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Generational and Regional Differences in Media


Consumption Patterns of Chinese Generation X
Consumers
a b c
Wenyu Dou Ph.D. , Guangping Wang Ph.D. & Nan Zhou Ph.D.
a
Department of Marketing, City University of Hong Kong
b
Pennsylvania State University
c
City University of Hong Kong, Wuhan University, China
Published online: 04 Mar 2013.

To cite this article: Wenyu Dou Ph.D. , Guangping Wang Ph.D. & Nan Zhou Ph.D. (2006) Generational and Regional
Differences in Media Consumption Patterns of Chinese Generation X Consumers, Journal of Advertising, 35:2, 101-110, DOI:
10.1080/00913367.2006.10639230

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Summer 2006 101

GENERATIONAL AND REGIONAL DIFFERENCES IN MEDIA


CONSUMPTION PATTERNS OF CHINESE GENERATION X CONSUMERS
Wenyu Dou, Guangping Wang, and Nan Zhou

ABSTRACT: This study applies generational cohort theory, as well as uses and gratifications theory, to investigate the
media program preferences of China’s Generation X (Gen X) consumers. Using syndicated data from a large random
sample of urban Chinese consumers, we find that the Gen X cohort consumers, compared with their preceding generational
cohorts, tend to pay more attention to entertainment-based media programs such as television drama series and radio pop
music, and shun information-based topics such as news or business reports. Furthermore, while cohort effects on preferences
for media program types exist, the effects are less pronounced in more developed regions in China. Compared with their
counterparts in Xi’an, a less developed city, Gen X consumers living in Guangzhou, a more developed city, are more
attentive to information-based programs on television and in newspapers, and show less preference for entertainment-
based content.
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Many multinational corporations (MNCs) target young, ur- for marketing and advertising managers (e.g., Li 1998; Sin,
ban consumer segments in emerging economies because these Ho, and So 2000; Swanson 1997; Wei 1997; Zhang and
young consumers, when compared with previous generations, Neelankavil 1997; Zhang and Shavitt 2003; Zhou, Zhang,
are better educated, have greater disposable incomes, con- and Vertinsky 2002; Zhou, Zhou, and Ouyang 2003), few
sider themselves cosmopolitan, and are the main consumers studies have examined the media consumption patterns of
of foreign brands (Alden, Steenkamp, and Batra 1999; Li Chinese Gen X consumers, although Kuo (1999) has explored
1998). For marketing and advertising managers in these media habits of Gen X consumers in Taiwan.
MNCs, a pressing issue is to understand how and why certain The purpose of our study is threefold. First, we draw on
groups of young media users prefer and consume more of cer- generational cohort theory (Inglehart 1977) and uses and grati-
tain types of media programs. This understanding will help fications theory (McQuail 1994) to examine how Gen X con-
MNCs select appropriate media vehicles and programs to ef- sumers’ media usage preferences may be different from those
fectively deliver advertising messages to the young consum- of older generations in mainland China; second, as the Chi-
ers (Alden, Steenkamp, and Batra 1999; McQuail 2002; van nese market has been characterized as highly heterogeneous,
Eijck and van Rees 2000). largely due to uneven levels of economic development and
In mainland China, young, urban consumers are predomi- market openness (Lau, Tse, and Zhou 2002; Law, Tse, and
nately called Generation X (or Gen X) consumers. Growing Zhou 2003), we investigate how regional differences may in-
up with China’s reform and modernization since the late fluence the media usage preferences of these young consum-
1970s, they are the most important target group for many ers; and third, we evaluate the interaction effect of generational
MNCs in China (ACNielsen China 2001; Cheng and cohort and region on the media usage preferences.
Schweitzer 1996; Tang 2000). While existing studies on ad- In the remainder of this paper, we first review generational
vertising in China have illuminated many important areas cohort theory, as well as uses and gratifications theory, to de-
velop research hypotheses with regard to Chinese Gen Xers’
preferences for media program types. We next explain the
Wenyu Dou (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee) is an method that we used to test the hypotheses and the data that
assistant professor in the Department of Marketing at the City Uni-
versity of Hong Kong.
Guangping Wang (Ph.D., Louisiana State University) is an assis- All authors contributed equally; the order of the authorship is
tant professor of marketing, School of Graduate Professional Stud- alphabetical.
This research was partially supported by a start-up research grant from
ies, Pennsylvania State University.
the City University of Hong Kong awarded to the first-named author
Nan Zhou (Ph.D., University of Utah) is a professor in the Depart- and a research development grant from Pennsylvania State University
ment of Marketing at the City University of Hong Kong and at awarded to the second-named author. The authors thank Zili Bi and
Wuhan University, China. CTR China for assistance in providing the data for the study.

Journal of Advertising, vol. 35, no. 2 (Summer 2006), pp. 101–110.


© 2006 American Academy of Advertising. All rights reserved.
ISSN 0091-3367 / 2006 $9.50 + 0.00.
102 The Journal of Advertising

we used from a large national survey. We then report study theory is to explain why people use the media and what psy-
results and discuss the implications of the findings. chological needs motivate them to engage in certain media-
use behaviors (Lin 1999; Rubin 1994). The theory assumes
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK AND HYPOTHESES that media users’ behaviors are goal-directed (Katz, Blumler,
and Gurevitch 1974). In other words, users are aware of their
Media usage has been a central topic of audience research in needs and will select the appropriate media to gratify their
communication and marketing disciplines (e.g., Delener and needs. Furthermore, different people can use the same mass
Neelankanil 1990). In this respect, marketing researchers are media for very different purposes (Severin and Tankard 1997).
often interested in studying the media habits of specific con- Uses and gratifications theory suggests that media use can be
sumer groups to provide a basis for companies to make judi- primarily motivated by one’s desire to satisfy two types of
cious decisions in media planning and audience targeting (e.g., needs—surveillance needs and diversion needs—which are
Burnett and Paul 1996). For our study, to gain an understand- influenced by one’s life experience, attitudes, values and be-
ing about media preferences of Chinese Gen X consumers, lief system, and the environment in which one works and lives
insights from generational cohort theory within the cultural (Ruggiero 2000). Surveillance needs are related to people’s
sociology literature, as well as uses and gratification theory desire to monitor and understand the changes in their envi-
within the communication literature, provide a theoretical ronment, whereas diversion needs motivate people to escape
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framework (van Eijck and van Rees 2000). from daily mundane activities through entertainment.
Correspondingly, media programs can be classified into two
Generational Cohort Theory broad categories: those with more information content and
those with more entertainment content (Albarran and
Generational cohort theory, developed by Inglehart (1977), Umphrey 1993). Information-based media programs, such as
maintains that historical incidents of national significance news programs and business reports, may satisfy people’s sur-
shake the foundation of existing social orders and value sys- veillance needs, as the audience can learn about the environ-
tems, and give birth to new generational cohorts. The theory ment and monitor current events through such programs
is based on two assumptions: a socialization hypothesis and a (Vincent and Basil 1997). Similarly, people’s diversion needs
scarcity hypothesis. The socialization hypothesis proposes that can be satisfied by entertainment-based media programs, such
adults’ basic values reflect the socioeconomic conditions of as music, movies, and talk shows (Conway and Rubin 1991).
childhood and adolescence. Although societal conditions can
change, the relative importance that a generation attributes Chinese Gen X Consumers’ Media Preferences
to various personal values remains relatively stable (Inglehart
1977). Together, generational cohort theory and uses and gratifica-
In comparison, the scarcity hypothesis of generational co- tions theory suggest that Chinese Gen X consumers may seek
hort theory proposes that cohorts tend to place the greatest distinct gratifications in different media programs when com-
subjective value on the socioeconomic resources that were in pared to the older generations in terms of media consump-
short supply during their youth. Thus, generations growing tion (Feather 1985; Parish, Rosenblatt, and Kappes 1980).
up during periods of socioeconomic insecurity (e.g., social During the second half of the 20th century, several distinct
upheaval) learn survival values (e.g., economic determinism, and momentous events occurred in China, including the
rationality). On the other hand, generations growing up dur- founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949,
ing periods of socioeconomic security learn postmodernist the Anti-Rightist and Great Leap Forward movements in the
values. Consequently, a nation’s history can reflect the differ- 1950s, the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, and
ences in values and attitudes across its generational cohorts the Economic Reforms since 1978. These significant events
(Conger 1997; Rogler 2002). In particular, differences in val- have resulted in four distinct generational cohorts among
ues, attitudes, and lifestyles across cohorts tend to be largest today’s Chinese (Wang and Wu 2002).
in countries that have experienced the highest rates of eco- According to Wang and Wu (2002), the first cohort is the
nomic growth (Abramson and Inglehart 1995). Red Generation. Members of this cohort were born before or
around the founding of the PRC in 1949, and suffered eco-
Uses and Gratifications Theory nomic hardship during the Anti-Rightist and Great Leap
Forward movements in the 1950s. Self-sacrifice is inherent in
Uses and gratifications theory (McQuail 1994) seeks to inter- their value system. They were once firm believers in commu-
pret the motives for media program choices in terms of the nism, but experienced disillusionment after the Cultural Revo-
audience’s psychological and sociological needs (Conway and lution, which ended in 1976. The second cohort is the
Rubin 1991). The main objective of uses and gratification Pre–Cultural Revolution Generation. Members of this cohort
Summer 2006 103

were born just after the founding of the PRC, between 1951 mendous pressure to succeed in the freewheeling Chinese
and 1964. Entering their formative years during the Cultural economy today, their feeling of a need for diversion to relieve
Revolution, this group was disillusioned by the collapse of their stress and to enjoy themselves may be heightened (Lu
communist ideals in China and is cautious in their social per- and Alon 2004). Consequently, they would most likely de-
spectives, much like the Red Generation. The third cohort is rive gratification from entertainment-based programs. There-
the Post–Cultural Revolution Generation. Members of this fore, we posit that Gen X Chinese consumers, compared with
cohort were born between 1965 and 1973, shortly before or their preceding cohort counterparts, will prefer more enter-
after the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Becoming tainment-based media programs and less information-based
teenagers during China’s economic reform years, these con- ones. In particular, we hypothesize:
sumers take pride in individual accomplishments and have
H1: Compared with preceding cohorts, Chinese Gen X
stronger interests in themselves than the previous generations.
consumers have less preference for information-based media
The fourth generation, the youngest cohort, is termed Gen-
programs.
eration X. Born between 1974 and 1984, people of this gen-
eration came of age during China’s economic reform years and H2: Compared with preceding cohorts, Chinese Gen X
witnessed the rapid development of the market economy. They consumers have greater preference for entertainment-based media
enjoy more educational and personal development opportu- programs.
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nities, and as a result, a higher proportion of them has re-


ceived or is receiving a college education. They are well exposed
Regional Differences in Chinese Gen X Consumers’
to Western popular culture through their experience with
Media Preferences
foreign music, movies, television shows, magazines, and other
media programs. They have a strong interest in self-indul- Generational cohort research, while emphasizing the shared
gence and personal entertainment, and tend to hold material- experiences of social groups, also recognizes the existence of
istic values. heterogeneity within each cohort (Elder and O’Rand 1995;
Consistent with the predictions of generational cohort Griffin 2004). Regional differences between China’s more
theory, substantial intergenerational differences have been developed coastal regions and less developed inland regions,
documented between Chinese Gen Xers and the older cohorts especially with regard to the differences in economic condi-
(e.g., Lu and Alon 2004; Yardley 2003). Given that their for- tions and social values, have been well documented (Child
mative years have been spent amid an era of rapid economic and Stewart 1997; Cui and Liu 2001; Fram, Lu, and McHardy
development and explosive commercialization, Chinese Gen 2004). These prominent regional differences are likely to re-
Xers have a broad range of interests, are especially media savvy, sult in distinct needs in life’s pursuits, and subsequently in
and possess two traits that differ from the older generations various kinds of gratifications derived from media usage
(“China’s Youth Generation” 2004; “Golden Boys and Girls” (McQuail 2002). Consequently, there may be discernable re-
2004; Li 1998; Masaru, Yasue, and Wen 1997; Wiseman gional differences in media consumption patterns, even for
2000). On the one hand, they are individualistic and willing Chinese consumers belonging to the same generational cohort.
to try new things, and they care about their personal enjoy- Compared with less developed regions in the west, coastal
ment. On the other hand, as the Chinese economy today has cities in the east and south of China have a longer history of
become essentially capitalistic, they encounter numerous chal- economic reform and more exposure to a market economy. In
lenges trying to find a good career when they enter China’s these cities, economic activities are more vibrant, yet life is
competitive workforce. busier and more competitive. Due to this heightened compe-
Whereas the older generations have gone through signifi- tition and the uncertain nature of their career and life pros-
cant tumultuous events during their lives, Chinese Gen Xers pects, Gen X consumers in more developed regions are more
have grown up during a relatively stable period of social and likely to feel insecure, and thus they would likely monitor
economic development in contemporary China (Wang and the outside world to identify opportunities for their careers
Wu 2002). The primary focus of the government has been on and other aspects of their personal welfare (Cui and Liu 2001;
economic development and maintaining social stability. Based Zhang 2004). Thus, we infer that they may have stronger
on generational cohort theory and uses and gratification theory, information-gathering needs than their counterparts in less
people in this generation should feel less need to constantly developed regions. They are more likely to pay attention to
monitor current events nationally and internationally, indi- information-based programs such as news and economy/busi-
cating a low surveillance need. Thus, they may show lower ness reports so as to decipher the implications of current events
preference for information-based media programs that pri- for their careers and lives. Correspondingly, as the job market
marily satisfy surveillance needs (e.g., news programs, is more competitive and the jobs are more demanding in more
economy/business reports). On the other hand, due to the tre- developed regions (Einhorn and Roberts 2004), many young
104 The Journal of Advertising

TABLE 1
China’s Top Media Program Types by Media Vehicle

Media type Program type Category Note

Television News Information


Variety shows Entertainment A combination of pop music, dance,
and comedy shows.
Newspaper Domestic news Information
International news Information
Economy/business reports Information Economy or business-related issues.
Arts/music/theatre reviews Entertainment Reviews of arts, music, theatre-related
events and activities.
Movie/television reviews Entertainment Reviews of movies and television
programs.
Radio News Information
Pop music Entertainment
Economy/business reports Information

Note: Programs mean all self-contained units of media content, including newspaper articles, although this term is typically applied only to products
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distributed by broadcast media.

workers are spending more time working, and after work CNRS is conducted annually by CTR China and focuses on
hours, they are often engaged in activities aimed at recharg- urban consumers’ media and consumption habits. According
ing their skills (Lu and Alon 2004). Compared with their to advertising professionals and marketing research firms, the
counterparts living in the less developed regions of China, CNRS is a comprehensive media behavior survey in China
they have a more stressful life and can afford less time for (Huichong Net 2004). The data we used were collected be-
entertainment-based programs. Thus, tween 1999 and 2000 via personal face-to-face interviews. The
respondents were randomly selected from each city using the
H3: Compared with their counterparts from less developed
Probability Proportional to Sizes (PPS) method, which ensures
regions, Chinese Gen X consumers from more developed regions
sample representativeness of the urban Chinese consumer
have greater preference for information-based media programs.
population. A small gift was provided to each respondent.
H4: Compared with their counterparts from less developed
regions, Chinese Gen X consumers in more developed regions Media and Program Types
have less preference for entertainment-based media programs.
Our study focuses on three major media vehicles: television,
newspaper, and radio. They are the most important media
Interaction Between Cohort Membership vehicles in Chinese people’s daily life. Statistically, every Chi-
and Regional Differences nese family owns a television set. About 54% of people watch
television everyday, while 32% read a newspaper and 35%
Last, given the substantial regional differences between China’s
listen to the radio every day (CVSC-Sofres Media 2004). Table
more developed regions and less developed regions (Child and
1 lists the major media and top program types based on CVSC-
Stewart 1997; Cui and Liu 2001), we expect that the general
Sofres Media’s (2004) “Annual China Media Rating Report.”
effect of cohort membership may be masked by the regional
For each medium, we examine the top-rated information-
difference factor. Thus, we put forth the following hypothesis
based programs and entertainment-based programs. The
on the possible interaction effect between the two factors.
former includes news programs and economy/business reports,
H5: Cohort membership and region interact to affect media whereas the latter category includes variety shows, arts, mu-
program preference of Gen X Chinese consumers. sic, movies, and programs with related topical content. Al-
though there are other program types available in each media,
METHOD our examination is limited to these most popular program
types. (Here “programs” mean all self-contained units of me-
To test our hypotheses, relevant data were acquired at aca- dia content, including newspaper articles, even though this
demic price from the syndicated China National Readership term is typically applied to products distributed by broadcast
Survey (CNRS) that involved 48,000 consumer respondents media.)
aged 15 or above living in 22 major cities across China. The Our dependent variables, preferences for media program
Summer 2006 105

TABLE 2
Generational Cohort Distribution by City

Guangzhou Xi’an

Number Percentage Number Percentage

Cohort 1: Red Generation 883 34.44% 1,079 41.04%


Cohort 2: Pre–Cultural Revolution Generation 937 36.54% 850 32.33%
Cohort 3: Post–Cultural Revolution Generation 425 16.58% 427 16.24%
Cohort 4: Generation X 319 12.44% 273 10.38%
Total sample 2,564 100% 2,629 100%

types, were measured by asking the respondent to indicate education or higher, the median household monthly income
his or her most favorite type of program for television, news- was RMB1,000–1,500 ($121–$182), and the average age was
paper, or radio (e.g., television, drama series, radio news). The 46.0. In Table 2, we present the frequency distribution of the
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responses were dummy-coded. For example, if the respon- respondents in each generational cohort.
dent indicated that his or her most favorite television pro-
gram was a drama series, then preference for television drama ANALYSIS AND RESULTS
series was coded 1 and preference for other television pro-
gram type was coded 0. To test the study hypotheses, binary logit models were esti-
mated with preference for a particular media program type
Regional Differences (e.g., television news) as the dependent variable. Independent
variables were cohort membership (i.e., cohort 1 through co-
To examine possible regional differences, we chose to com- hort 3, with cohort 4 or Gen X as the reference category coded
pare consumers from two cities, Guangzhou and Xi’an, due 0) and city (Xi’an = 1 and Guangzhou = 0). To test for the
to the dramatic differences between them in terms of eco- interaction effects hypothesized in H5, interaction terms (i.e.,
nomic and social development levels. More important, city × cohort 1, city × cohort 2, and city × cohort 3) were also
Guangzhou is representative of economically more developed included in the binary logit models. Three commonly used
regions in China, whereas Xi’an is representative of less de- demographic variables—income, education, and gender—
veloped regions (Cui and Liu 2001). Guangzhou in the south were originally included as control variables, but were removed
is among the first Chinese cities to be opened to the outside from the final models due to their insignificance.
world, and now has a well-developed modern economy. Its Since interaction terms were examined, interpretation of a
economy, workforce, and consumers are considered similar to particular main effect should be conditioned on the reference
those of other coastal cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen. categories of other variables in the model (Jaccard 2001). All of
Xi’an in the northwest is in China’s less-developed western the binary logit models for various program types in television,
region, and is representative of other inland cities such as newspaper, and radio were highly significant (p < .0001). Tables
Chengdu and Chongqing. Its level of socioeconomic develop- 3 and 4 list the parameter estimates and their significance
ment is well below that of Guangzhou and other coastal cities levels (based on Wald χ2 statistics), for information- and en-
(Li et al. 2004). According to the National Bureau of Statis- tertainment-based programs, respectively.
tics (2004), Guangzhou’s per capita GDP (gross domestic prod-
uct) was RMB38,568 ($4,658) in 2003, more than double Information-Based Media Programs (H1)
that of Xi’an, which was RMB15,493 ($1,871). Therefore, a
comparison of these two cities may be generalizable to other H1 proposes that Gen X Chinese consumers have less prefer-
economically disparate cities and regions in China. ence for information-based media programs when compared
All respondents from the two cities were used in the analy- with the preceding cohorts. We find that Gen X (cohort 4)
sis. The sample sizes were 2,564 for Guangzhou and 2,629 consumers tended to watch much less television news than
for Xi’an. For respondents from Guangzhou, 51.7% were fe- the Red Generation (cohort 1; odds ratio = 2.404), the Pre–
male, 56.5% had a high-school education or higher, the me- Cultural Revolution Generation (cohort 2; odds ratios = 3.558),
dian household monthly income was RMB2,000–3,000 and the Post–Cultural Revolution Generation (cohort 3; odds
($242–$362), and the average age was 46.4. For respondents ratio = 2.546). Thus, the evidence supporting H1 is strong
from Xi’an, 52.3% were female, 64.2% had a high-school with regard to television news programs.
106 The Journal of Advertising

TABLE 3
Logit Model Results for Preference of Information-Based Program Types

Odds ratio estimates

Newspaper Radio
Newspaper Newspaper economy/ economy/
Independent Television domestic international business Radio business
variables news news news reports news reports

Intercept 7.485*** 6.887*** 4.490*** .429*** .346*** .024***


City .411* .515** .501*** .602** 1.329* 2.619**
Cohort 1 2.404*** .679** .765** 1.296** 1.058 1.032
Cohort 2 3.558*** 3.929*** 2.739*** 2.125*** 1.033 1.555
Cohort 3 2.546*** 5.066*** 2.267*** 2.239*** .760** 1.206
Cohort 1 × city 1.624** 1.249 1.175 .883 1.042 1.180
Cohort 2 × city 1.123 .681 .716 .990 .648** .827
Cohort 3 × city .781 .376** .777 .937 .841 1.190

*** p < .10.


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*** p < .05.


*** p < .0001.

In the newspaper category, it appears that Gen X consum- eration (cohort 2; odds ratio = .782). However, Gen X exhib-
ers were less interested in reading information-based content ited no significant difference in their preference for such pro-
than two of the three older generations, as indicated by the grams when compared with the Post–Cultural Revolution
greater-than-one odds ratios in domestic news, international Generation.
news, and economy/business reports (see Table 3). The excep- The pattern that Chinese Gen X consumers, when com-
tion here is that when compared with the Red Generation, pared with the older cohorts, tended to read more entertain-
Gen X appeared to read more domestic and international news ment-based newspaper content such as arts, theatre, music,
content. This particular finding probably could be attributed movie, and television content was demonstrated by the less
to the fact that as senior citizens, people in the Red Genera- than 1 odds ratios. Clearly, Gen X Chinese consumers seemed
tion may be losing their physical reading ability and get their to favor leisure content in newspapers. Last, in a consistent
news from television (Chen 2002). manner, Generation X Chinese consumers appeared to listen
For radio news programs, the odds ratios indicated that to pop music more than the Red Generation (odds ra-
cohorts 1 and 2 did not differ significantly from Gen X. tio = .416), the Pre–Cultural Revolution Generation (odds
Whereas cohort 3 differed from Gen X, they seemed to listen ratio = .705), and the Post–Cultural Revolution Generation
to news programs less than Gen X (odds ratio = .760). In ad- (odds ratio = .625). Thus, support for H2 was evident.
dition, no significant cohort-based difference was detected for
business and economy programs. Thus, no support was found Regional Effect (H3, H4)
for H1 for information-based programs in radio. Overall,
though, H1 is considered partially supported. Hypothesis 3 posits that when compared with their counter-
parts from less developed regions, Gen X Chinese consumers
Entertainment-Based Media Programs (H2) from more developed regions have greater preference for in-
formation-based media programs. There was overall support
Hypothesis 2 proposes that Gen X Chinese consumers have for H3, especially for television and newspapers. As shown in
greater preference for entertainment-based media programs Table 3, compared with their counterparts from Guangzhou,
when compared with the preceding cohorts. The results pre- Gen X consumers from Xi’an tended to pay less attention to
sented in Table 4 demonstrate that Gen X Chinese consum- television news programs (odds ratio = .411) and read less
ers were generally more interested in entertainment-oriented domestic news, international news, and economy/business
media programs (on television, in newspapers, and on the columns in newspapers (odds ratios = .515, .501, and .602,
radio) than their predecessor cohorts, thus supporting H2. respectively). In contrast to our hypothesis, Guangzhou Gen
Specifically, Gen X (cohort 4) consumers tended to watch X consumers had lower preference for radio news and economy/
more variety shows than the Red Generation (cohort 1; business reports than their counterparts from Xi’an (odds ra-
odds ratio = .756) and the Pre–Cultural Revolution Gen- tio = 1.329 and 2.619, respectively). This could probably be
Summer 2006 107

TABLE 4
Logit Model Results for Preference of Entertainment-Based Program Types

Odds ratio estimates

Newspaper
arts/music/ Newspaper
Independent Television theater movie/television Radio pop
variables variety shows reviews reviews music

Intercept .429 .1511 3.118*** .283***


City 2.682*** 1.357** .879 2.065***
Cohort 1 .756** .474*** .327*** .416***
Cohort 2 .782** .562*** .690** .705**
Cohort 3 .812 .740** .807* .625**
Cohort 1 × city 1.389* .630** .350*** .191***
Cohort 2 × city 1.558** .898 .416*** .308***
Cohort 3 × city 1.263 .973 .609** .608**

*** p < .10.


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*** p < .05.


*** p < .0001.

attributed to the fact that overall radio usage is lower in the while the main effect of the cohort suggests that the Red Gen-
east and south of China (e.g., Guangzhou) than in other re- eration tended to watch more news than Gen X, the relative
gions of China (e.g., Xi’an) (Cui and Liu 2001). magnitude of the odds ratios of 3.904 (for Xi’an) and 1.624
Hypothesis 4 suggests that compared with their counter- (for Guangzhou) indicate that such a tendency was much
parts from less developed regions, Gen X Chinese consumers greater in Xi’an than in Guangzhou. On the other hand, the
from more developed regions have less preference for enter- interaction coefficients for cohort 3 by city in newspaper
tainment-based media programs. In general, there was strong domestic news (.376) and for cohort 2 by city in radio news
support for H4. As shown in Table 4, Gen X consumers from (.648) indicated a different direction. While the Post–Cultural
Xi’an, compared with their counterparts from Guangzhou, Revolution Generation (cohort 3) consumers read more news-
showed greater preference for television variety shows (odds paper news than Gen X consumers, this tendency was stron-
ratio = 2.682), newspaper arts/theater/music columns (odds ger in Guangzhou (odds ratio = 5.066) than in Xi’an (odds
ratio = 1.357), and radio pop music (odds ratio = 2.065), even ratio = 5.066 × .376 or 1.90). Although overall no signifi-
though the two groups did not differ significantly in reading cant difference was found between cohort 2 and Gen X in
movie/television review content in newspapers. Guangzhou in terms of radio news consumption (odds ra-
tio = 1.033), the interaction coefficient of .648 indicates that
Cohort and Regional Interactions (H5) Gen X consumers in Xi’an actually showed more preference for
radio news compared with cohort 2 (odds ratio = .648 × 1.033
Hypothesis 5 postulated that cohort membership and region or .67). Overall, cohort membership and region interaction
interact to affect the media program preferences of Gen X effects for information-based media programs seem to be weak
Chinese consumers. In summary, the interaction analysis in and inconsistent.
the logit models detected some signs that the effect of cohort On the other hand, the interactions for entertainment-based
membership on media program preferences may be moder- programs appear strong (see Table 4). Whereas the Red Gen-
ated by region. In particular, we found that the cohort effect eration and the Pre–Cultural Revolution Generation tended
seemed to be stronger in the less-developed region (i.e., Xi’an) to watch fewer television variety shows than Gen X consum-
than in the developed region (i.e., Guangzhou), especially for ers in Guangzhou (odds ratios = .756, .782, respectively), the
entertainment-based media programs (see Table 4). Red Generation and Pre–Cultural Revolution consumers in
For television news, cohort 1 interacted with city. The co- Xi’an were, in fact, slightly more likely to view such pro-
efficient estimate of 1.624 for cohort 1 × city was obtained grams than Gen X consumers (calculated odds ratios = 1.05,
by dividing the odds ratio for the cohort 1 effect in Xi’an by 1.22, respectively). In this case, cohort effects were stronger
the odds ratio for the cohort 1 effect in Guangzhou (2.404). in Guangzhou.
We calculated that the odds ratio for the cohort 1 effect in In the entertainment category, the clearest pattern of in-
television news in Xi’an was 3.904 (2.404 × 1.624). Thus, teraction occurred for the cohort effect on the newspaper read-
108 The Journal of Advertising

ing preference for movie/television reviews. The calculated tional cohort may play a significant role in media preference
odds ratio for the cohort 1 effect for movie/television review should definitely not be overlooked, and media planners should
columns in Xi’an was .114 (.35 × .327), suggesting that the go beyond chasing China’s most popular media programs in
tendency of the Red Generation to read less newspaper movie/ order to find the best match between the appropriate media
television review content than Gen X was much more pro- program types and Gen X consumers. For example, even
nounced in Xi’an than in Guangzhou. In a similar vein, the though Chinese Central Television’s daily evening news is the
calculated odds ratios for the comparison between cohorts 2 most watched television program in China and commands a
and 3 and Gen X (.287, .491, respectively) indicated that the premium advertising rate, it may not be the best vehicle to
tendency for the Pre– and Post–Cultural Revolution Genera- reach Gen X consumers. Instead, marketers may want to ad-
tions to read less newspaper movie/television review content vertise on entertainment-based television programs. If there
was more prominent in Xi’an than in Guangzhou. is not a great variety of such programs on China’s state-run
For radio programs, the most obvious covarying pattern television stations, global marketers could look to satellite
occurred for the cohort effect on the listening preference for television stations that provide more entertainment offerings.
pop music on the radio. The calculated odds ratio for the co- The same strategy would also work for the other two major
hort 1 effect on preference for pop music in Xi’an was .08 media vehicles: newspaper and radio.
(.191 × .416), which indicated that while the Red Genera- Marketers should also be aware of and take full advantage
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tion tended to listen to less radio pop music than Gen X, this of the substantial regional differences in media consumption
tendency was much more pronounced in Xi’an than in patterns between China’s more developed and less developed
Guangzhou. Likewise, the calculated odds ratios for cohorts 2 regions, even when promoting to the same Gen X consumer
and 3 (.217 and .380, respectively) indicated that the ten- class. For instance, compared with their counterparts from
dency of the Pre– and Post–Cultural Revolution Generations more developed regions, Gen X consumers from less devel-
to listen to fewer pop music programs on the radio was also oped regions seemed to prefer television variety shows to a
more prominent in Xi’an than in Guangzhou. much greater degree. Thus, a plausible strategy for MNCs
like Coca-Cola targeting Chinese Gen X consumers living in
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION less developed regions could be to advertise their product in
conjunction with television variety shows.
The primary purpose of this study was to examine the differ- Finally, as Chinese consumers are more diverse in economi-
ences in preferences for media program types between Gen- cally more developed regions, MNCs need to be aware of the
eration X and older generational cohorts in mainland China. potential interaction effect between cohort membership and
We found that Chinese Gen X consumers, compared with region of residence. They should look at media consumption
their predecessor cohorts, tended to pay more attention to patterns beyond simple cohort membership category or city
entertainment-based media programs such as television vari- of residence. For instance, we found that while Gen X con-
ety shows or pop music on the radio while shunning informa- sumers were more likely to watch television variety shows
tion-based programs such as television news or newspaper than other cohorts, this was less the case in more developed
economy/business reports. In general, our findings provide regions (e.g., Guangzhou). On the other hand, while the older
support to generational cohort theory and uses and gratifica- generations (e.g., Red and Pre–Cultural Revolution Genera-
tions theory within the media consumption setting in China. tions) watched less variety shows, the pattern was less obvi-
Furthermore, Chinese Gen X consumers living in more de- ous in less developed regions (e.g., Xi’an). These findings
veloped regions tended to be more attentive to news and present significant challenges for MNCs in tackling China’s
economy/business report programs on television and in news- diverse regional markets. They cannot rely on cohort member-
papers, but they were less interested in entertainment-based ship or city of residence alone. Instead, their media decisions
content. Last, we observe that while a cohort effect on the should be based on more detailed and specific media research
media consumption patterns of Chinese Gen X consumers that takes both factors into consideration simultaneously.
exists, the effect appears to be of lesser magnitude in more
developed regions of China, especially for entertainment-based Limitations and Future Research
programs.
Our study has provided an initial application of generational
Managerial Implications cohort theory and uses and gratifications theory in the Chinese
media setting. While our results have demonstrated differences
Our study sheds important light on how global marketers in preference for information- versus entertainment-based me-
can more effectively reach the Gen X Chinese consumers via dia programs between China’s Generation X consumers and
careful selection of media programs. The notion that genera- the older generations, as in any cohort analysis study, one should
Summer 2006 109

be cautious in interpreting the uncovered cohort effect based Reflected in Chinese and U.S. Television Commercials,”
on a cross-sectional design (Egri and Ralston 2004). Future Journal of Advertising Research, 36 (3), 27–45.
researchers can build on the present research by examining Child, John, and Sally Stewart (1997), “Regional Differences in
longitudinal or panel data in order to unequivocally establish China and Their Implications for Sino-Foreign Joint Ven-
tures,” Journal of General Management, 23 (2), 65–86.
such effects. In addition, the cohort by region interaction ef-
“China’s Youth Generation: I Am Me and I Am Cool” (2004),
fect we explored provides another interesting direction for Economic Daily (May 14).
future research to develop or extend theory. We believe that Conger, Jay Alden (1997), “Changing of the Guard: How Gen-
the present study lays a foundation for more ambitious re- erational Shifts Will Transform Organizational Life,” in The
search endeavors. Organization of the Future, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Gold-
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cities, Guangzhou and Xi’an, to represent economically dis- Bass.
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of identifying regional differences, there might be factors other Predictor of Television Viewing Motivation,” Communica-
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Cui, Geng, and Qiming Liu (2001), “Emerging Market Segments
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in a Transitional Economy: A Study of Urban Consumers in
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