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China 2015: BRAND BUILDING BEST PRACTICES | Premiumization

But brands must shape messages for multiscreen viewing

According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) there were 632 million Internet users in China by mid 2014. And more Chinese now go online using a smartphone, 83.4 percent, rather than a PC device, 80.9 percent. 

James Galpin
Head of Media and Digital Solutions
Millward Brown
Angela Cao
Account Manager, Media and Digital Solutions
Millward Brown

Our own Ad Reaction 2014 study revealed that a typical China multiscreen user spends almost eight hours a day across TV, laptops, smartphones and tablets, compared with just seven hours spent by multiscreen users globally. And for Chinese multiscreen users, a smartphone, rather than a TV, now is the primary screen, taking up 2.8 hours daily.

Only sleep really breaks the multiscreen pattern. Even in the traditional TV peak-time viewing slots in the evening smartphones retain their hold as the most used device. And laptops have higher usage than a TV then. In fact, for about a third of the time Chinese consumers are simultaneously engaging across more than one screen.

These usage patterns show that smartphones are not all about being out and about. They are as much used when people are in fixed locations, such as at their workplace or at home.


People have distinct roles and uses for different screens. And although the portability of the device (or not) is a factor in
how it gets used, it is about far more than that. The nature of the content and communication that the user is engaged in – how personal it is, for example – is a major influence on what device he or she adopts.

Some communications, such as social media interaction, have almost entirely switched to mobile as there is no real advantage to accessing on other devices. The social media app WeChat is by far the most used app on mobile in China!

In China, as elsewhere globally, the majority of social media interaction now happens via mobile devices. Because these interactions often are also personal, people prefer to use their personal devices.

At the same time, even if people sometime use phones to access video content, they still prefer to watch their favorite TV programs or films on larger screens. But that does not just mean on traditional TV. Now that might mean on a laptop or tablet instead. Usage of both laptops and tablets peak in the evening in China.


How does a brand create coherent communications across screens to build powerful brand stories? The different properties of screen devices, as well as the different roles they play in Chinese consumers’ lives mean that marketers cannot simply focus on delivering one standard communication across all screens.

This is apparent when we deep dive into the way that other devices are used simultaneously with TV. Viewers use other devices while watching TV to engage in an unrelated activity (stacking) or to enhance their viewing with other information (meshing).

While there are opportunities for brands to deepen engagement around related content across different devices, most of the time people’s minds are in different places depending on the device being used. But maybe there is an opportunity to deliver synergistic, reinforcing impact through advertising delivered coincidentally through both devices. The key is still to deliver coherent brand communications that are also attuned to the way each screen is being used.


What is very clear through all this is that smartphones are becoming the always-on, constant companion of China consumers. They have been described as the first component of the human exoskeleton. And in that context they are becoming the connective tissue across all screens.

To maximize success, China marketers need to identify how they are going to activate their campaigns across screens. But most important, they must work out how to most effectively deploy smartphone connectivity as a core element with their marketing programs.

Already smartphones are becoming the go-to device to find out more, follow up or respond and to share things with others about anything, brands included. In fact just thinking within screens is too narrow-minded. Smartphones connect not just across screens; they connect across everything.

Smartphones allow all media to be interactive and they transform even the analog into digital. QR codes and other mobile response mechanics on print, out-of-home and point-of-sale brand communications, even packaging allows consumers to interact with brands wherever, whenever, and potentially however they want to.

Smartphones now form the connective tissue between the online and offline worlds in China. Even the smallest Chinese shopkeeper with a stall understands this now. 

... Multiusers move across screens when watching TV...

Viewers use multiple devices while watching TV. Sometimes they shift screens randomly. Other times they shift to engage with unrelated content (stacking) or to enhance their viewing with related content (meshing). 

... TV viewers watch a second screen for many reasons

Multiscreen users have many reasons that they view a second screen while watching TV. Sometimes the second screen is more interesting than the TV content. Other times it enhances the TV content with more information or a social dimension. 

Action points for brands in a multiscreen world

1. Optimize online owned media and sales channels in China for easy access and usability across screens.

 2. Ensure that mobile interaction and connectivity is facilitated as easily as possible through all brand touch points.

  3. Start placing mobile connectivity at the core of all marketing and communications strategies.