- China’s LGBT+ market has a lot of untapped potential with more than 70 million people in the community.
- Due to strict censorship laws, companies looking to carve out a slice of the country’s pink economy must tread carefully when it comes to marketing.
- Subtlety and creativity are key to captivating the heart of the community while avoiding legal backlash as shown in Budweiser’s subtle yet effective “Eyes Talk” campaign.
Budweiser recently joined hands with the Chinese edition of British gay lifestyle magazine “Attitude” in its 2022 Qixi Festival (Chinese Valentine’s Day) campaign.
In its three-part video series entitled “Eyes Talk”, the American beer brand harnesses the power of eye contact to tell stories of love – two of which shine the spotlight on LGBT+ couples. The advertisement encourages its youthful audience to embrace their true selves and love whomever they want.
In each of the three short video clips, no words were spoken between the couples. Instead, their eyes did all the talking. The first clip shows the subtle eyes of love at first sight, in which a young woman exchanges a brief glance with a woman sitting on the outdoor patio of a restaurant. The second clip unveils the eyes of heartbreak as a young, heterosexual couple struggles through a breakup. Finally, the third clip follows the observant eyes of a young male photographer who gleefully takes portraits of his secret crush.
Marketing the Rainbow in China
It’s estimated that the Chinese LGBTQ community numbers more than 70 million, representing a $300 billion opportunity across industries, and Attitude’s editor-in-chief Tang saw the potential in the sector.
To avoid potential censorship over LGBTQ content in China, as sexual orientation is still not a publicly discussed topic, the Chinese edition of Attitude magazine focuses on the broader concept of diversity, lifestyle content, talent showcase and success stories.
“Normalising the Chinese LGBTQ community in a constructive manner will be its main goal in the next few years.”Fan Li, Attitude China’s editor-in-chief
“Our editorial mission is that we want to show our friends and family, and maybe everyone else, that our community in many ways is no different from the rest of Chinese society. We share the same values, we pursue the same goals and we enjoy the same things. We are not all party animals, and not all of us dress in particular fashions,” he said.
Likewise, the American beer brand has long been a proponent of LGBT+ rights since the mid-90s. In terms of China, however, Budweiser has had to find creative ways to navigate the current censorship laws in place against LGBT+ content. The “Eyes Talk” series serves as a continuation of Budweiser’s “all is love” campaign which began with subtle bottle advertisements in 2019.
Brewing a premium beer economy in China
According to industry analysts, Chinese consumers are drinking less but higher-quality beer. Compared to the average bottle priced at 5-10 RMB ($0.72 to $1.43), a premium bottle would cost anywhere from 10 RMB ($1.43) and higher.
“Today we estimate that there is only 16% of the total beer consumption in China that is premium or super-premium,” Jan Craps, co-chair and chief executive of Budweiser APAC, said.
Currently, craft brewing remains a tiny fraction of China’s beer market when compared to the U.S. Craft makes up nearly 27% of beer sales in the U.S, but in China it was still only below 3% by 2019. Despite this, however, Budweiser still stands as Asia’s largest beer company by sales. The beer brand plans to promote more high-end beer in China, having seen strong demand from its consumers.
Over the past few years, the Chinese beer market has matured greatly with importation growing by double digits in the last five years. Currently, China represents 12% of beer sales globally and has a market size value of $121.4 billion as of 2022. It is the largest market in the world, ahead of the United States by almost $10 billion.
In 2022, Budweiser reported a decline in total sales in China by 6.5%, while revenue decreased by 4.7%. However, the financial report attributed this move to the company’s continued strategy of premiumisation, or prioritising sales of higher-end (and more expensive) beer. In fact, the proportion of high-end and ultra-high-end beer is expected to increase to 20% by 2025.
Overall, Budweiser’s Eyes Talk campaign shows a creative way in which a company can target the LGBT+ community in China without making waves politically. Moreover, it communicates well with its youthful Gen Z target audience who are more progressive than their previous generations.