Scarlett Zhao
Scarlott Zhao is an Associate Research Analyst for Mintel China Reports, based in the Shanghai office. She specialises in the lifestyle sector.

In celebration of China’s Lantern Festival (19 February), Beijing’s Forbidden City, now known as the Palace Museum, was illuminated for two nights on 19-20 February, putting on an astounding light show for visitors. For the first time in 94 years, the UNESCO world heritage opened its doors to the public for night visits, drawing massive attention worldwide.

The recent boom in popularity of the Palace Museum can be seen with the increase in visitors in recent years. The Museum announced late last year that it saw a record high number of 17 million visitors in 2018, with almost half of them being under 30, a quarter between 30-40 and close to a fifth aged 40-50. The museum also disclosed earlier in 2018 that its cultural and creative products reached a staggering total sales value of RMB 1.5 billion in 2017.

The successful revival of the Palace Museum can be attributed to the efficient marketing strategy to target younger consumers. The Palace Museum has managed to narrow the gap that it was experiencing with young people by creating cartoons of ancient characters like the emperors, queens and concubines. These cartoon cultural and creative products have been selling well online on the Palace Museum’s official Tmall store and creating buzz on social media. In addition, various documentaries and shows have been filmed at the Palace Museum in recent years, including National Treasure and Masters in Forbidden City. These shows have contributed to educating consumers on cultural heritage as well as generate discussion on different channels.

Cartoon concubines keychains (Source: taobao.com)

Impact on China’s cultural tourism

The rising popularity of the Palace Museum in Beijing is helping to revive China’s cultural tourism. According to Mintel’s report on domestic travel in China, a tenth of urban Chinese consumers say they feel disheartened by the loss of Chinese culture.

Because of the Palace Museum’s proactive communications and marketing efforts, consumers in their 30’s and 40’s now comprise the majority of visitors to the UNESCO site. In fact, this aligns with Mintel research which found that that consumers born in the 80s and 90s are more into historical or cultural heritage than those from the 70s; this is especially so among those with kids in the household.

Cultural heritage as a key feature for aspirational brands

To stand out in the Chinese marketplace, brands can also take advantage of this interest in the Palace Museum by incorporating cultural heritage features in their products. Mintel’s research on the Chinese consumer reveals that consumers are no longer going after product attributes such as luxury or exclusive. This suggests that they are moving away from a superficial level of judging a brand, and are instead paying more attention to what a brand really stands for. Nostalgia marketing is a good way to make a brand more appealing, especially as consumers in China are getting disheartened by the loss of their very own culture.