How can creativity win GenZ and low-tier city consumers

GenZ and lower-tier city consumers are powerful growth engines for brands’ future growth in China.
Young GenZ women full
Martin Guo 2015

Editor in Chief, Kantar China Insights, China

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There are two strategically important consumer segmentations in China that can secure future growth: GenZ (note 1) and consumers in low-tier cities (note 2) . By 2025, the population of China’s GenZ consumers is expected to hit 200 million and will account for more than half of total consumption power. Consumers in low-tier cities, whose income level is not highest in China, have less financial pressure and stress from work compared with their metropolitan peers. They have more time to enjoy life and more dispensable income to buy. For example, Kantar Worldpanel China data showed that in the first three quarters of 2020, among the eight strategic consumer segments (note 3) , small town mature crowd consumers spent around 4,000 yuan on FMCG, the second highest next only to supermoms.

To win over these two consumer groups, brands need set their advertising creativity strategy in a correct direction. As the global leader in creativity development and evaluation, Kantar has tested more than 200,000 ads globally, including more than 10,000 in Chinese market. By analyzing data from the 2021 Kantar Creativity Award of Chinese New Year, we've summarized some learnings of creating impactful advertising to win over GenZ and consumers in low-tier cities.

Winning over Gen Z: Love and respect

1.Build strong affinity

Kantar’s research has found that the purchasing decisions of GenZ consumers are increasingly affected by the circles of interest they’re in. On average, each GenZ consumer has 1.7 circles of interest, which they feel strongly attached and are willing to participate in relevant activities. Chinese ACG (animation, comics and games) are one of the most popular circles of interest among GenZ consumers, who are more willing to engage with characters from these art formats.

McDonald’s Chinese New Year ad “Ne Zha’s Chinese New Year Eve Dinner”, a big winner of 2021 Kantar Creativity Award of CNY, features the “original cast” from the successful Chinese original animation film Ne Zha. Ne Zha’s mom Lady Yin was too busy to protect their village from skeleton monsters’ attack and couldn’t prepare their Chinese New Year Eve dinner. Though three-year-old Ne Zha murmured: “Who (nobody) likes Chinese New Year”, he in fact was looking for a good feast with his mother. The “adolescent rebellion” resonated strongly with GenZ audiences, who could find their daily “fight” as well as their deep and strong emotional connection with their parents mirrored in the ad.

This ad successfully built an “affinity bridge” between McDonald’s brand and GenZ consumers. Its affinity index beat 80% of Chinese New Year ads which Kantar has shortlisted to be tested for the awards. The interesting and touching story plot also boosted consumers’ short-term purchasing intention, according to our consumer test data result.

This ad has managed to build the association between family reunion theme with McDonald’s Chinese New Year advertising campaign tag #Jin Jin You Wei# (金金有味, which could be literally translated into “Gold gold with good taste”, referring to McDonald’s Chinese nickname “golden arch door company” and golden colour of its fried chicken products).

One GenZ consumer commented in the survey that: “Dream combination, merging warm love with humour. Makes people cannot help scroll back to watch again.”

2.Enhance purchasing intention

During its Chinese New Year ad, the brand moved away from its traditional twist, lick and dunk black cookie theme. It created a stop motion animation film in which its pink cookie took the centre stage to better fit the happy and lucky Chinese New Year atmosphere.

This ad re-created scenes of traditional Chinese New Year temple fairs with Oreo cookies. The nostalgia theme of the ad brought GenZ audiences back into their childhood days, when their memories of Spring Festival were full of lanterns, temple gatherings, firecrackers, gongs and drums.

The resurgence of Chinese pride in recent years has won support of many GenZ consumers, who are willing to pay for products with strong Chinese culture or heritage elements. This ad from Oreo outperformed most non-gaming brands in terms of enhancing purchasing intention, and was No.1 in FMCG brand ads. Traditional Chinese culture still have many hidden treasures waiting for brands to uncover and find inspirations for future communications.

3.Embed elements of going viral

Mengniu and Red Bull of Austria jointly launched an ad "Make Friends with Difficulties,"starring Mengniu’s brand mascot Niu Mengmeng (牛蒙蒙).

In the ad,Niu Mengmeng was fighting an endless battle with another bull in black dress against a pitch-black background, giving a hint of GenZ’s buzz phrase: “My life is too difficult!”. For example, when Niu Mengmeng made up his/her mind to get up early, the bull-in-black would sneakily unlock the smartphone and cancel all alarms, dropping a line: “Stop working hard. You are too lousy.” When Niu Mengmeng was attacking on the piles after piles of work on the desk, the bull-in-black spilled coffee over the paper and pulled the computer plug.

The bull-in-black always brought Niu MengMeng “surprise” but Niu  Mengmeng never gave up. At the end, the ad pointed out that the bull-in-black refers to difficulties of our lives and unveiled its central statement: “The world has kissed you with its pain, you make friends with difficulties. No pain after pain, no gain beyond gain.” (“世界以痛吻你,你就和困难交个朋友。没有难上加难,哪有牛上加牛。”)

Towards the end, the ad unveiled the name of Mengniu-Red Bull Chinese New Year special package: “Niu Mengmeng Mengniu Niu Shang Jia Niu Niunai Lihe” (牛蒙蒙猛牛牛上加牛牛奶礼盒) to further challenge GenZ’s capability of remembering long and complicated names. And in turn arouse their interest to challenge their friends to memorise and pronounce the name.

Kantar’s consumer testing has shown that this ad ranked No.2 in potential of going viral among all tested ads and was 10% higher than No.3. A GenZ respondent commented: “I like its reflected the daily challenges of today’s young people. It’s very real. I would want to share it on my WeChat Moments.”


To win over GenZ consumers, brands and agencies have to stand in their shoes, immerse in their culture and circles of interest as well as understand their aesthetic preferences.In the long run, brands need to grow up with every young generation: Love what they love and respect what they respect is the only thing that can help a brand stay relevant with and interesting in the eyes of young consumers.

Winning over Low-tier City Consumers: Emotion and Value for Money

1.Drive up engagement

China’s major B2C ecommerce retailer has created an animated mascot Nian Shou (年兽, literally means “Animal of (Chinese New) Year”) to be the central character of its Chinese New Year marketing campaigns. In this year’s ad, the usually friendly Nian Shou was under control by mysterious spell and came out to wreak havoc on streets of the holiday. Nian Shou was eventually rescued and returned to itself after it was “bombed into the air” by firecrackers and landed on earth together with red packets, Fukubukuro with discounted goods and gifts. The ad ends with its big campaign message: “Come to, blow up Nian Shou, divide red packets worth of 1 billion yuan”.

The ad was very effective in promoting’s Chinese New Year engagement game within its app. The ad conveyed a very clear message of its Chinese New Year discount offer with a strong link to brand.

Among all Chinese New Year ads enrolled into consumer testing, this ad ranked No.2 in engagement among low-tier city consumers – next only to McDonald’s “Ne Zha’s Chinese New Year Eve Dinner”. The cute mascot has brought consumers closer to the brand, while low-price was also a very important factor influencing low-tier city consumers’ shopping decision.

A low-tier city consumer commented: “I instantly remembered this is an ad from I am very keen to join this game and buy low-priced quality goods.”

2.Enhancing short-term conversion

Consumers in low-tier cities are enthusiastic about new food flavours and never stop pursuing higher-quality goods. In Pizza Hut ad "Win the New Year – Bullishness comes home", popular idol Liu Haoran became the brand’s delivery man, sending pizzas to ordinary families who were celebrating Chinese New Year. Whether they were mahjong playing nannies or partying young people, all were happy to see their steak pizza at 99 yuan/2 pieces.

This ad has successfully leveraged the idol’s “star power” to amplified its Chinese New Year discount campaign. It ranked No.2 in short-term conversion possibility among low-tier city consumers.

A low-tier consumer said: “Liu’s performance has helped the ad to score extra points. I tried out Pizza Hut’s delivery service right after I saw this ad.”

3.Building long-term brand power

A good ad not only promotes short-term sales conversion, but also contributes to long-term brand building. In this year, Budweiser followed its 2020 Chinese New Year campaign to maximize the usage of the element of “Red”, which is in its brand DNA. The ad has asked its celebrity brand ambassadors to say many popular New Year’s greeting phrases containing the sound of Chinese character “red” (红).

The comprehensive score of this 30-second ad was the fourth highest among low-tier consumers. It has also enhanced the meaningfulness of the brand, and its long-term brand building index was 13% higher than average.

The brand has maximized its coverage of various consumer segments by spreading its “red love” to all types of drinking scenarios. A low-tier city audience commented: “Budweiser knows me so well. I wish I can have a prosperous year in career, a fruitful year in love, and an unstoppable lucky year in finance!”


Low-tier city has an infinite pool of potential consumption power. The three mentioned in the article managed to win low-tier city consumers because they have managed to touch people’s heart with emotion as well as keep people’s heart by value for money.Creating an ad full of pure emotional appeal would fall short of sales conversion. At the same time, a rough hard-sell ad wasn’t helpful in creating long-lasting meaningful brand link. Marketers have to start from deep consumer understanding to put creativity in the right direction. Only by doing that can ads blend emotional connection, brand building and sales conversion properly to maximize marketing ROI.

As the world's leading advertising research agency, Kantar are always ready to help brands on creative development and evaluation. Link Now module of Kantar Marketplace platform enables brands to complete ad testing within as short as six hours, and delivering practical optimizing suggestions to create effective ad for brands.


Note 1:GenZ is defined here as those born between 1995 and 2009. 

Note 2:According to the consumer testing questionnaire, lower-tier cities refer to Tier-3 and Tier-4 in this article,

Tier1- Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen;

Tier2- Provincial capital cities;

Tier3- Prefecture-level cities;

Tier4- County-level cities.

Note 3:Bain & Co. partnered with Alibaba to merge the latter’s data resources with Bain & insights gained from working with consumer goods and retail companies in China. They identified eight strategic segments of China’s online consumers, the demographics and consumption behavior that define each distinct group, the role they play in a host of timely category trends, and the touchpoints that appeal best to them. (See the 2019 Online Strategic Consumer Groups Report: Innovate for Consumers with Insights from Big Data.) Those consumer groups are Rookie White Collars, Wealthy Middle Class, Supermoms, Small-Town Youth, Gen Z, Urban Gray Hairs, Small-Town Mature Crowd and Urban Blue Collars. Collectively they account for 80% of Tmall and Taobao FMCG platform users and represent over 90% of gross merchandise volume.

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