all Twitter users are over 35 years old and 28% are over 55. Additionally, over 55% of all Facebook users are over 35 and over 21% are over 55.

Many brands are caught in outdated brand value relationships connected to rigged youth and beauty standards that are no longer relevant for their target consumers. Especially when brands hope to attract above average income and education consumers in China’s tier 1 and tier 2 cities, they need to reflect fluid racial, sexual, and age diversity trends. The generic happy young couple or fashionable young insider is no longer effective for premium brand marketing campaigns. Presenting over 50-year-old models in a fashionable and fun creative direction can have a high level of engagement with both young and old consumers.



Not all brands have missed the Silver Generation opportunity. L’Oreal, Covergirl, Olay and Dove have all benefited from marketing to and with the Silver Generation. In addition to beauty brands, there are many other consumer brands that have successfully addressed the Silver Generation. Many are using models and celebrities over the age of 55 for example AT&T with “Senior Plan”, Johnnie Walker with “The Gentleman’s Wager”, Dos Equis with “The Most Interesting Man Alive”, Catherine Deneuve for Louis Vuitton, Brad Pitt for Chanel, Johnny Depp for Dior, and Cameron Dell’orefice for Rolex.

L’Oréal research revealed that 70% of women aged over 55 said they felt invisible in society. 87% reported they were not represented in advertising and 81% also said they felt unacknowledged by major retailers (MarketLine, 2018). These women represent a missed opportunity for brands looking to increase both revenue and market shares.





Cameron Dell’orefice remains the oldest working model in the world. She was 78 years old when she modeled for Rolex in 2009 with the caption “Class is Forever”. Critics considered it to be a both edgy and sophisticated campaign.


Angie Chiu, a 64-year-old actress, models for Jianyiren, a honey wine brand. She is referred to in advertisements as a “goddess”, even though she is 64. She is not old, she is gorgeous.


With the slogan, “Less is Fashion” Chen Daoming, a 64-year-old actor, models for the men’s fashion brand Lilanz. Their target audience is 32-45-year-old urban professional business men.


In 2013, Samsonite selected Chen Daoming to become the first Chinese endorser for their high-end leather luggage. Samsonite’s target audience is the 30 something worldly traveler, which happens to take up a large sum of Chen Daoming’s fan base.


Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group uses many celebrities in their “Our Celebrity Fans” campaign. This includes several 50 plus celebrities such as Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, and Christoph Waltz.

China's silver generation - Wang Deshun - NEW YORK TIMES


In 2015, Wang Deshun became a model at the age 82 and is now hailed as the hottest grandpa in China. He started out with a love performing arts and in the 1980s, he began teaching runway modeling. In 1993 Wang Deshun appeared on stage, mostly naked with metallic body art. Because of this, he was barred by the Chinese authorities and decided to perform privately. In 2018, during the Hu Sheguang’s Beijing fashion show, Wang Deshun appeared bare chested and fans nicknamed him “laoxianrou”, meaning “old fresh meat”. YouTube videos featuring Wang Deshun have had over 70,000 views and there are over 195,000 searches on google about Wang Deshun.

It’s not enough to show attractive older models looking great. Brands should reflect the fascinating lifestyles and amazing achievements of senior key opinion leaders. Is staying young the only experience that brands can offer the Silver Generation? At PBB, we like to look at the hopes and fears of target audiences to find insights that can help our clients differentiate their brands and address the specific needs of their target audience that are forgotten or neglected.

Through our research, loneliness and isolation came up as a growing fear for the Silver Generation as well as twenty somethings. Social media and smartphones have removed seniors from interactions with their families. This has driven both groups to use more gaming and dating apps. Big city lifestyle and working hours for both men and women are making it more difficult for young and old people to connect.



Mr. Han Zicheng is an 85-year-old grandfather who felt lonely because his wife had passed away, his children were out of reach, and his neighbors had their own families. He put up flyers asking to be adopted. The flyer read “Lonely old man in his 80s. Strong-bodied. Can shop, cook and take care of himself. No chronic illness. I retired from a scientific research institute in Tianjin, with a monthly pension of 6,000 yuan ($1,257) a month.” He said that his greatest fear is that he will die in bed and won’t be found until all that is left is his bones. This self-adoption became an internet sensation with posts on The Strait Times, News Week, The Independent, Seattle Times, Daily Mail, and Yahoo. There are over 290,000 search results on Google underlining the relevance of seniors to broad digital audiences.

Scams involving elderly women and fake lovers have received significant coverage and comments from news outlets in China, Europe, and the United States. Incidents in Hong Kong have been particularly popular with social media and international news outlets. The Silver Generation are a source of inspiration and sympathy and can be used as a source of engagement for brands.

How can brand assess this fear and help the Silver Generation get more attention and feel more needed? Our Answer: Listen to them.

Brands can find creative ways to listen to their consumers. Brands have created programs and campaigns before to have more interactions with their consumers and listen more to their needs and stories, and they have been very effective. We believe this approach can be even more successful with the Silver Generation.




Seniors are “Airbnb’s fastest growing and most loved demographic”. Airbnb has successfully harnessed the art of storytelling, by intelligently using the stories of their customers. Airbnb has a page on their website called “Stories from the Airbnb Community”. Customers who want to go the extra mile on their reviews and tell their stories about their experiences can talk with an Airbnb representative and write an amazing story.

Tessa, a member of the Silver Generation, presented her story with only a single paragraph. Her story about why she hosts is emotional and compelling. Loyal Airbnb customers, Debbie and Michael Campbell call themselves “Senior Nomads”. They “have visited 70 countries and have spent more than 1,500 nights in 178 Airbnb homes” (Airbnb).

From Guest, to Host, to Experiencer, the Silver Generation has been a huge demographic focus for Airbnb. The Airbnb brand loves their Silver Community and embraces advertising with them. Using them to produce fresh content featuring family moments, joyful adventures, and fun.

China's silver generation - UBER CHANNEL YOUTUBE



Uber is another example of a brand loving their elderly demographic. In an Uber created YouTube video starring June (86), Yolanda (69) and Elizabeth (77), experiences with Uber and how it is more convenient and reliable than driving themselves or asking their families for assistance are discussed. Uber is reliable and safe for the elderly community and through this video, they present this via active elderly women who enjoy going out. This video was one of the top viewed videos within the Uber YouTube channel.

Listening and being proactive is essential for brands who want to communicate with the Silver Generation. Connecting and sharing stories with senior customers is crucial to give them a good experience that they will share with their friends and family. The silver generation is the fastest growing demographic in the world and is willing to spend their money on premium brands and services. They are loyal and respected and deserve more attention from your brand. We hope you will start a discussion with PBB about this Silver Opportunity.







Market Line Theme Report: Reference code: ML00026-017

Debbie and Michael Campbell’s story

Senior Nomads Travel Down Under as Their Adventures Take Them to Australia and New Zealand

The link for the Uber video is here.

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