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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Likes

Exploring China's "Picture Perfect" Industry

· China,Culture,Chinese Culture

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are some of the most popular social media apps in the United States.

Similarly, people in China like to use WeChat to share their life experiences.

In both countries people are always looking for new ways to express themselves online.

Lucky for Chinese consumers, an entire industry has recently boomed to help them do just that.

For Americans who haven't traveled to Asia before, the idea of bringing the perfect photo to the customer may seem a little foreign.

In the United States people like taking pictures doing things. For example, exploring the Grand Canyon or grabbing a drink with friends.

In China, people tend to place greater value upon the picture itself.

Whether the background is authentic or even looks good in person is an afterthought.

My recent trip to a mall in Beijing can help explain this cultural difference.

The local mall has a Van Gogh themed photo tour. It costs 60 RMB (8.5 USD) to enter and everything inside is included.

Featured are a mix of aesthetic lighting and Van Gogh themed paintings.

The first thing you'll notice is instructions on how to get the perfect picture. The company provides detailed advice for both selfies and stand alone shots.

No detail is too small. There's even advice on where you should stand to get the perfect angle and lighting.

If you're lucky you'll get the shot you were hoping for. If not, no worries, there's roughly 30 unique exhibits to explore so it's likely you'll find one that fits you.

Most of the Van Gogh backgrounds are painted walls with a physical extension such as a boat or bridge. Side angles help show how they appear in person.

Once everything is lined up the pictures really start to come to life.

As you can see, the photo backgrounds themselves are the attraction. This is distinct from the American market where typically something outside of just the perfect photo is advertised - such as a view or experience.

This can be better explained with an example:

In my hometown one of the most popular winter events is to visit the Oregon Zoo Lights. Similar to the exhibit I visited in China, it attracts families, couples, and selfie enthusiasts.

The idea is similar to the Van Gogh exhibit: walk around, enjoy time with whoever you're with, and bring home a prized photo or two.

The central difference is that the Americans typically want to experience Zoo Lights or at the very least take a picture of themselves at Zoo Lights. In China, the location is likely not important unless it adds value (such as standing in front of the Eiffel Tower or Great Wall).

These culture differences may limit the success of photo background companies looking to expand outside of the Chinese market.

Think a similar business model could work in the United States? Seen one pop up near you?

Share you thoughts in the comments.

About the author:

Alexander is a recent graduate from Portland State University in the United States where he received his undergraduate degree in political science. He is currently pursuing his graduate degree in international relations at Peking University in Beijing, China.

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