Does ‘Millennials’ concept work in China?

‘Millennials’ offers a convenient demographic cohort for multinational companies. But does it work in China?
08 August 2017
Happy Asian friends having fun chewing bubble gum outdoor
Martin Guo 2015

Editor in Chief, Kantar China Insights, China

Multinational companies are usually big fans of the concept of “Millennials” (including Kantar ourselves). But for most Chinese people, they are not familiar with it.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as a person born in the 1980s or 1990s – usually plural.

Wikipedia describes Millennials (also known as Generation Y) as the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years.

Given these definitions, we can say that “Millennials” generation is roughly equivalent to the combination of China’s 80s generation (“80后”, people born in the 1980s) and 90s generation (born in the 1990s).

Thanks to the profound and swift changes brought by China’s open-up and reform policies since 1978, Chinese society has become one of the fastest/biggest changing societies in the world. In the Chinese context, people born in the same decade are considered to be in the same generation, such as 80s and 90s generation. In recent years, as the changes, instead of slowing down, are accelerating, we have seen the emerging concepts of “five-year generations”, such as 85s (people born between 1985 and 1990) and 95s (born between 1995 and 2000).

Then how big is the popularity gap between these concepts in China?

We started from WeChat, the most frequently used social media platform in China, which is the combination of WhatsApp, Facebook, Amazon, Instagram, Paypal, TripAdvisor (for booking hotel and airplane tickets), Uber (for getting taxi), Yelp (for booking restaurant table)), and many more.

The official tool WeChat Index can measure the buzz level of certain keywords in the WeChat universe. Its sources include number of searches of keywords in WeChat, mentions of keywords in articles published by public accounts, and aggregated exposure of keywords resulted from people sharing articles onto their Moments. So below are the buzz levels of Millennials (purple), 80s (yellow) and 90s (light blue) in the WeChat universe.

In the most used search engine Baidu, the performance of “Millennials” is even worse: it is not a keyword!

Translation: “Millennials” is not an indexed keyword. If you wish to review relevant data, you need to purchase an account to create it as a keyword.

Popularity aside, the ultimate question is: does the concept of “Millennials” work in China? To answer this question, we need data support.

CNRS-TGI is China’s largest commercial consecutive targeted group index research. It interviews 100,000 sample residents in 60 Chinese cities to understand their consumption behaviour, media usage and life statement. The sample results can represent 180 million urban residents in China.

A good way to tell whether the concept of “Millennials” works is to see if the 80s generation have the same answer with 90s generation but different from other generations. If we stack their answers to the same question in a column chart, then there are three types of graphics:

1. “Millennial” concept works:

2. The answers from 80s and 90s generations are not so different from other generations.

3. Not only 80s and 90s generations are different from other age groups, they are also different between themselves.

Then let’s see some results from the survey data.

1. “Millennial” concept works:

Based on the CNRS-TGI data, 80s and 90s generations do have many attitudes in common, which are apparently different from other generations.

Such as about mobile phone: “I always use the newest model”, “I will consider buying contents for mobile phones, such as music and video.”

Such as try new food and beverage, even if it might not be very healthy.

“I like to try new beverages”, “I like to try new food”, “I like to try those foods that are not healthy.”

Such as accepting plastic surgery:

“To fix some shortcomings of my body, I am willing to take plastic surgeries.”

Such as like to go to cinemas:

“I often go to cinema to watch movies.”

2. As a part of Chinese population, in many aspects 80s and 90s generations share the same value with other Chinese age groups.

Such as appreciating long-lasting marriage and staying at home:

3. More importantly, there are many aspects where 80s generation are different from 90s generation, especially those brand-related areas.

For example, 80s generation has an apparently higher level of brand loyalty. That of 90s generation was even lower than 70s generation, just on par with national average.

“I will always stick to the brands I like.”

80s generation are more willing to “pay premium for original and unique brands”, because “brands will tell who I am”. 90s generation is less committed to these ideas.

At the same time, 80s generation are not paying as much attention to discount promotions and shopping environment as 90s generation are. Probably it’s because 80s generation are better off financially so they would choose branding and quality of goods/services over money saved from sales. 80s generation, who are between the age of 37 and 28 this year, very likely have to take care of their parents and raise young children at the same time, hence they lack time to casually wander around physical shopping spaces and rely heavily on e-commerce. In contrast, the majority of 90s generation have not started family or get married and spend lots of their leisure time in shopping malls. The quality of environment is very important to them.



Ryan Li, General Manager of CTR Media & Consumption Behaviour, said that “Millennials” is a demographic concept covering a big part of Chinese population after China’s opening up and reform. In practice, because Chinese society has undergone overwhelming changes in recent 30 years, it will be wise to research and treat 80s and 90s generations separately. “Copy-pasting” the “Millennials” concept into Chinese environment won’t automatically work. Smart business decisions should be supported by data collected through customized research projects on a case-by-case basis.


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