Admittedly, Hermès cosmetics and handbags inhabit different worlds in terms of affordability and accessibility, but Li’s livestreamed review, which reached millions of potential buyers, goes to show that there are far more avenues for bad press in China now than there were even five years ago.
Pop culture snubs bring up interesting questions with regard to luxury marketing, specifically if a rethink is in order as to if and how luxury houses should approach the digital space in China as well as brand integrations and even e-commerce. While the past few years have seen many — if not most — luxury brands becoming at least somewhat active on Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, relatively few have invested in the e-commerce livestreaming bandwagon or explored short video.
But brands are being dragged into the online space as Chinese shoppers make more purchases closer to home and look to domestic shows and livestreamers — rather than international celebrities, for example — to guide their purchasing decisions.
As Bloomberg pointed out earlier this month in an article on how luxury spending is essentially “trapped” within China’s borders as a result of coronavirus-related travel restrictions, “In the past, luxury houses were worried about diluting brand prestige and losing control of customer data by working with Chinese internet giants like Alibaba, but the urgency of reaching Chinese shoppers has now eclipsed those concerns.” But simply launching a livestream with an influencer isn’t enough. Louis Vuitton recently discovered that a negative pile-on can quickly ensue if the production value of a livestream fails to match up to brand image.
This has been a very difficult summer for luxury in China, as brands contend with potentially damaging and unplanned cameos on TV or livestreamed broadcasts, as well as the perennial risks of counterfeit products, government censure and regulations, and the high costs of maintaining brick-and-mortar stores in China, all while the European boutiques typically filled with Chinese tourists sit mostly empty.
Facing the prospect of ending up as a punchline on a popular television show or being “cancelled” by a red-hot livestreamer, so many questions remain for brand marketers. Do luxury brands now need to be as aggressive online as their mass-market counterparts in China? How can exclusivity be maintained if a brand works with a livestreamer who hawks everything from gemstones to preserved eggs in a particular segment?
Or is the hands-off approach taken by Hermès — staying silent amid either good or bad press — the right one, given an ever-changing news cycle and a firehose of reviews by livestreamers or bloggers or brand cameos a viewer sees in a given week?