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A is for Audi, B is for BMW …

May 30, 2010

My wife and I went to a baby supply store in Beijing this weekend, to stock up on necessities for our 7 month-old little guy.  I was browsing through the educational toy section when something caught my eye.

Hanging from a counter were a series of decorative wall posters depicting some of the essential things a child might learn in their first few years:  colors, shapes, different kinds of animals.  Right beside the one with colors and shapes (see the cell phone picture I snapped below) was another one — also recommended for ages 0-3 — displaying the different brands of luxury automobiles:  BMW, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Lincoln, etc. (as an import, Chevrolet is also considered a prestigious car in China).

I’ve mentioned before that the Chinese are car-crazy, but this was ridiculous.  I could sort of understand a poster that showed different kinds of cars and trucks — a fire truck or a dump truck, for instance — maybe with the brand as one detail of the illustration.  But the funny part is, the vehicles on the poster are virtually the same type, as far as a child is concerned — the brands and their logos are obviously the distinguishing feature.  Apparently, in China, by age 3 it’s every bit as important for your tot to be able to pick out a Rolls from a BMW as it is for them to tell red from blue, a circle from a square, or a tiger from a giraffe!

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen brand consciousness in cars being pushed at an early age here in China.  A couple of weeks ago, I was at our local department store gawking at the battery-powered cars they have for kids to drive around these days — a far cry from the plastic push-pedal version I had growing up.  What I noticed, though, was that a joy ride wasn’t all these Little Emperors — and presumably their parents — were looking for.  They wanted to display their status.  Sure, you could buy a yellow dump truck for your tyke to putter around, if you want everyone to think you’re training him to become some sort of migrant worker.  But the really pricey models (retailing at RMB 6,888 or just over US$1000) were all miniature versions of Mercedes and BMWs, with their logos prominently displayed on the grill (see my photo below).  I don’t know how they drive, but they simply ooze class.

Who, I wondered, actually shells out US$1,000 so their child can get accustomed to driving around a Benz or a Beamer?  (Not I.  If our little boy wants one, he can buy one himself — in 30 years).  My wife assures me that nobody actually buys one of these things for their own child.  Mainly, she says, they are for people to give to the child of a boss or government official they want to curry favor with.   And this is supposed to make me feel reassured?

To survive in China, I guess, I better get started teaching our little one the essential lessons of life right away:  A is for Audi, B is for BMW …

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Terry permalink
    May 30, 2010 11:10 pm

    Wonderful post Patrick… engendered a smile and a chuckle
    yep.. better start early 😉

  2. semuren permalink
    May 30, 2010 11:15 pm

    aside perhaps from the real estate analysis your best post yet! the most vital part is spouse’s contribution at the end. the most interesting things are often 可遇不可求的.

  3. May 31, 2010 10:18 am

    Wow! What an great illustration of the many terrific points you made on the China Radio International show on China’s nouveau riche. I live in LA – the global capital of nouveau riche, car lust and aspirational living – those educational-car sets would be a hit here. I’ll tweet this now. My friends will get a kick out of it.

  4. Andy Stahl permalink
    June 2, 2010 6:12 am

    I wonder if these poster and kiddie-car manufacturers are selling product placement sponsorships to the brand name companies? It’s never too soon to start building brand loyalty.

  5. Susan permalink
    June 2, 2010 7:55 pm

    just more evidence of a sick materialistic greedy culture China is fastly becoming.

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