EC China’s Millennial Consumers: What Victoria’s Secret Got Wrong, And Nike Got Right

Chinese millennials are a new breed of consumers who will shape the future of commerce. They are very interested in consumption, and excited by it. They constantly live-stream fashion shows on their phones and discuss new trends.

Photo credit: Jing Daily

Yet, they are also torn between the old and new. They are conflicted between their national pride and their love for western brands. They are struggling to find their own individuality in a collective culture.

At a recent fashion show in Paris, Victoria’s Secret tried to woo Chinese consumers by showcasing dragon-themed lingerie. The supermodel Elsa Hosk appeared on the runway with an elaborate dragon wrapped around on her body, Kendall Jendall wore a pair of phoenix wings made of feather, and Adrian Lima cat-walked in a pair of dragon-embroidered stiletto boots.

But Chinese consumers found these outfits distasteful and tacky. Many commented on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog site, that the dragon themed-outfits were “really ugly” and didn’t represent Chinese culture.

Some were even offended. An article by Helin Jung, a lifestyle editor for Cosmopolitan, who is an ethnic Chinese, called the show “racist” (the article has since been deleted). “What condescension,” she wrote, “for Victoria’s Secret to think that by wrapping a model in a dragon, it could connect directly with a new consumer in China.”

What went wrong with Victoria’s Secret’s effort to impress Chinese consumers?

First, it takes more than a superficial understanding of Chinese culture to attract Chinese consumers. The dragon in Chinese tradition represents the majesty of an emperor. The clothing the emperor wore was called a dragon robe. The throne the emperor sat on was called a dragon chair. Even the emperor’s body was called a dragon body. The Chinese refer to themselves as descendants of the Dragon.

Therefore, the dragon is a sacred symbol and should be revered. Pairing a dragon with revealing lingerie on models’ super sexy bodies is completely off-putting, and inappropriate to say the least.

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Nick De Peyster, CFA 4 years ago Contributor's comment

What ad agency was advising Victoria Secret?

Nick de Peyster

Elliott Morss 4 years ago Contributor's comment


I enjoyed your piece on Chinese millennials. They, along with the millennials of India will be the global economic growth drivers for the next two decades.

It is truly remarkable just how bad Victoria Secrets’ marketing approach was. As you say, The Chinese are extremely brand conscious which gives a company like VS a real head start – but to screw it up as they did – ouch!

I write about wine, and the brand consciousness of the Chinese are remarkable – they will pay thousands for a bottle from the “right” vineyards in the Bordeaux regions of France

Barry Hochhauser 4 years ago Member's comment

I have to agree with Elliott Morss, it's as if #VictoriaSecret's marketing was done without consulting a single person who actually lives in China! The #Nike video by contrast was extremely well done. $NKE