Visual Marketing in China: The Dynamics of Attraction

“I see it, I like it, I want it” is more than a catchy line from a famous pop song.
It is an expression of the recurring process of attraction that influences decisions; whether about liking that stranger you met at the party, or buying that outfit you saw on the mannequin behind the display glass.

According to a report on the Principles of Social Psychology, physical attractiveness is the strongest determinant of attraction among humans. This means that despite the many critiques of being a “shallow” or “vain” requisite, people are – eventually – moved by what they see. This is evidenced by endless maxims such as “seeing is believing,” or “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

In essence, attraction is typically initiated or established by visualization.

Away from love and dating, this rule fits like gloves into the realm of marketing. You need an irresistible beacon for the target audience to be attracted to your brand or company – and it is called visual marketing.

This blog will unravel the differences in approach to effective visual marketing in China, using real-life examples. First, however, a most basic, yet pertinent question is to be answered.

What Does Visual Marketing Matter?

Visual marketing is a strategy that uses images, videos, colors, designs, branded packaging, and other visual cues to draw attention to a product or service.
Marketing with visuals is one of the oldest and statistically trendiest tricks in marketing books for obvious (pun intended) reasons:

  • Visuals are identifiers: Certain brands are recognizable from a mile away by their logos, colors, or signages. If such brands launch a new product, change their packaging, or open a new store, these elements help customers to seamlessly make the link.
  • Visuals are captivating: It is hard to ignore an attractive visual. Whether on a billboard or on your Instagram feed, good visuals evoke attraction for curiosity and/or interest. Interest often translates to a positive response to your brand.
  • Visuals are dynamic: Branding visuals have an unending artistic appeal. As art is dynamic, visual marketing evolves – which composes a thrilling challenge for brands to consistently push the limits of creativity to sustain recognition.

Studies reveal that over 80% of marketing communications include visual content. This means that nearly every brand invests in visual marketing, however, the results are far from uniform.

Subsequently, some brands get more recognition than others, and more specifically, some (even famous) brands get more recognition in certain countries than in others. This has a lot to do with being culturally attuned to the target market, which is the next sub-focus of this blog.

Culture and Visual Marketing

Everyone is affected by their cultural background. Culture defines who we are, what we stand for, and ultimately, what appeals to us. Thus, visual marketing must factor in cultural dynamics to be successful in a given country.

As of 2023, China is the second-largest economy in the world, and the largest in Asia. It is home to one of the most attractive, yet daunting markets to enter and navigate by foreign brands. This is largely influenced by the distinctive cultural outlook of the Chinese people – who happen to be the target audience.

Against this backdrop, the next segment of this piece will feature case studies of foreign brands that have gained attraction and traction in China through culture-attuned visual marketing approaches. Each case study has examples of the same products being marketed differently in China than in other countries.

Keep reading!

The KFC Case Study: Buckets and Vegan

Fascinatingly, KFC is likely to top any list of “the most famous fast-food chains in China” you will find online.

KFC launched in China in the late 1980s and has currently over 9,000 outlets, almost twice the number of its outlets in America, where it originated. While this can be explained as a result of China’s four-times-larger-than-America population, it equally indicates the tremendously successful venture of KFC into China.

The first KFC outlet in China was opened in 1987 – a period when Western-style cuisine was unfamiliar in China.

In what would be the first step in the right direction, the first KFC managers in China were not brought in from the United States. Instead, the management consisted of veterans in the Chinese fast-food industry who were highly knowledgeable about the local market. These pioneers were from Taiwan, and thus became known as the “Taiwan Gang.”

Although the brand has maintained its red and white brand colors and the infamous colonel logo for its franchise in China, modifications in KFC’s approach to visual marketing in the country are observable.

For example, here’s a look at the visuals for a recent ad for KFC’s Chinese New Year Celebration Bucket for China and Malaysia:

KFC Celebration Bucket Ad for China
KFC Celebration Bucket Ad for Malaysia
The two posters hint at the Chinese New Year elements, however, a few notable differences from these posters are cultural symbolism and the strategy of conciseness.
Concise Cultural Symbolism

While the Malaysian poster has the red fan in the background, the Chinese poster features two prominent symbolisms of Chinese culture. The first is the rooster, a Chinese symbol for good fortune and the Year of the Rooster being celebrated.

By profoundly including such a culturally significant actor in the visuals, this campaign for KFC’s Celebration bucket received massive attention from the public.

Malaysia is home to a massive Chinese demographic, but its poster is designed differently, closer to western style than Chinese. On the other hand, the Chinese poster makes its cultural elements a thematic aspect of the visual.

In addition to cultural symbolism, the Chinese poster is not subtle about the cost of the product. Unlike the Malaysian version, it directly states the discount offer. It’s the same KFC bucket, the same Chinese New Year occasion, but culturally different approaches to visual marketing.

Here’s another example of KFC’s visual ad for a Vegan Burger:

KFC Vegan Burger Ad for China
Language & Design:

Another difference you are bound to notice on the visuals designed for the Chinese market is the language of its displayed content.

Significantly, also, the Chinese visual has an oriental layout to accommodate the on-image copy, and Chinese is (like Japanese and Korean) written in vertical columns – another cultural representation. The designs also vary in the use of colors. The Chinese visual has its black background and grey gradient, while the Malaysian visual uses green and white strips that are typical of American fast-food.

Language and design -style consistencies are also evident in visuals for other famous brands like Eone and Canon.

KFC Vegan Burger Ad for Malaysia

The Eone Case Study: A Spring Campaign

Eone is a time-piece manufacturing company that was founded to make watches for the visually impaired. A recent campaign to launch a new timepiece into the market had notable differences in the visuals for China.
Eone Spring Campaign Visual (Chinese)
Eone Spring Campaign Visual (Global)

A first look at the two visuals, and it is clear that they are about the same product. However, the while the global version relies on 3D imagery to sell the product, the Chinese version employs a 2D design and combines words with imagery to communicate.

Adding words to visual is a recurring feature of the Chinese versions (from the KFC case study), and this may serve to reinforce the message to the audience rather than leave it up to their interpretation of the visual.

A second deduction from the two visuals is the focus on aesthetic lifestyle appeal for the global version and as minimal of that as possible with the Chinese visual. Rather than selling the theme of an urban “spring” lifestyle, the Chinese visual sells the discount on the product – ticking the box of an unsubtle style of marketing, as was noted in the KFC case study.

Again, the Chinese copy stands out as direct, rather than the global version’s conceptual approach.

The Canon Case Study: A Camera Campaign

The campaign visuals for the Canon EOS R8 further amplify the distinct approach to visual marketing in China. Retaining the elements of the unsubtle words-plus-visual, the Chinese visual for the full-frame mirrorless camera remains true to type.

Visual for Camon EOS R8 Camera (Chinese)
Visual for Camon EOS R8 (Australia)
While the Australian visual uses bright, vivid colors, the Chinese visual doesn’t remains within a minimal cool-color spectrum, focusing more on directly communicating the product value.


Because of its unique market nature and cultural inclinations, getting the word around about a foreign brand or product in China is evidently challenging. However, this takes nothing away from the potency of a well-executed visual marketing approach.

It can make a world of difference and attract the right eyes to your brand.

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