In China, Brands Are Casting More Two-Child Families in Ads

After One-Child Policy Ends, It's a Way for Brands To Show They're With the Times

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Credit: Ikea/BBH China
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A recent Ikea commercial from BBH China features a school-age girl in pigtails talking about the importance of getting kids involved in household chores. The ad features Ikea plates and cutlery in bright colors, but what's more striking is that the girl has a sidekick: a little brother.

Now that China's one-child policy has officially become a two-child policy, brands including Ikea, Volkswagen, real estate developers, and airline and travel companies are jumping on the trend with ads featuring two-child families.

"It's a novel image in ad campaigns. It can catch the eye more because people aren't used to seeing that kind of family depicted," said James Roy, analyst with China Market Research Group, who has followed the trend. "It's an interesting way to stand out and show that you're with the times."

While the law changed in January to allow Chinese families to have two children, analysts predict that parents will be slow to embrace the new possibility, having grown accustomed to the one-child rule that was in force nationwide by 1980. But the policy change has been a big topic of conversation, and some advertisers seized on it to inject themselves into the zeitgeist.

Early this year, Volkwagen's Chinese joint venture FAW-VW came out with a print and TV ad campaign that directly referenced the change. In both, a couple's relationship develops over time, from courtship and marriage to the birth of their child. It culminates in the family expecting the birth of their second child.

The FAW-VW marketing team said in an email that it "wanted to tap into the excitement that so many Chinese families felt at this announcement." The ad, created by Beijing Dentsu, marked the first time FAW-VW depicted a Chinese family with more than one child in an ad. Other car companies, including China's Great Wall Motors, also show families with two children in advertising for larger minivan-style vehicles.

In an Ikea ad, a pair of bunk beds urged buyers in Chinese to "Come on!" and have a second child. The ad was intended to start conversations among members of China's "loneliest generation," who grew up without siblings in the years since the country's one-child policy went into effect.

"The ad featured a very charming child monologue about wanting to have a playmate at home," said BBH China Senior Planning Director Siyuan Aw. "We heard on the radio reporting the news on the one-child policy being lifted, and thought it'd be great to sell Ikea bunk beds in a tongue-and-cheek way. It was proactive on the part of BBH to help the Ikea brand stay current and progressive."

In June, BBH released the commercial for Ikea featuring a brother and sister talking about household chores. "In the past, ads in China tended to show only one child," Mr. Aw said. "Instead of defaulting to that formula, BBH wanted to reflect the progressiveness of a brand like Ikea, by swiftly responding to changes in Chinese culture such as this. As China opens up to having more children in the family, we'd like to be a part of it. Showing two children at home is just one of the many ways we stay relevant."

In the years leading up to the policy change, as the government experimented with exceptions to the policy, ads showing siblings showed up infrequently at most. But a two-child family (especially with a son and a daughter) has long been a cultural ideal in China, said Mr. Roy of China Market Research Group. "I think whether or not that is part of people's actual plans, there is an idealized family archetype that is present and that can give a positive emotional response."

Mr. Roy said that in his firm's research around China, he's not hearing a majority of families saying they will take advantage of the new policy. "They're telling us no, they're still planning on having a single child," he said. "People have structured their lives to maximize investment in their children's futures to increase opportunities. Having one child, you can go premium."