“Noble and great," said Marco Polo

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SUZHOU--A 2,500-year-old city, Suzhou has been a stronghold of traditional Chinese culture during its history, producing many famous artists and poets. The old city has generally retained the unique characteristics of its past, including a double-chessboard layout. Streets and rivers run side-by-side. with canal passages parallel to the city's streets.

Modern-day Suzhou, with its rich history, picturesque canals and a relaxed atmosphere, has been considerably aided by its close proximity to Shanghai, one of China’s largest cities. It is a one-hour drive north of the metropolis, making it a popular weekend getaway for Shanghainese, preserving Suzhou’s position as one of China’s top tourist destinations.

The Italian traveler Marco Polo praised Suzhou 600 years ago as a “noble and great city.” The city is still famous for its scenic gardens, a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, plus other attractions like the Jade Belt bridge, Hanshan temple and crafts including silk embroidery, calligraphy and wood-block prints.

“Many local people still work in a cultural capacity. Even young people there still work in businesses such as antique furniture, which would interest young adults in other cities,” said Ina Zhao, director of insights at MindShare, Beijing.

Besides strong tourism revenue, Suzhou has become a popular manufacturing base, providing steady employment. In 2005, the city’s gross domestic product (GDP) reached nearly $50 billion. Although the city accounts for only 8% of the total population in the Jiangsu province, Suzhou generated 22% of the province's GDP for that year.

“There are many manufacturing and industrial factories, because it’s close to Shanghai. It’s easy for multinationals [based in Shanghai] to get there, and therefore it has a big expatriate community,” said Viveca Chan, Hong Kong-based chairman-CEO of WE Worldwide Partners, an independent ad agency in Greater China.

The sophistication, spending power and income levels of Suzhou residents are among the highest in China, particularly for a second-tier city, yet they don’t act like most affluent Chinese.

While residents of Hangzhou and Ningbo, other prosperous cities near Shanghai, “work so hard they have little time to enjoy their wealth, the people of Suzhou are rich and laid-back. They don’t work too hard,” said Ms. Zhao.

A walk through its streets doesn’t turn up an unusual number of high-end retail stores either, because Suzhou residents prefer to shop in Shanghai, home of the country’s best shopping and entertainment venues, at all price levels.

Suzhou, which is often called Su and has been nicknamed Shanghai’s backyard, is “very rich, so you’d expect to see a lot of retail development, especially for luxury brands, but that’s not the case so far,” said Ms. Chan.

The ownership of mobile phones and DVD/VCD/LD players is quite high, at 79% and 61%, respectively. Personal computer ownership at 42% still has room to grow, said ACNielsen's director of client service in Shanghai, Rita Chan.

Fast Facts: Suzhou

Population: 6.062 million
GDP (2005): $48.5 billion
Adspend (2005): $0.15 billion
Adspend (2004): $0.14 billion
Year-on-year increase: 5.7% (based on NMR’s media coverage expansion)
Adspend as a percentage of GDP (2005): 0.3%
No. of TV households: 722,398 (99%)
Avg. min. viewed per day per viewer of all channels (aged 4+): 173.1
Basic cable subscription cost (per month): $1.5

Average cost of 30”spot during prime time on Suzhou TV 2-Social & Life, the city’s most-watched local channel (based on rate card value)

19:00-19:30 $1,897
19:46-20:30 $1,512
21:00-21:20 $1,641

Top 10 brands by ad spend on TV
1. Oil of Olay (Procter & Gamble)
2. Taier Pharm (Chinese tonic/vitamin)
3. Rejoice (Procter & Gamble)
4. Naobaijin Pharm (Chinese tonic/vitamin)
5. Taita Pharm (Chinese tonic/vitamin)
6. Guzhongjin Pharm (Chinese tonic/vitamin)
7. Crest (Procter & Gamble)
8. Huangjindadang (Chinese tonic/vitamin)
9. KFC (Yum Brands)
10. China Telecom (Chinese telecommunications)
(Local channels only, based on rate card)

Top 10 advertising categories on TV
1. Professional services
2. Skin care
3. Tonic & vitamin
4. Shampoo & conditioner
5. Toilet/liquid soap
6. Communication equipment & services
7. Toothpaste & oral hygiene
8. Automobiles
9. Fast food
10. Laundry
(Local channels only, based on rate card)

Top 5 Local Channels by Ad Revenue
1. Suzhou TV 1-News & Variety
2. Suzhou TV 2-Social & Life
3. Suzhou TV 4-Movie & Ent
4. Suzhou TV 5-Life & Informative

Sources: Nielsen Media Research, AGB Nielsen Media Research, China
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