Reinvigorating Time-Honored Brands

Time-honored brands must take advantage of this renewed interest to capture market share among younger consumers in order to ensure their legacies continue for decades and generations to come. 

The saying “behind every signboard, there is a legend” encapsulates the unique cultural and brand value of China’s time-honored brands.

According to the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), China is now home to 1,128 of these brands, which are defined as brands established before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Many of these brands, which are hundreds of years old, have survived fierce competition over their long histories, and still offer products and services that are well received by customers.

Promoting consumption is a key item on China’s economic agenda for 2023 and these old brands are expected to play a big role in this mission. On January 3, MOFCOM, Ministry of Culture and Tourism and National Cultural Heritage Administration jointly issued an official document on tapping into the cultural and historic value of established brands as part of the country’s efforts to rekindle the public’s interest in consumption.

In recent years, time-honored brands have been growing with the times. Many of them are enhancing their branding and merchandise, which they are using across e-commerce platforms as well as in brick-and-mortar outlets. New products based on the culture held by these established ancient brands are gaining increasing popularity among young people. These efforts to modernize not only secure more market share for these brands, but have also made them popular with younger consumers, thus helps to bolster the longevity of their heritage.

The unique charm of these old brands is that they not only elicit economic behaviors, but more importantly, they represent cultural values. Once combined with proper business models, the cultural values of these brands help contribute to their profits. The question now is how to help these brands take advantage of the historical and cultural resources long embedded within them, and how to promote consumption based on this momentum.

Visitors are attracted by new products of a soap company at China’s Time-honored Brands Expo 2020 in Shanghai on Oct. 10, 2020. (Photo/Xinhua)

A lot of things need to be done to reach this goal. In-depth research into these brands can help to reveal interesting stories from within their centuries of commercial activity. The ancient heritage of these brands needs to be identified and classified into different grades for better protection; business locations where precious cultural relics lie should be made officially protected sites; galleries should be established to display the history and culture of these ancient brands, and digital technologies should also be used to tell their stories.

The document released on January 3 provides specific tips on how to stoke consumer interest in the historical and cultural elements of these brands. These include creating a new consumption model that combines business, culture and tourism and helping these brands to participate in international trade shows. Short videos, live-streaming and other forms of new media should be used to promote products and services. These ancient brands should also try their best to digitalize by applying big data, cloud computing and other modern information technologies to modernize their operations.

Some of these brands are facing challenges in achieving these kinds of modernization. Their historical backgrounds and cultural significance are often a mixed blessing, in that their age and traditions are holding back their upgrading and transformation in the digital era. Additionally, the lack of brand consciousness makes them vulnerable when facing intellectual property rights infringement, and slow innovation is hobbling their long-term growth.

Particularly, a lack of interest from young people is making it difficult to pass on the time-honored knowledge and craftsmanship necessary to provide many of the goods and services on which these brands trade. Worse still, younger consumers are unfamiliar with almost half of the confirmed 1,128 time-honored brands, making it difficult to grow new consumer bases. These brands must make increased efforts to modernize and upgrade their products and services to satisfy the demands of modern consumers.

The good news is that traditional culture is becoming increasingly popular and so consumers are able to engage with these traditional brands and products. Time-honored brands must take advantage of this renewed interest to capture market share among younger consumers in order to ensure their legacies continue for decades and generations to come.