When fans discovered that Liu Hao Ran, a rising 21-year-old Chinese actor with over 26 million fans on Weibo, used the fragrance Chanel Bleu, Chinese social media exploded. It only took days for the topic “Which fragrance does Liu Hao Ran use?” to amass an astonishing 220 million views. His fans, in comment after comment, begged to know if it was the Eau de toilette or the more recently launched Eau de parfum that they should buy in order to smell just like him. And it didn’t stop there. Shortly afterwards, fans of young celebs like Liu Hao Ran went a step further, creating a list of other favorite young male celebrities and their supposed choice fragrances that went on to garner more than 160 million views.
To be sure, the two posts were a tremendous boon for the fragrance industry, but what — if anything — can luxury brands learn from them? Even though much of the information in the fragrances list was speculation, the virality of the list shows just how committed young Chinese are to their favorite young stars, and more importantly, to what they wear, buy, and now what they smell like.
Take Lu Han. Based on the list, the iconic 28-year-old singer and actor opts for Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Bleu, while Cai Xu Kun, 20, of the boy band Nine Percent (and currently listed as the number one male celebrity influencer for 2018 by Tencent) supposedly likes the masculine top notes of Dior Sauvage. This is one interesting aspect of the list — the wide range of brands included from Chanel, Dior, and Jo Malone to niche brands like Creed, Diptyque, John Varados, and Tom Ford. These choices reveal a deep change in the fragrance habits of young Chinese consumers, who are now electing to set their own generational benchmarks and no longer simply following popular Western trends and rankings.
Another takeaway — beyond a strong interest in what Chinese male idols smell like these days — is just how influential these top stars are. “At first I hadn’t seen the post,” said Dexter, a 21-year-old student, “but reflecting on it, I would like to try the Tom Ford one used by Jackson Wang. I have been fascinated by this brand for a long time, and Jackson Wang is one of my favorite stars in China.” And the data is there to prove this. Tmall, the popular online retail site, recently disclosed that sales of male fragrances have increased 55 percent between 2015 and 2017, and are only projected to increase.
Also worth noting is the disruption from niche brands, which are likely to keep well-established brands on their toes to hold market share. For instance, the list also mentions that the young idol, Zhu Yi Long, who ranks third on Tencent’s influencer list, and the hip Korean rapper G-Dragon take a more individual approach, using Louis Vuitton Le jour se léve and Frédéric Malle’s Musc Ravageur Eau De Parfum respectively. This trend of experimentation, of veering away from the safe, trendy, or well-known fragrances isn’t something just young Chinese celebrities are starting to do — the throngs of Chinese consumers, both male and female — who admire them are starting to follow their lead.
The popularity of these two posts was an eye opener for fragrance brands. Not only did they show how much traction male celebrities have with their fans, they also showed the increasing demand young Chinese males have for purchasing fragrances. It’s now up to the brands to capitalize on this rapidly growing segment, that is, if they’re smart in their approach and can connect with them in an authentic way. “The list is interesting but how do we know if these superstars truly love the fragrance or wear it only for commercial reasons,” said Eager, 22. “But it does feel good knowing that some superstars have a common taste with me. And I’d like to see more private testimonials about why they truly love the fragrances.”