“I am interested in investigating what is extraordinary in ordinary life (for instance habit) and in looking at the ordinariness of what might be thought of as extraordinary.” ~ Ben Highmore

Although it’s now approaching two weeks since I left Shanghai for Boston (via UA858 to San Francisco), it’s becoming rather obvious that I’m yet to fully unpack – mentally and otherwise – from my trip to China. While I may have thankfully regained a semblance of some regular sleep-wake schedule, my unexpected tendency to respond courteously to Bostonians with “xie xie” or, better yet, my newfound reluctance to part with a dollar (see dollar-renminbi exchange rate) might be more indicative of a slow reassimilation into American culture.

I also recognize that “unbelievably amazing” is an honest, albeit inadequate and perhaps overly romanticized response to “How was your trip?!” – a somewhat loaded question, which I suspect will be asked of me for several weeks to come as I settle back down stateside. Thus, in order to further reflect on my experience in China, over the next few days (and even possibly weeks) I will be retracing my footsteps around Shanghai (and Beijing, briefly), highlighting noteworthy cross-cultural interactions (as well as some infractions) and dissecting both the ordinary and extraordinary in these experiences.

While this approach is admittedly a departure from the standard writing style often employed here on the blog, my hope is that this series of retrospective writings (à la Jan Chipchase) will provide a deeper look into my experience in China. Keep in mind, this is not intended to serve as a definitive guide to the Chinese experience (Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words has much more value to offer in that regard), but perhaps an attempt to demystify and deconstruct a culture  often perceived as remote and unfamiliar.


The picture above on Rujin Road (No. 1) was among the first set I took in Shanghai while riding in the cab from Pudong Airport to my hotel. It’s not immediately obvious, but the lady on the far right is wearing a face mask – an unintentional “Welcome to China” message of sorts. Although the air pollution in Shanghai is hardly as severe as Beijing, it’s not uncommon in public areas to see Shanghairen (“people of Shanghai”) wearing face masks – some more practical than others



Along with innovation and social engagement, one of the current buzzwords in marketing is “insights”. These powerful pieces of information are the driving force behind the development of integrated marketing communications strategies. As such, entire teams, divisions and agencies have been formed for the sole purpose of uncovering consumer, cultural and market insights.

A recent discussion on the consumer insights interest group on LinkedIn asked members to define insight in one word. While, of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, this discussion certainly made me take some time to reflect carefully on how I would define an insight.

An insight is more than just pure knowledge about consumer behavior or market trends. It represents vital information that can be leveraged to create value for consumers. Consequently, an insight is not valuable in itself. It’s valuable because it can be used to create meaningful opportunities and solve business problems. But how exactly can this be described in one word?

The best word I can use to describe an insight would have to be seed.  A seed is the propagative source of a plant. Simply put, it brings the plant to life. A well nurtured seed will grow and flourish, while a neglected seed will degenerate or essentially becomes functionally useless. Similarly, insights bring marketing and communications strategies to life, but they only become useful when applied strategically and used in meaningful ways.

The recent “Bring Happiness Home” campaign by PepsiCo Greater China Region (GCR) exemplifies the nature and definition of insights I have provided. PepsiCo discovered that a disconcerting trend for youth is that they no longer want to go home to celebrate Chinese New Year. In particular, a survey showed that around 70 percent of Chinese youth expressed hesitation toward going home.

This insight became the inspiration for their “Bring Happiness Home” campaign which combined viral marketing with TV advertising. PepsiCo developed and distributed a microfilm online, which tells the story of an estranged family spread out across the country that ends up reuniting to celebrate Chinese New Year.

The microfilm also cleverly integrates PepsiCo’s leading brands; Pepsi-Cola, Lay’s and Tropicana. Meanwhile, PepsiCo refreshed the role of the traditional 30-second TV commercial to act as a movie teaser, highlighting strong synergies among the three brands and still celebrating individual brand truth.

While a valuable piece of information, the insight about Chinese youth expressing hesitation towards going home for Chinese New Year only truly became useful when it was used to create value for PepsiCo’s consumers in a meaningful way.