Deodorant, tampons, and the wisdom of Carl Crow

Access Archive

Unilever falls for the 2.6 billion armpit delusion

“The first time for many years that I was in a crowd of non-Chinese was in the New York subway, and at once I was conscious of the presence of that overpowering body odor which, according to the advertisements, wrecks romance, prevents happy marriages, and proves an insuperable handicap to business success.”

That sentence is from Carl Crow’s 1937 best seller on doing business in China, 400 Million Customers. He writes about the rarity of Chinese body odor in the context of explaining why foreign soap companies so often failed in China in the 1920s and 1930s.

Someone at Unilever, the multinational consumer goods company, should have read Crow’s book: “Unilever brought its Rexona deodorant to China a decade ago, dreaming of a market with 2.6 billion armpits,” reports (paywall) the New York Times. You know how this ends…

  • “Cultural differences and simple biology — scientists have shown that many East Asian people don’t have Westerners’ body odor issues” led to disappointing sales, which “totaled only a fraction of the Chinese marketing budget for Rexona.”

  • Tampons have also been a failure for multinational companies in China. The Times says  that “most Chinese women use sanitary pads,” and that Procter & Gamble “gave up on” its Tampax brand in China in 2000, “though it relaunched the brand last year.”

  • Here is a brief introduction to Carl Crow by author Paul French, together with an excerpt from the book. Money shot: “If you only ever buy one book on business in China then this is the one.”

  • Get the book on Amazon.

Farmers and the No. 1 Document

Xinhua News Agency reports that the government has released its “No. 1 Central Document” for 2018 — the “first policy statement of the year” from the Party and State Council, which “is seen as an indicator of policy priorities.”

  • Rural development is the focus, as it has been in the No. 1 Central Documents of the past 14 years.

  • Poverty alleviation is also a theme. The document repeats previous government promises to ensure that “no Chinese people will live under the existing poverty line” by 2020, in this document emphasizing that “rural productivity and agricultural supply will improve substantially.”

  • “Equal access to basic public services” for all Chinese, both urban and rural, is promised by 2035. “Strong agriculture, beautiful countryside, and well-off farmers” is the goal for 2050.

  • Controls on the use of land allotted to farmers will also be loosened, allowing them to build homes or rent them out legally – see this Caixin article.

  • Allowing farmers to rent or sell their land has long been prescribed by observers such as the Economist (see this editorial from 2006) as the way to truly end rural poverty in China. But fairly distributing the fruits of collectivized land is an extremely difficult problem.

  • The announcement of Document No. 1 is here; the document itself is here (both links in Chinese).  

Anxious in Beijing — fears of war with North Korea

We are on the path to war with North Korea. It isn’t a certain thing. But we are on the path. My question is this: When do I leave?

I read this posting on the social media account of an acquaintance of mine who lives in Beijing and works as a journalist. He is sane and not given to tin foil hats and panic, and this was a genuine question.

He went on:

I am 100 percent serious about this. My weekend project — okay, next weekend’s project — is putting together a 72-hour kit, writing down the fastest train routes down to the south if the airspace around Korea and Japan is closed, and so forth. Things are far more serious than the concerns of most newspapers would have you think.

So again: If escalation begins, at what point do I get out of Beijing?

His worries do not surprise me. Recent talk out of Washington about a preemptive “bloody nose” strike on North Korea is not comforting. Even less comforting is this: Last week, news broke that the White House dropped star Victor Cha, an experienced national security official and respected scholar of Northeast Asia, as its pick for ambassador.

  • “Cha is experienced, informed — and no peacenik,” according to Foreign Policy, which says that “he’s often described as a hawk.”

  • Cha reportedly expressed reservations about a preemptive “bloody nose” strike on North Korea, leading Trump to delete him from the shortlist.

  • Alarm bells are going off in Seoul and Washington, according to Foreign Policy, with some observers fearing that if Cha wasn’t “hawkish enough for Trump,” the U.S. president may be perfectly serious about a preemptive strike.

  • “The political wind of ‘preemption,’ and the purging of more moderate voices, is starting to look eerily similar to the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003,” says Foreign Policy.

China: Medical tourism destination?

“I foresee that within the next few years, patients from the West will actually start coming to China to receive treatments.” So says Michael Donovan, who has a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Hunan University, and founded a biotech company in Changsha. Here’s a fascinating Q&A with him on the website Tomorrow Edition.   

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief