Week 8: More FEIYUE(飞跃) Branding, Ethics of Astroturfing, Google Bombing

This week I deal with two seemingly distinct topics, yet there is strong evidence of the occurrence of both in the playing field of Feiyue. Perchance your expect the content of this post to deal with the target audience and the general strategy? Well that will have to wait till next week’s post. The act of Information Gathering takes precedence over strategy planning, so here is my preliminary finding on the brand image of Feiyue.

Prior to Patrice’s acquisition of the brand’s rights outside of China, the brand was viewed as a cheap shoe in China, and was unknown in other parts. The Frenchman took it and extensively marketed it as an Asian brand with a long history, relying on the long subsistence in China as a credible backing for the brand. It did relatively well as a fashion item, partly riding on the increasing global interest in China. However, with the rights to the distribution in mainland China outside of his control, Patrice could not keep down the piggy-backing and  that was boiling over from China into the other parts of Asia. Some literature claimed that the original Chinese version was superior to the French version. The beef with these claims is that the French remake of the shoe is essentially a more expensive, unoriginal and non-martial arts shoe. While there is some truth in the claim, the takeaway is that the French remake is a more of a casual fashion item whereas some see the Chinese version as a martial-arts shoe.

The irony is that while the French brand rides on the retro appeal and nostalgia of the old Chinese brand, the Chinese brand rides on the increased international attention on the brand to sell their versions.

Feiyue, chiense versions, black

Notably, the original sneakers aren’t exactly lacking in design.

I find that there is a growing distinction into two different brands, one as a fashionable, somewhat flashy and more modern sneaker, and the other as a retro, martial arts and somewhat eccentric/hipster. Of course the two versions aren’t totally distinct, but the increased padding and thicker canvas of the French remake does make it more of a general purpose sneaker than the spartan and functionalist Chinese version.

It might seem that the walking-shoe brand may be the way to go, but this sort of brand strategy if undermined by several factors. Firstly, the walking shoe market is already saturated with numerous other brands which started much earlier than Feiyue, such as converse, puma, topman, etc. Secondly, this sort of design would be easily imitated and reproduced due to the low level of technology involved. Therefore, a common walking-shoe strategy will clearly not work.

The ideal branding for Feiyue in Singapore, therefore, is to adopt a niche approach to this brand, which will have sophisticated designs that will be difficult to imitate. The printing technology will be of high quality with complicated psychedelic designs, therefore sealing their images as a high-quality brand. It can also prop up the image of the brand with claims  of “trusted by Chinese consumers since 1920”. This will settle the general approach to Feiyue’s branding.

The tangentially related point is the large amount of pro-chinese-version of astroturfing that proselytises the Chinese brand as superior. This can be seen in the links contained below. A large number of these astroturfed sites are set up by people intent on selling large volumes of the Chinese version. These largely conduct their business on the rhetoric of “better-than-thou” comparison with the French version.

A seller who misconstrues my previous comments as pro-Chinese Feiyue   http://www.supertucker.com/black-feiyue-martial-arts-shoes/

A seller on Amazon who claims that Feiyue shoes are number one amongst Shaolin Masters. What utterly vacuous marketese. http://www.amazon.com/Black-Feiyue-Martial-Arts-Shoes/dp/B0002TW818

The Crux of Google Bombing and Astroturfing as seen through Feiyue’s branding

Before continuing to see how Google Bombing and Astroturfing has affected Feiyue, it is necessary to have a fundamental understanding of the systems in place. The key system is the search engine.

Though the above “supertucker” website and other’s track-back systems, bots post links of seemingly related pages. Those familiar with search engines will know that Google works by filing search results, in order of importance, of pages according to the PageRank, and that the linked pages’ own PageRank affects the PageRank of the pages linked. While the exact algorithm by which Google does this is unknown and copyrighted information, we do know for a fact that the words contained within the anchor tags in HTML code, seen as <a>, has an impact on PageRank and associated page’s PageRanks. Both the quality of the inward and outward links of a page count towards the PageRank of the page. For more information on how PageRank works, see Wikipedia’s page. I won’t delve into this topic too much because an entire thesis could be written on the topic and no conclusive knowledge be drawn.

In terms of Google Bombing, the act of constantly and deliberately placing words and phrases the Google Bomber wants to be associated with a brand within anchor tags creates a possible situation where Google’s(and other search engines as well) Web-Crawling Bots start to associate this phrase with the linked page. For example, the Chinese Feiyue Google Bombers might put the phase “Shaolin Master” in a hyperlink to their products page in and attempt to get search engines to associate their brand with martial artists.

To be fair, Google’s search algorithm is far more sophisticated and balanced to give much weight to such flippant associations. However, I cannot say the same thing for lesser search engines. It is possible that other search algorithms might start associated Feiyue with martial arts, possibly more so than Google. This, in turn, causes more searches for martial art-related products to turn up results of Feiyue or linking to Feiyue.

Astroturfing works along a similar line of thought, although usually it has to be done by humans rather than automated: search engines and aggregators easily filter out suspiciously similar texts. The gist of astrotufing is to create numerous websites with content proselytising or implicated the association the astroturfer want to be recognised. For example, the astroturfer has, at current moment, created many pages with a rhetoric of superiority of the Chinese brand. This affects both the brand image of the French brand and the Chinese brand, boosting the image of the Chinese brand while decrying the French brand. I will not comment on the validity of such claims, but it is self-evident that the brand image will be affected.

Having had a clearer picture of how Astroturfing and Google Bombing and affecting the Feiyue brand image, I plan to include in my strategy a means by which this can be addressed. As to the comment as to whether it is right for astroturfers and google bombers to do what they do, I will not comment on this as to do so would inherently include a value judgement on the propositions that they put forth. My current position does not allow me to establish any findings on the matter, and hence I will leave this matter to rest. In conclusion, I find that Feiyue’s brand image is definitely being affected by the perceptions of old, and new perceptions which threaten to affect Feiyue’s image.


1 Response to “Week 8: More FEIYUE(飞跃) Branding, Ethics of Astroturfing, Google Bombing”

  1. 1 Week 13 New Media, -the Culmination of a Poststructuralist Reality? « Communication Studies Blog Trackback on April 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm

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