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Groundbreaking research finds that rural Chinese consumers are not are rural as many think

Publish Date: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Surprisingly, researchers found that the dominant way people in rural China receive
advertising was via television.

“Everyone has perceptions of what rural China looks like,” said David A. Griffith, the
John William Byington Endowed Chair in Global Marketing at The Eli Broad College of
Business at Michigan State University, “A common perception is that rural China is
composed of small, isolated villages without infrastructure, but that isn’t the necessarily
the case.”

Rural China is a large market that continues to grow. By many estimates, rural China is
the ninth largest advertising market in the world. It is projected its growth will result in a
larger advertising market than the United States by 2015.

“This has huge implications for businesses, because television and other mass media have
tremendous reach in this market,” Griffith said. “Companies are interfacing with these
consumers even if they don’t think they are.”

With striking similarity to advertising markets in developed Chinese cities such as
Shanghai or the U.S. for that matter, Griffith and colleagues found that the number one
method in rural China for receiving advertising was television, followed by family
recommendations and then salespeople. 

Though television was the most used source for information, it wasn’t the most trusted
source. The most trusted source for information about products was recommendations by
family members.

In addition to examining how rural consumers received their news and how much they
trusted it, Griffith and his colleagues also compared their results to a study of urban
Chinese consumers that was completed in 1987.

They discovered that the people in rural areas were more sophisticated in 2001 than the
urban Chinese consumers studied in 1987 – a time when the world was rushing into
urban China due to its sophistication and market opportunities.

“The people in rural China think just like we do,” Griffith said. “They aren’t going to
model Western consumers, but the way they get their information about products is very
similar. This forces business operating in China to change the way they approach the

The study was published in 2008 in the International Journal of Advertising. It was
authored by Qimei Chen and Yi He of the University of Hawaii, Xinshu Zhao of the
University of North Carolina and David A. Griffith of Michigan State University.

Written by Gordon Shetler, Graduate Assistant at Global Initiatives