A Glimpse at How Apple Is Localizing Its Message in China

Apple Is Opening Five Stores in Five Weeks Ahead of Lunar New Year

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Apple is in expansion mode in China: It's opening five stores in the five weeks leading up to Feb. 19's Lunar New Year, the most important holiday on China's calendar.

And while for a time it seemed Apple and its iPhones might go out of vogue here, now that China is producing its own high-quality smartphones and electronics, last week's earnings announcement proved Apple is growing big-time. Quarterly revenue was up 70% in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan year-on-year on strong iPhone 6 sales.

Apple bested all other smartphone brands in the fourth quarter in China, according to research firm Canalys. It just appeared as the top luxury brand for gifting in a survey by the Hurun Research Institute, which keeps tabs on China's rich.

With China so central to Apple's future, the California-based company seems to be making special effort lately to craft just the right messages for Chinese consumers.

Take the latest video posted on Apple's Chinese website in time for the Lunar New Year. (View the spot here.) It's about a girl who uses Apple products to record a song that transports her grandmother back to her youth. It's full of local cues, like antique furniture and traditional lanterns.

If the video seems familiar, it's because it's a localized version of the holiday-season tear-jerker that Apple released in December, garnering over 3.3 million YouTube views. (When it comes to Chinese New Year and Christmas, marketers tend to play on the same cues in ads: families, cozy atmospheres, getting together, sharing gifts.)

The company is also making a big effort with its store openings as it expands geographically in China. Angela Ahrendts, Apple's senior VP-retail and online stores, told the official Xinhua news agency that four of the five new stores would be in cities where there isn't an Apple store already. There are 16 stores now, according to Apple's Chinese web page; the company has set a goal of reaching 40 stores by the middle of next year.

The two latest stores to open were in the cities of Chongqing and Hangzhou. Before they were unveiled, to cover up construction, Apple "wrapped" the stores with art that had a local touch.

In Hangzhou, Apple hired calligrapher Wang Dongling to cover the giant fa├žade with a poem about the city's famous lake. In a collaborative piece in Chongqing, photographer Navid Baraty took photos of local scenes, and local-born artist Yangyang Pan painted over them; then the mural was wrapped around the store. The art came down when the stores opened. (Scroll down to see videos.)

Until a few years ago, many in China weren't proud of local brands, but that has been changing, said Louis Houdart, founder and managing partner of Creative Capital Shanghai, a boutique branding agency.

China's local electronics brands have been shedding their reputation for low quality. In the smartphone category, Xiaomi is now a major global player, Oppo offes features like rotating cameras and ultrathin body design, while OnePlus gets rave reviews on tech sites.

"More and more local consumers are becoming aware that China is a country producing great brands," Mr. Houdart said. "By having associations with Chinese contemporary artists, that's a way to tell consumers that Apple is a global brand, rather than just a pure American brand. They are trying to tell Chinese consumers that they relate."

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