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China's Tiger Moms Debate Parenting Styles; Babytree.com Helps

Site Is Like a Local Facebook for New Parents and Also Measures Their 'Happiness Index' in Project With Ogilvy

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Babytree CEO Allen Wang
Babytree CEO Allen Wang

Amy Chua's controversial book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," put a spotlight on demanding Chinese mothers by highlighting their strict parenting style.

Her book ignited a global debate, but similar conversations were already taking place in China, since young mothers there realized they had a choice. They could raise their children the same way most of them were raised -- the "tiger mom" method -- or adopt a more Western parenting style.

Planning a new parenting course requires information and, unsurprisingly in China, the world's largest internet market in user numbers, many of these conversations are taking place on sites like Babytree.com, a social-media platform that is often described as China's Facebook for new parents.

Babytree was created for Chinese parents, who are known for their devotion to kids and, at the same time, are desperate to share knowledge and experience with other parents, according to CEO Allen Wang, who co-founded the site in early 2007. On this week's episode of "Thoughtful China," an online marketing affairs talk show produced in Shanghai, Mr. Wang claims Babytree's adult users consume an average of 85 page views per day, a site stickiness measure that tops Facebook's usage.

By hosting blogs, online albums, social networking tools, games and a knowledge-sharing platform -- supported by ads for categories like baby products, household goods and education tools -- the site is helping mothers gain the information they need to chart their own parenting course. (U.S.-based site BabyCenter launched in China around the same time, in 2007, as part of its international expansion).

When Babytree asked users what they want their children to grow up to be, the top three answers were "happy," "confident" and "do whatever they want to do."

"That's probably a good indicator of the kind of parenting style they use as well [and] those three answers struck us as being very different from the last generation," Mr. Wang said.

Children born in the 1980s were raised by women with few luxuries, a deep yearning for stability and financial security and little access to modern-day child psychology. They "want the next generation to be truly different, but how to achieve that is a big question mark," said Ellen Hou, TBWA's head of planning, Greater China.

Helping these women maintain their own emotional well-being is another question Babytree wants to help answer. In May, the website partnered with WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather to create a China Moms' Happiness Index (CMHI), the first online indicator designed to measure the happiness and well-being of mothers in China. Both companies hope the survey "will shed light on what can be done by corporations and communities to help families in China achieve happiness and harmony" in their homes, Mr. Wang said.

Today's new mothers often are single children themselves with ambitious career goals. They still have frustrations, dreams and struggles of their own. If marketers figure out how to offer them support, "then you've got them," said Sarah Shen, group account director at JWT China.

In their desire for happiness, some Chinese moms may resemble their American counterparts more than their own mothers, but marketers should not treat them like Americans. Nor should they ignore them as an important consumer demographic, because Chinese women are key decision-makers in many of the product categories for parents and their kids. Marketers who want to be the preferred brand among these women must cater to their decisive and demanding nature carefully -- and early.

"What's surprising is how early their decisions are made," Mr. Wang said. "If marketers are not the brand of choice by the time a baby is six months old, they have lost the battle already."

Viveca Chan, chairman and CEO of the Chinese ad agency WE Marketing Group -- and a "tiger mom" herself -- also believes marketers need to act early. Chinese mothers have a "very clear idea plan of what they want to do for their children, [whom they] want to be future leaders. Everything starts when they are first born. [They] start to train children when they are babies."

Despite the purchasing power and brand savviness of these women, most advertisers have done a poor job of reaching out to them. Except for educational brands, "I don't feel a lot of marketers specifically target this group," Ms. Chan said

For instance, marketers know tiger moms want to raise champion babies, "so they only talk about the result," Ms. Hou said. "They kind of neglect or miss out on all the opportunities to help tiger moms achieve that goal."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Normandy Madden is senior VP-content development, Asia/Pacific at Thoughtful China, and Ad Age's former Asia Editor. See earlier episodes of Thoughtful China at www.thoughtfulchina.com.

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