24 May 2012

Just what the Doctoroff ordered

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So much is written about China today for the typical western capitalist who mainly wants to know just enough about the Middle Kingdom in order to exploit its growing middle class of consumers that it can be a challenge to separate the hot air from the hard sell. The increasing volume of this kind of writing demands that it be considered its own genre. It is, therefore, often interesting to take note of the development and form of this increasingly pervasive literary phenomenon.
Tom Doctoroff, whose looks and career path might be the model for Don Draper, if Don Draper had gone red and dared to work for the Commies, likes to write books while he is not trying to convince western consumer brand merchants how to make lots more money selling in mainland Chinese. And when he is not pitching ad campaigns to marketing execs who are itching to get a piece of the Middle class Chinese pie, he is writing articles to promote his books and, by extension, himself.
A recent piece that he managed to get positioned in Forbes looks and reads like a powerpoint presentation that was quickly reworked by the journalist/contributor/columnist/freelancer, Kenneth Rapoza, to meet an impending deadline. I suppose I ought to cut him some slack. He covers Brazil, Russia, India, AND China. That has to be exhausting while based in New York City.
*Look, the article even retains the 10 bullet points from the original PPT! Which is double cool if the writer is paid by the column inch.But to Doctoroff's credit, it is so much more convincing to get somebody else to spout a salespitch on the pages of a prestigious publication than to directly shill on assorted media outlets. Or as they say in the  boardrooms: Booyeah ^5! I bet incidental product placement never felt so good.
After Rapoza makes note of how the market insiders play off the blips and flips of composite shares, he goes through the list of Doctoroff's factlets and morsels of wisdom based on his stint in China, the purpose of which is mainly to continue to persuade potentially wary international brands to set up shop in China and consequently to seek out the services of his advertising agency.
The 10 points that he ticks off are vague platitudes that seldom put Doctoroff into a corner that he won't have to weasel his way out later. In the first example, we are told:
Myth No. 1: Popular anger means the party’s power is weakening
The communist party, despite its heavy hand, “has street cred.” Unless growth collapses, citizens will grudgingly support national leaders. The Chinese people crave order. Stability is the platform on which progress will continually be built. In the future, a more Singaporian model may take hold but one thing is certain, the future of China’s political system will not be made in Americaor Europe.
Singaporian?  How far into the future is Doctoroff willing to assert that mainland China may imitate the high end retail mecca, education hub, and tax haven that Singapore represents? But he boldly avers that it won't be similar to models from two other areas. (Singapore is a parliamentary republic with a legal system based on English common law.) Because everybody knows that to build on something it only needs to be stable and well understood, maybe. After his first insight, we learn that Beijing is creating a pathway to the world wide web with Chinese characteristics.
Myth No. 4: The internet will revolutionize China
The internet is changing China and mostly for the good, but revolution is too strong a word.  China’s digital era remains uniquely Chinese. Beijing allows for a blank canvas of self expression and material gratification, but retains the veto power to control public discourse as it did when it threatened to shut down the Sina Weibo microblogging service over theories about the political dramas surrounding politician Bo Xilai and later with Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng. Internet users may grumble, but they’re not ready to rumble.
But the online revolutionaries will still be eager to buy diamond tennis bracelets and Heineken in cans. Doctoroff assures his intended readers of marketplace stability by so narrowing defining revolution. In spite of how the internet has revolutionized every other society through greater access to information, news media, business connectivity, and so forth, Doctoroff is certain that the PTB in Beijing are still ready to crackdown if anything starts smelling of jasmine tea.
Myth No. 5: The Chinese market is too much like Europe 
(Is this a myth that he just pulled out of his ass so he can shoot it down as a talkingpoint?) The rest of the quote is:
China is as unified a country as is the U.S., despite its wide geographical and political differences. The challenges of unifying distribution networks, sales channels, retail presence and sourcing standards “remain monumental”.  But it is operational hurdles that make China a Balkanized economy, not cultural or political differences.
So China is unified (in some undefined sense of the word) in spite of it political differences but the political differences are not what make China Balkanized. So does he really mean to say that it is a myth that China is too much like the former Yugoslavia? But how does he explain how the monumental challenges of unifying (but isn't China already unified?) all the necessary operational elements that international retailers want in a large, say, common market with a single currency, which China is not too much like, have come about? Could they possibly have been put in place and maintained by provincial level politicians, you know, due to differing political motives?
And in describing his astute observations of the particularities of the Chinese consumer we get this nugget:
Myth No. 6: The Chinese consumer is inscrutable
 Women want to reconcile achievement and traditional feminine grace and therefore prefer to buy diamonds that sparkle, but don’t have too much bling. 
 Yeah, that's totally right. Chinese women want the diamonds that sparkle. They certainly don't want the diamonds that don't sparkle and they must have just the right amount of bling. Say, around 10 bling per carat. And as for the men and their bling quotient, we learn in the rest of the myth's knockdown:
Men want to show they’ve clawed their way to the top without showing off so prefer an Audi or BMW to a Maserati. Once foreigners appreciate China’s unique characteristics, their tastes become easier to understand.
Because the only way to explain why more Chinese men buy an Audi, or BMW, instead of an equally affordable Maserati is that only those brands have the unique characteristics that Chinese drivers want. Don't you get that, foreigners?
Other myths are equally vapid and stand for easily knocked down strawmen.
Myth No. 8: China Inc. will kill U.S. jobs
Doctoroff can assert this with some degree of impunity because he is only talking about the future of job killing by China Inc. The US jobs that were moved from North America to be filled mainly by Chinese peasant women willing to work under sweatshop conditions so that corporate balance sheets and executive bonuses could go stratospheric, those jobs were roundly killed and buried in the past. But killing still might bother the few remaining corporate decisionmakers who aren't complete sociopaths. Some of them might have misgivings about China's militarism and how it might affect profit loss statements. Doctoroff is the charmer with a homespun folksiness that he might have learned from a Booth School of Business seminar on feigned rustic sincerity.
Myth No. 9: China will be the lone world superpower
China does not inspire hearts and minds like America does.  American dignity for the common good touches hearts. China is chauvinistic by comparison. In ways large and small, its instinct to narrowly defend its self interest is off putting and isolating. China will be an economic power, but not a culture or political power. There will be more than one tiger on this mountain, and the other will be the good ole U.S. of A.
Doctoroff could have mentioned the efforts by Beijing's Politburo to launch a softpower campaign and how its effectiveness has been negated by the overall lack of appeal for authoritarian regimes. Beijing had big hopes on bankrolling a film that they were convinced would get an Oscar due to the undeniable tragedy of its theme. When the film failed to entice moviegoers to the cinema or to garner an Oscar nomination, the response was in some quarters to insist that it was proof of antiChinese bias in western media.
There is an odd theme in the last three of Doctoroff's myths. He is constantly assuaging that his readership has nothing to fear from a wealthier China with a stronger industrial base and a strong desire to acquire more things to kill citizens of other countries with. Lastly he points out:
Myth No. 10:  China is militarily aggressive
China is ramping up its military, but will never use it to challenge the U.S. or invade its neighbors.  For a credible analysis of China’s modern fighting force, scour Pentagon briefs. But to get a sense of Beijing’s pacifist instincts, come for a visit. The Chinese shield themselves from danger, both real and imagined. This is not a culture itching for war.
Given how incredibly wrong this last statement is, I think it is not so much that Doctoroff is in slick salesman mode, using glib euphemisms to pepper his pitch. He (as much as Rapoza equally buys into these memes) sees China in the same light that many neocon hawks regard US imperialist actions as blameless regardless of the negative results. It's the kind of thinking that can allow Bush 43 to declare himself a wartime president but never admit that he was the aggressor in those wars, or as he put it himself so succinctly:
"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace."
This last myth also contains one of the few examples when Doctoroff is unqualified in limiting his pronouncements about China. He says never will China use it military to challenge the USA or invade it neighbors. Never can mean two things when it is used by salesmen. It can mean not until he, at least, is dead, or more typically, not until after he has moved on to a higher paying job. We can all hope Mr. Doctoroff enjoys a long life, but we can still have reason to doubt his credibility. It was only only 1979 that Beijing saw fit to punish the nation of Vietnam in retaliation for ousting the Khmer Rouge, China's ally at the time. (On a personal note, if there were ever an argument to be made for using military force to oust a foreign regime, I think this is a strong one.) Tensions have continued with occasional border incursions, occupation of disputed territory, and very renewed tensions accompanying Chinese increase in naval capacity over the Spratly Islands. As many right thinking thinkers who claim citizenship from the good ole USA, it is not considered aggression when the nation is bad. So attacks against Vietnam by China can be overlooked just as the USA can define terrorism down whenever it seems to promote the US foreign policy agenda.
Yet it is still harder to reconcile Doctoroff's claim of Beijing's pacifist tendencies with the country's history of territorial expansion and border incursions. It's not at all useful to visit the Forbidden City to get a sense of this because that is precisely not where the evidence of Beijing unpacificistic actions are occurring. Even if some want to ignore what Beijing does against Vietnam, it's harder to ignore its bellicosity when it bumps up against putative US allies like Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and other Asian nations regarding the Spratly islands. The BBC has produced the most eyecatching map that reveals the extent of Beijing's desire to avoid war close to home soil by extending a really broad shield as far from the mainland coast as possible.
One possible interpretations of Doctoroff's myth busting strategy is that he simply does not want anybody to look behind the curtain of the all powerful Oz. Much of salesmanship is helping potential customers to forget about what they ought to be mindful of. The audience for his books, and his well placed interviews, and articles are those brand name executive marketers who have yet to infiltrate the mainland Chinese brand awareness. The more they don't know plays into Doctoroff's strategy of reassuring them that he above all other admen knows everything that needs to be known about the Chinese consumer. Doctoroff is on a roll with his latest literary oeuvre and if he manages to win over even one high end brand that he can represent in mainland China, then his job skills and sales acumen speak for themselves.