Trends in Digital Marketing in China

  • Digital marketing trends in China move so fast now, it’s been hard for Western brands to keep up.
  • Livestreaming is here to stay and will only gain in quality and quantity.
  • Chinese companies have innovative new ways to engage with consumers that Western brands should pick up on — fast.

Every year, retail executives try to respond to the market’s latest requests by incorporating new wrinkles into their digital marketing strategies. This is especially true in China — a country that quickly developed a fiercely competitive digital ecosystem that led to a booming and hyper-efficient economy. But in a country that’s innovating faster than anyone imagined, planning an impactful marketing or product campaign is a complicated affair, and constant revisions are needed. Because of the sheer speed with which China’s market changes, Western marketers are often overwhelmed by its “orientation” or country-specific requirements, so they often get cut out of big growth opportunities.

For example, Western marketers understand the importance of videos for Chinese consumers, but viewers’ shifting preferences have driven video-sharing platforms to make drastic alterations. And since Chinese consumers must move back and forth between multiple video sharing platforms, their attention spans have gotten shorter, and they now expect engaging content jammed into 8 seconds of video.

Therefore, creating relevant content for the Chinese market is no easy task, and the Harvard Business Review highlights that Western marketers “may underestimate the power of China’s new competencies,” while also adding that Western “firms are particularly quick to export their media and ad strategies to developing markets, where advertising and media are more recent developments.” But a strategy like this is doomed to fail in China.

Major international brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Versace have learned the hard way that you can’t be arrogant, misinformed, or offensive in your China marketing, and their costly mistakes have tarnished their brands’ reputations and damaged the image of European luxury as a whole.

But even brands that steer clear of controversy find it particularly hard to stay up-to-date on China’s changing consumer habits. This is not surprising, considering that the country has many strong and distinctive consumer groups — each interacting with brands differently. Many marketers, for instance, place a lot of emphasis on younger luxury buyers while neglecting traditional demographics that could be quite beneficial to some brands. Only recently have we seen a change in trajectories where established brands are starting to focus on older consumer groups. Volkswagen is one example. They recently launched a Beetle ad campaign featuring elderly Chinese citizens imitating cool youngsters and doing crazy things. Additionally, more brands have started partnering with over-50 influencers and models like the 83-year-old Wang Deshun and the 76-year-old Huang Yanzhen.

These campaigns are changing the way consumers approach brands, but when it comes to transformation in China, digital marketing is the real game-changer. Let’s have a look at some country-specific trends in digital marketing and see how emerging technologies, automated data collection, and blockchain are reshaping the future of marketing in China:

  1. Livestreaming is becoming the most profitable form of marketing

According to WalktheChat, Taobao livestreaming by daily active users increased by 130 percent to 41.33 million during this past Single’s Day. Indeed, livestreaming is breaking viewership records and helping to bring in a lot of money. But according to Tingyi Chen, a co-founder of the software platform WalktheChat, “most of the livestreaming campaigns today are simply sales pitches. Content quality is not too different from the most traditional TV infomercial.”

Chen foresees a change coming to the industry where brands will partner with important local KOLs who offer high-quality content and engaging experiences to their users. She also predicts that livestreaming will see a major reboot in 2020, as charismatic idols and personalities take the place of regular livestreamers while the livestreaming experience becomes more personalized and high-quality.

  1. Chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI)

Alibaba is redesigning the shopping experience for global consumers, as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual assistant chatbots move to the forefront of the Group’s new digital marketing strategy. According to Alizila, these improvements redefine and simplify the “customer’s journey” and create a highly-tailored experience where shoppers can get “uncannily precise” product search results as well as goods and services that “consumers might not have even realized they wanted.”

In an oversaturated online arena where consumers no longer have the patience to browse magazines or read flashy advertorials, AI offers a unique solution — one that’s perfectly tailored to consumers’ needs while taking their peculiarities and preferences into consideration.

  1. Xiaohongshu/Little Red Book

Xiaohongshu remains the most innovative luxury crowdsourcing app since it’s an ideal community for brands who want to engage with young, affluent urbanites. Nevertheless, we anticipate it going through some significant changes.

First, Xiaohongshu will move further away from its “community mindset” and will become more of an e-commerce hybrid where user-generated content is encouraged. But, the site will keep its communication-based content flowing via product review tutorials, blog posts, livestreaming sessions, and other innovative ways to boost online user numbers. This will allow Xiaohongshu the opportunity to tap into a consumer segment that’s eager to buy products that the app is advertising.

Second, their viral marketing campaigns will be readjusted, as they’ve fallen short in the past by failing to capture the experiences of younger buyers. Miranda Cui Fan stated that the Xiaohongshu community is getting younger and younger, with 70 percent of its users having been born after 1995. Additionally, the app’s number of female users climbed to 88 percent. In this ever-changing landscape where parameters are constantly being redefined, marketing campaigns can’t be rigid and must always be recalibrated.

  1. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

Alibaba is already resorting to more disruptive technologies (VR, AR) to help them build closer relationships with users. Instead of crafting a boring marketing message, Alibaba creates a singular consumer experience that’s convenient, innovative, and entertaining. For instance, VR Scout highlights that Alibaba’s Taobao Buy is “an AR-infused shopping experience that reimagines how you shop online with an interactive experience that looks and feels futuristic but is also easy to use.” Sci-Fi shopping is going to be the new norm, and 3-D holograms of products are something that will soon become a requirement for every retailer.

Even more engaging is the perspective presented by Forbes that shows a world where, for about 15 cents, Alibaba’s Buy+ lets users buy a cardboard VR headset that connects to their smartphones and allows them to browse various garments and accessories and “even have virtual models showcase the apparel and accessories on a catwalk.”

Brands who want success in China need to keep a close eye on the local retail giants who have registered tremendous growth thanks to their approach to innovation and their ability to remain in synch with their consumers’ needs. This agility has propelled companies like Alibaba to the forefront of digital marketing as it envisions a retail universe that begins to fully blur the physical and virtual worlds.

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Can This New Reality Show Make Chinese Streetwear Cooler?

  • The observational documentary format adopted by the show creates a surveillance-style that is one of the most popular formats among reality shows in China. Opening show figures recorded 19.8 million viewers.
  • Tokyo’s hip Harajuku district, a renowned hub of youth culture and street fashion, is the show’s location which goes to illustrate the creators desire to export Chinese sportswear by redefining the role of China in pop culture trends and influence.
  • Though not without its critics, the first show was a success and discussions about Kris Wu indicate the show is profoundly dependent on the idol economy – one which cannot be underestimated.

The first episode of Fourtry topped the hottest reality show chart on Weibo, reaching a staggering 19.8 million viewers. It follows the day-to-day running of a streetwear pop-up in Tokyo, “Fourtry,” by celebrities like Kris Wu – the entertaining host – and his partners, namely Angelababy, Wilber Pan, Jinmai Zhao, and Fox.

Powered by the same production team behind The Rap of China – iQiyi – it features similar celebrities to its insanely popular predecessor. Since the first season’s debut in 2017, The Rap of China, a rap battle reality TV show, brought underground street culture to the mainstream. Arguably high-end streetwear labels such as Ambush, Heron Preston and Raf Simons, as well as, the home-grown streetwear brands worn by Kris Wu, a.k.a. “China’s King of Streetwear,” were the real winners of the show.

Back then, exposure to these brands broadened Chinese millennials and Gen Zers’ knowledge of streetwear beyond the likes of Supreme; it made luxury streetwear cool among younger generations in China. By producing The Rap of China, this online entertainment production and platform giant has proven its deep understanding of Chinese youth culture by broadcasting hip hop culture. Now, can it do the same with Fourtry?

The show focuses on Fourtry, a debut brand alongside other Chinese homegrown streetwear designs, while selections from other luxury labels are also featured. AI technology allows audiences to simultaneously purchase identical clothing as chosen by the celebrities. An offline boutique opened in Shanghai in mid-December to boost the show and streetwear-savvy youths lined up for the first drop-off; limited branded T-shirts sold-out within the hour.

As a show, Fourtry works by documenting how the host, Kris Wu, and his partners, select products, merchandise, and manage the store. The observational documentary format adopts a surveillance-style is one of the most popular formats among reality shows in China. It is favored by audiences as they are offered the opportunity to sneak a look at celebrities in “real” life, and it presents inclusive marketing and branding opportunities for various brands in a seemingly casual manner.

The show is not the first fashion-themed reality show in China. China’s national broadcaster CCTV and e-commerce giant jointly produced Fashion Master which showcased young designers’ attempts to connect Chinese aesthetics and the global fashion industry. With a fresh take, big production values and fashion insiders like Editorial Director of Vogue China, Zhang Yu, and well-known Chinese couturier, Guo Pei, Fashion Master should be a great platform for luxury brands to reach their Chinese consumers. However, it failed to resonate with younger audiences and netizens responded negatively.

Targeting Chinese digital-savvy millennials and Gen Zers specifically, Fourtry tells the story of a fashion boutique that integrates streetwear culture, current trends, and brand stories with celebrities’ daily routines. In recent years, Chinese domestic streetwear has gained awareness due to the resurgence of a “national tide” (guochao 国潮) or increased “cultural confidence.” Chinese brands like Li-Ning are considered to embed the notion of national pride in their clothing. Local media attribute the rise of homegrown labels to domestic consumers that are now willing to pay for a badge of patriotism.

The concept behind the show explores the nuance between representing domestic Chinese streetwear and the definition of pop culture. Instead of purely peddling domestic designs, Fourtry aims to showcase “a brand-new perspective on the diversity and inclusiveness of cultural trends” and to “redefine the role of the Chinese pop culture trends and influence.” In fact, the show’s vision speaks to a desire to export Chinese designs to global consumers, by location for one; it takes place in Tokyo’s hip Harajuku district, a renowned hub of youth culture and street fashion. As Che Che, the show’s director, explains, “Tokyo is the center of Asian fashion trends. Visitors have strict standards and critique the boutiques objectively and have no idea about these Chinese superstars.”

The first episode of Fourtry received generally positive reactions. According to Danmu, (a popular comment-sharing system in which viewers can put comments on top of videos), appreciation for the show came mostly from fans of the celebrities. Thus, the overwhelming discussions about Kris Wu indicate the show is profoundly dependent on the idol economy. Indeed, the power of the idol economy cannot be underestimated — Fourtry hints at a bigger picture than merely a reality show.

According to shoppers’ Weibo posts which shared their excitement of putting in a preorder of the HUILI x Fourtry collab sneakers, their motivation for snapping up the sneakers was out of support for Wu. Indeed Fourtry is clearly driving sales of domestic streetwear brands.

However, over the last month of weekly show updates, negative voices emerged on WeChat subscription accounts and other popular social media platforms like Zhihu and Weibo; they questioned and criticized the shows target audience, with one viewer asking: “How many hipsters are following Fourtry?”

Undoubtedly, the monetization of the show is a successful business model: it moves traffic from viewing to purchasing. By reimaging a shopping scenario – in which audiences can place an order while watching the show — Fourtry advances digital sales channels supported by local e-commerce, Aomygod and luxury fashion retail platform, Farfetch.

Can this show translate into a bone fide movement ala “The Rap of China?” Only time will tell. But a more crucial issue hinges on whether the desire for domestic streetwear evolves into spend. Chinese streetwear brands alone are poised to get close enough to domestic youth culture to leverage this advantage. Although the onscreen conversion is currently cashable, the growth of guochao is yet to be measured.

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Anna Sui Thinks China is Ready to Inspire Asia

The New York Times called her “fashion’s favorite daughter.” Renowned fashion journalist Tim Blanks proclaimed her “one of fashion’s best storytellers.” And the head of the Met’s Costume Institute, Andrew Bolton, once said about her that “there is not one art movement or artist she hasn’t touched on in her work.” Anna Sui, the American fashion designer known for constructing a one-of-a-kind, rock-inspired fantasy world, has stood the test of many a fashion trend, and now, she’s taking on China.

She established herself in 1990 with her first runway show, thanks to the support of supermodels like Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell, and her big catwalk hit — the baby doll dress — was worn by seemingly every iconic woman of the era, including Madonna at the peak of her fame. From there, she became a huge business and received international attention, particularly in Japan where consumers raved about her too-cool-for-school style. That led to a lucrative contract with the Japanese retailer Isetan.

Now, roughly 20 years later, the legendary designer is venturing into China with a list of initiatives, such as debuting her sportswear line, Anna Sui active, in Shanghai and opening a new store in Beijing’s experiential art mall, SKP South. Sui has also recently appeared on CCTV’s Fashion Master Program and is now preparing to move her lauded retrospective exhibition from New York’s Museum of Arts and Design to China.

A KOL posing next to the store mannequin at the opening day. Courtesy photo.

A KOL posing next to the mannequin on the store opening day in SKP S. Courtesy photo.

The Chinese market is an alluring but challenging one. It’s a big piece of the global pie, but the competition there is now fierce. Market entry costs are rising sky high and are even daunting to a designer with Sui’s background and status. Meanwhile, most mainstream consumers in China don’t even know Sui’s legendary status — they merely see her as the auteur of her lipstick and perfume lines (which are a hit in China), having yet to experience her complete visual world.

And, conversely, China is still somewhat foreign to Sui, even though she’s Chinese-American and has traveled extensively. “I grew up in Michigan and lived most of my life in New York,” she said, “but I am a very global citizen. I was raised on pop culture.” Thus she is able to approach China with a refreshing eye. She has taken extensive trips to China’s second and third-tier cities, and rediscover the local artisan for inspiration for her fashion line.

So what does the future hold for Anna Sui in China? It’s likely too early to know for sure. Nevertheless, we sat down with the incomparable designer at her newly-opened SKP South store to discuss her China plans and how she’s been exploring the country’s history for inspiration:

Since you’re Chinese-American, did you ever feel the urge to incorporate Chinese elements for your designs?

I have from time to time, but I’m really a product of pop culture. I grew up in Michigan and lived most of my life in New York, but I am a very global citizen. I think it’s hard for people to see that I’m American. I was working in Italy before ‘global’ was a concept. I didn’t speak Italian, but I worked there for fourteen years because I needed to freelance to support my collection. The same thing happened in Japan. I never learned Japanese, but I worked there for 20-something years. I was able to adapt to different cultures and work within their structures.

How has traveling in China inspired you?

Actually, this last trip, a couple of years ago, I traveled outside of Beijing and Shanghai. I went to Guizhou, Dunhuang, Xi’an, and Da Lian. It was so exciting to see second- and third-tier cities and see how advanced those cities are. You go into a village, and there’s a superhighway, trains, and skyscrapers, and it’s like, ‘what happened?’ We went to all the little villages, and we went to the Sisters’ Meal Festival [where] they were doing the dance. We went to visit every town, and the whole town came out and sang and was dressed in their local customs. I want to experience those things more and more because you know they’re going to disappear because of technology.

You have been scaling down in Japan and investing heavily in China by debuting your active line there. What’s the strategy behind these moves?

Things are changing in Japan, and we are changing our strategy there, too. It’s not that we’re scaling down — we are going to have our own distribution and boutiques there.

At the same time, I have been coming to China with my fragrance and cosmetics for more than 20 years now. In the beginning, we had a few boutiques here, but then the whole structure of China changed, and we became a shop in SKP Beijing and Xi’an. Our [new] SKP South is the third location. We also have two Anna Sui stores in Shanghai.

I’m Chinese, and people are familiar with my name — knowing my lipsticks and mirrors — but not my fashion too much. So this is a great way to enter the fashion market in China. The latest trend there is activewear incorporating fashion, and I think we have done such an exciting job presenting the concept of Anna Sui in a very new way.

Why did you choose to debut your line in China ahead of other global markets?

It’s a natural progression. I did a collaboration with FILA for a few years here, and it was very successful. That gives us an indication that maybe Anna Sui active can be very popular in China.

What do you see the differences between the Japanese and Chinese consumers?

When I started [in fashion], everyone was looking to Japan for inspiration, products, and fashion. A lot of magazines and brands came to China, but you learned about [fashion] from Japan. I think the world has changed, and communication is different now. A magazine isn’t the first thing people looked at anymore; it’s more the Internet, and I think no country is more advanced with the internet than China.

I think the Chinese way of embracing new technology is the latest thing. Chinese consumers are savvy online shoppers — we didn’t learn this from Japan. China holds the key to the new retail, and then you see a shopping mall like this [SKP S], and it opens your eyes to what [a mall] could be instead of what it traditionally was.

Where do you see Anna Sui 10 — or even 20 — years from now?

I think we are evolving quite naturally by first starting in the US, then Japan, and now China. The big potential now is Asia. We went to southeast Asia for perfume and cosmetics, and you know that’s going to be the next boom because the general population is largely under 25, and there are so many natural resources there. It’s going to be the same progression: They are going to hear about Anna Sui in China, and China is going to be their inspiration.

The interview has been revised and edited for clarity.

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How Technology will Change the Game for Luxury Brands

By 2030, nearly all of the world’s luxury markets will look completely different because of massive disruption, and, in many cases, those drastic changes will come at the hands of technology.

Generation Z, which will become the most influential group of customers for luxury brands a decade from now, grew up surrounded by technology. For today’s 10-year-olds, a smartphone has been their window to the world since they were born, and 20-year-olds have used them nearly as long as they can remember. Today, almost every interaction happens through digital devices, and in ten years, influencers and key opinion leaders (KOLs) will be much more powerful persuaders than old fashion institutions like Vogue, Elle, or Marie Claire.

This highly-connected generation will force luxury brands to become dramatically more digital than they are today, and brand experiences will need to move fluidly from the digital realm to the physical. Very few luxury brands are currently advanced in this respect, and many will need to make major changes. This does not only mean upgrading digital experiences; for many brands, physical experiences will have to change from transaction to experiential spaces. From “temples” to places that feel like “home,” physical stores will have to transform to help make the brand’s story tangible.

And physical stores must become digital in the sense that store staff should have as much information about the customers as possible to make their shopping experiences individualized and personal. A.I. and predictive algorithms are going to transform the way a brand’s staff will work and what products will be available at certain stores at different times of the day.

Additionally, technology will disrupt luxury markets to their core. The watch industry has already faced a major shake-up thanks to smartwatches, and the change hit those brands that weren’t well-positioned and were weak in brand storytelling the hardest. Over the next decade, the watch industry will face even more disruption, as smartwatches continue to grow and find their way into more high-priced segments.

An important aspect of disruption is what I call the shift to subscription business models. the Apple Watch is such a case. While a consumer may have bought a fine watch in the past, let’s say a Rolex for $10,000, she may now switch to the Hermès version of the Apple Watch, which, at first glance, is much more affordable at around $1,500. However, with the updates on these models, she will probably switch out her watch every one to two years on average. And with thee additional bands she will most likely buy — a part of the business that most traditional watch companies have completely ignored thus far — her investment into the Apple watch could exceed a Rolex investment over the span of a decade. Meanwhile, with the traditional business model, there’s no interaction between the watchmaker and the consumer. But in the Apple business model, there’s consistent customer interaction, from their digital user interface to in-store visits, and that triggers additional revenue. Traditional luxury watchmakers will have to radically rethink their business, revenue, and brand equity models because business as usual won’t work anymore.

An industry that’s been even more disrupted is the automobile industry. For decades, engines were the differentiator between normal, premium, and luxury brands, and very few brands mastered 8, 10, 12, or even 16 cylinder engines. That was what made a brand luxury in the eyes of consumers. But fast-forward to 2030, and many luxury cars will be electric, self-driving, and more attuned to the sharing economy. In the future, cars will become entertainment, workspace, and comfort vehicles, and the rules of the luxury car game will need to be rewritten. As always, when technologies shift, new players emerge to shake up the status quo by doing things differently — a lesson that many established premium and luxury brands have already learned from Tesla. Given the focus in China on electric cars, it will only be a matter of time until Chinese luxury car brands become relevant both inside and outside of China, putting additional pressure on incumbent brands to redefine their business models.

These examples can be extended to practically any luxury category. No product is “safe” from technological disruption, and Asian consumers are not only embracing that disruption, but they’re also expecting brands to be at the forefront of technology. One difficulty for incumbent brands is that the technologies of the future are completely different from the technologies of the past. Hence, completely new skillsets are needed. Areas in which a brand previously had expertise might not be relevant at all in the future. A lack of internal capabilities that stems from having been invested in outmoded technologies for too long will endanger many existing luxury brands.

While brands must technologically transform, brand storytelling also has to evolve drastically. When technologies shift, consumers will not necessarily care about traditional players anymore. The fate of Blackberry, Nokia, Kodak, Polaroid, IBM, and many others should be a warning for today’s leading brands that feel safer than they should. Consumers, especially demanding young ones, want to know the story behind the brand. They expect luxury brands to shape their industries, not to wait and see where things go and adapt later. Innovation combined with powerful brand storytelling was never as important as today, and it is already a major weakness for many existing luxury brands.

Technology shifts will be a huge opportunity for companies that embrace them and make them a competitive advantage. The art is to combine new technologies with brand storytelling to create extreme value. The magnitude of disruption has made luxury markets more attractive than ever before while also more challenging than in the past. More precision in luxury brand management will be needed over the next decade as well as more brave and bold decisions. The time for complacency is over.

Daniel Langer is CEO of the luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand strategy firm Équité, and the professor of luxury strategy and extreme value creation at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He consults some of the leading luxury brands in the world, is the author of several luxury management books, a global keynote speaker, and holds luxury masterclasses in Europe, the USA, and Asia. Follow @drlanger

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Will Chinese Fashion Conglomerates Ever Win in the West?

Key Takeaways:

  • Western brands have seen first-hand the cultural downfalls by not having a local team embedded in the market, it is now time for Chinese teams to embrace a similar diversity.
  • Brands need to find the location that is best suited to its product and market offering. Each city has its own challenges but being flexible enough to adapt is key.
  • Chinese brands can simply follow the basics set by their Western counterparts to find a sold pathway to success. However those that can move beyond this, and find a new way to exist will thrive.

As Western luxury brands flock to mainland China to open brick and mortar stores, they are, to various degrees, coming to grips with the market. Attempts by Chinese fashion groups to expand westward, however, have been surprisingly less successful.

Last year, London’s South Molton Street, in the heart of the affluent Mayfair shopping district, and less than a minute’s walk from the iconic department store Selfridges, was home to two Chinese flagship stores from mid-level brands. By early 2020, one store had closed (with the brand ceasing all overseas expansion), and the other had rented out its ground floor to Caffè Concerto, moving its range of down jackets upstairs. In a capital which has seen a boom in luxury store openings recently, somehow these storied Chinese groups failed to connect.

Traditionally, Chinese brands are cautious when expanding outside of China, despite their budgets and resources. On the one hand, this reserve is hardly surprising given their direct access to and knowledge of a vast and affluent native consumer base. Many domestic conglomerates are content to predict local consumer habits, going deeper into China’s tiers rather than focusing on external markets.

Yet, as the economy slows down, it’s logical that groups and independent designers would want to expand beyond their borders. China is no longer an inexpensive place to manufacture goods. Brands are now more visible on the world’s stage providing sponsorship, endorsements, and collaborations at prestigious global events from fashion to sport. Interbrand, for example, found that the total value of the top 50 brands in China increased by 15% in 2018; Alibaba and Tencent recorded the highest growth (luxury fashion is yet to feature on the list but fast fashion’s Zaful made an entry).

For the brands that choose to follow the call of President Xi Jinping and look overseas, they face several problems when it comes to connecting with diverse, global audiences. But, if they can get this right, 2020 might be the time for foreign markets to springboard growth. Jing Daily looks at some Chinese brands going global and the various stumbling blocks to avoid when breaking into established fashion capitals.

Agility in new markets

Domestic brands are well-versed in quickly deciphering and reacting to the changing needs of local consumers — often beating out foreign competitors. However, if brands fail to apply this agility to markets outside of China the results can be disastrous. According to Mu Niu, Founder of Crescent Agency, very often brands that expand forget to apply this sensibility to other markets. “Slowness, among other things, can be a problem. It’s not just about the investment strategy, it’s about operations too, and having that constant reassessment and reflection — if something isn’t working you need to change it immediately. Chinese conglomerates have big operations, often with a long reporting line which can hinder agility.”

“China has developed significantly in recent years and are great at understanding their own market, but they don’t have the experience of spending money in other markets.”

While Western brands have seen first-hand the cultural downfalls by not having a local team embedded in the market, this is vital for Chinese companies too. Mu, whose clients include Shanghai brand Uooyaa, with sights on Europe, suggests: “[Chinese] brands coming out of China need to create a local team which has the authority to act and make decisions — a mix of Western and Chinese if necessary. They will understand issues such as policies and purchasing better — definitely better than your domestic team anyway.” The failure of many mainland brands could well have been down to the lack of a locally-embedded team.

Localization is also a factor for Miquel Cardona, managing partner at Oriental Retail Ventures. He explains that while most nationalities might naturally feel more comfortable working with their fellow countrymen, an over-reliance on this from Chinese brands can lead to operational oversights. “China has developed significantly in recent years and are great at understanding their own market, but they don’t have the experience of spending money in other markets. Most Chinese companies don’t have this history of brand-building [and need to collaborate].”

Interior of Huishan Zhang’s flagship store in London, UK. Photo: Courtesy.

Very often, this is where independent brands are often better placed to understand and meet market needs. Huishan Zhang, who has been resident in London for over 13 years, opened his London flagship in 2017. Domestic fashion conglomerates are already tapping independent designers similar to Zhang back home as a way of capturing more diverse audiences and increasing their appeal; little wonder then independent designers are often better placed to adapt quickly to market changes given their immersion in western environments.

Balancing location and community

Some Chinese brands are still failing to grasp the importance of store location and planning. For Zhang, who has skillfully combined his Chinese identity with London’s edginess, clever research has resulted in an opening on the city’s prestigious Mount Street — adjacent to well-aligned designers including Roland Mouret and Christopher Kane. He cites London as “home,” and as such, is the ideal physical base for a brand that has built up over 25 global stockists worldwide.

Store openings are an obvious way to announce a company’s arrival in a new market, yet some Chinese companies prefer to soft-launch. A number of recent store openings have gone under the radar, including Mo&Co.’s; failure to announce your store opening, especially in a fashion city, in particular London or Paris, is a lost opportunity. Zhang’s store opening during London Fashion Week made noise and since then, it has continued to cultivate a community: “One of the main focuses of opening [the flagship] was to work on building a community where we could get to know my customers and find the best way to interact.”

Shanghai based brand Icicle took seven years to finalize its leap overseas. With a global retail turnover in 2019 of €290 million, across 270 stores in China, the brand chose Paris as its location. “It’s the capital of fashion, it’s a window to the world, and we chose the golden triangle specifically as it is the pinnacle of this city,” says Isabelle Capron, International Vice President. The space, at 35 Avenue George V will be followed by a second store opening earmarked for the city this year. “There is a momentum in the market now that consumers want to be ecological, and this is why we took our chance. Paris is a challenging market, but it will help the brand to continue to improve. The needs are different here and this will result in a great fallout for the brand back home,” Capron continues.

Paris, on the other hand, was a mismatch for Mo&Co.’s initial opening, claims Mu Niu. “The brand is so successful in China, but you need to find the location that is related to you. London is more welcoming than the rest of Europe, which is generally more conservative. It’s more casual and willing to take a risk.” If Paris proved challenging for Mo&Co., a second opening in a volatile London likely impinged on the company’s strategy.

Some Chinese bands opt to open stateside; Boisedeng and lifestyle brand JNBY Group, founded by Li Lin, have both opened and shuttered stores there over the previous decade. Shanghai’s lifestyle brand Neiwai are hoping for more luck as they plan their expansion to San Francisco in 2020. Tom Griffiths, Commercial Director at digital marketing agency, Verb China, admits that to make this choice of location work they would need to find their audience in the US quickly. “The US is a big market and brands can waste a lot of money not narrowing in on a specific audience and reaching out to them. Neiwai has some interesting tech (a “Scan Me” tool) and could perhaps offer smaller sizes that are not widely offered in the US.” The US has been a popular choice among brands and San Francisco, in particular, seems a popular choice of location.

Meeting branding basics

Author of a recent White Paper, “China Brands Go Global,” Sabrina Lee, Managing Director at R3 China, explains that Chinese companies must adopt a market-driven, not sales-driven model to get a foothold in the West. “Being sales-driven, too many Chinese companies continue to underestimate the importance overseas consumers attach to branding. Instead, they take shortcuts designed to boost short-term sales, regardless of the impact these methods can have on long-term growth,” she suggests.

The level to which China’s domestic companies adapt their branding to integrate into the market varies suggests Griffiths. “Depending on the brand this could mean anything from a tweaked messaging or visual identity to a new name if the original is difficult to pronounce.” Indeed for many brands, naming is vital. Brands like Uooyaa could get flak for its name though consultant Mu sees it as a conversation starter and a way to engage community; Uooyaa often plays with the logo, in fact, incorporating the name into textiles and prints.

Icicle, for one, has cleverly eliminated the naming issue; as Capron outlines, the company’s brand identity is a fusion: “The feeling is completely international, but the roots are Chinese. You can’t tell it’s Chinese until you see the logo, it’s a ‘by the way.’ We fertilize this Chinese brand with French couture skills creating the capacity to build a luxury brand with brand imagination. Yes, we have Chinese roots, but the destination we share with the world is universal.”

Interior of Icicle’s flagship store on Avenue George V in Paris, France. Photo: Courtesy.

Indeed, sometimes even just getting the basics right can salvage a brand. Icicle, for one, is doing exactly that. As Griffiths states, “Chinese brands can simply follow the playbook that most Western brands have taken to raise their profile. Social media, influencers, advertising, events, etc. Though it’s not enough to simply run by-the-book marketing, it’s a start.”

Icicle’s flagship conveys the brand’s slow, luxurious fashion across 500 square meters, while the 4th floor is solely dedicated to showcasing culture and brand values. Moreover, with over 1,000 customers in their database since opening, and many repeat customers, they will present their next collection in-store during Paris Fashion Week.

Zhang, as the first independent Chinese designer to launch a solo-store in Europe, has taken consumer branding one step further: “Having a store has made life much easier for the brand as we are able to access our customers directly. The range has evolved with our client.”

As the year starts, we wait to see who will take the leap overseas. Uooyaa, for now, is taking it slow, talking to stockists in the US and UK. From her office in London’s Haggerston, Mu is clear: “The long term objectives for us [Uooyaa] include seeing how Europe is doing and observing London specifically. The market here suits the brand, but we’ve seen a lot of brands fail so we need to be careful. We want to be a Chinese brand who survives and does well overseas. Still, we know it’s a long, tough, journey.”

Oriental Retail Ventures’ next step is also taking brands out, which according to partner Cardona is, “a difficult, long-term proposition but it makes a lot of sense.” With a deal currently on the table from a brand in Shenzhen, Cardona feels the question now is: “how to do business out of China” — not when.

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Shiseido Opens Innovation Hub Outside Japan & More

In Headlines from China, we share the biggest news stories about the luxury industry in China that have yet to make it into the English language. In this week’s edition, we discuss:

  • Shiseido Opens Its First Innovation Hub Outside Japan
  • Kering Inks Plan to Return to China’s Biggest Trade Show
  • The tech provider for LV’s high-tech handbags considers a US IPO

Shiseido Opens Its First Innovation Hub Outside

Shiseido Group’s first Beauty Innovation Hub outside of its home country of Japan opened its doors last week at WeWork’s flagship space in Shanghai. By collaborating with WeWork Labs (the We Company’s global platform for startups), Shiseido hopes to become more “consumer and collaboration-centric.” The new multi-purpose space offers makeup tutorials, new product trials, and skin tests with the help of Augmented Reality technology and immersive interactive devices. It will also become the company’s office of Shiseido China Business Innovation & Investment — spearheaded by the newly appointed Carol Zhou, who previously worked in marketing for Burberry and Marriott International.

Kering inks deal this week to return to CIIE 2020. Photo: CIIE

Kering Inks Plan to Return to China’s Biggest Trade ShowCIIE

After having participated in the government-backed CIIE (China International Import Expo) for the first time last year, Kering recently signed an agreement to return to the country’s biggest trade fair, which will take place in November of 2020. Although the trade show is only in its third year, the five-day event has been deemed an important point of entry for foreign brands  — not only to show affection to Chinese consumers but also to win over the government. The London-based luxury brand Gènavant has started negotiating with Shanghai’s local government on a store-opening deal, thanks to the show’s exposure. Last year’s roster features over 250 corporations from the top 500 companies in the world, including LVMH and L’Oréal.

Louis Vuitton Royole

Royale debuted a collaboration with Louis Vuitton last May. Photo: Royale

The Tech Provider of LV’s High-Tech Handbags Considers a US IPOSecurities Times

Royole Corporation, the Shenzhen-based manufacturer of flexible displays and sensors, might be planning for an IPO in the US. Although it hasn’t been officially confirmed, insiders speculate that it’s a sensible step for the startup, which closed its E Series round at a valuation of $5 billion in 2018. Founded in 2012, Royale ventured from tech to fashion last May when it debuted a collaboration with Louis Vuitton’s Cruise Collection. In it, three iconic handbags from the luxury brand were paired with Royole’s flexible displays, which allow customers to show their custom images and videos as well as using the touchscreen interfaces.

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The 5 Best Chinese New Year Products from Luxury Brands

Although Western brands mostly had a down year in 2019, the Chinese market remained a solid source of growth. According to the 2019 McKinsey China Luxury Report, China is expected to deliver 65 percent of the world’s luxury spending by 2025. Despite some negative influence from an economic slowdown and a trade war, most luxury brands performed well in the Chinese market last year. As an example, BoF pointed out that LVMH saw “unheard of growth rates” in 2019.

Given the strong spending power of the Chinese market, Chinese New Year has traditionally been a great time to connect with local customers. But Chinese consumers have high expectations of cultural sensitivity from brands, and the sequence of brand missteps that happened last year cannot be duplicated. This year — the Year of the Rat according to the Chinese zodiac — many fashion houses have designed exclusive products to celebrate this important Chinese festival. Below, Jing Daily has selected five CNY 2020 products that stand out from the crowd:

GUCCI 2020 CNY Collection. Photo: courtesy of Gucci

Gucci x Disney

This year, Disney’s Mickey and Minnie are the hot IP that brands want to collaborate with, for obvious reasons. The Italian high-fashion brand Gucci was the first to win Disney’s admission ticket, giving Mickey a starring role in their Chinese New Year collection print that’s covering products ranging from ready-to-wear to suitcases. Its accessories line uses the same fabric — a Mini GG Supreme featuring a Mickey print and their classic brown and beige hues — and its ready-to-wear products utilize different colors and styles with vivid Mickey prints. Gucci also joined the new pop-up store craze and launched Gucci Mickey Pin popups in seven mainland cities, including Hong Kong and Macau, and their interactive Mickey Mirror indicates that Gucci is using digitization in an effort to better connect with young customers.


ETRO 2020 CNY Collection.

ETRO + SMFK x Tom & Jerry

This year, the niche brands ETRO and SMFK have grabbed the spotlight thanks to their IP collaboration with the classic cat-and-mouse cartoon Tom & Jerry. It’s worth noting that Tom & Jerry chose one Italian luxury brand and one Chinese streetwear brand to reinterpret these beloved cartoon characters — a recognition of the current demand for luxury and streetwear collabs from global consumers. And the combo makes for strong chemistry. The move also helped ETRO and SMFK gain a lot of exposure on Chinese social media while, for a large number of Millenials and Gen Zers, this IP brings back memories of childhood.


Burberry 2020 CNY Collection.

Burberry: the “bobo mouse”

This year, led by their chief creative officer, Riccardo Tisci, Burberry introduced a self-designed CNY ambassador named “bobo mouse” — and it quickly won the hearts of Chinese netizens everywhere. This tiny ambassador is a cool mouse who loves traveling and adventure while wearing a signature red hat and classic Burberry trench coat. Since December 23, when “bobo mouse” first appeared on the brand’s official Wechat account, she was recognized as Burberry’s newest virtual influencer alongside the brand’s human spokesperson in China, Chinese actress Dongyu Zhou. Burberry’s playful special products all have a cute “bobo mouse” embellishment, and its Chinese marketing team did an excellent job of talking to local customers about the items.


Chloe 2020 CNY Collection.

Chloe: Chinese ink painting

Chloe holds close to its classic style with its CNY special edition, and this year, the brand invited British artist and illustrator Julie Verhoeven to create their icon, with Chinese ink painting techniques. The brand’s colorful and lively prints embody the designer’s love of color and the famous Chloe girls’ natural charm.

Mansur Gavriel

Mansur Gavriel 2020 CNY Collection. Photo: courtesy of Mansur Gavriel

Mansur Gavriel: cut-paper art

This year, several niche brands did an amazing job of designing new CNY products. Mansur Gavriel, for example, used the traditional craft of Chinese cut paper for their limited-edition 2020 CNY mouse icon, and the results were breathtaking. To better speak to a Chinese audience, Mansur Gavriel invited the New York-based Chinese designer Cui Xu to design their hand-drawn and cut paper mouse.

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Burberry to Host Fall 2020 Show in Shanghai, China

Today, Burberry, the British luxury fashion giant, announced that it will be taking its Fall 2020 runway show to Shanghai on Thursday, April 23. Burberry, who have been homing in on China’s purchasing power over the last few seasons, is the latest luxury brand to take its runway show to China. In the past year, brands including Dior, Valentino, and Prada have all showed in the region.

Burberry’s Fall 2020 show will first be presented in London on Monday, February 17, during London Fashion Week before being packed up and taken to Shanghai later in the spring. Last season’s Burberry catwalk saw the brand seemingly setting up for big things to come in China by adopting an active Chinese social media strategy and leveraging the star power of its brand ambassadors — singer Kun Chen, actress Dongyu Zhou, and rapper Lucas Huang. As of today, however, we don’t know what celebrity faces will be featured at the Shanghai show, but we can assume they’ll be set to excite a delighted Shanghai crowd.

Also, as part of a dedicated program of activities the fashion house has planned in China this year, Burberry’s Fall 2020 runway show in Shanghai will also include new looks designed specifically for the Chinese market, which will be available to purchase exclusively in China in stores and online.

According to Riccardo Tisci, Burberry Chief Creative Officer, “My first years at Burberry were focused on establishing and defining my new identity for the house. Now we are ready to take this vision outside of London in new and exciting ways. Doing a show in China is a first for me. It’s a country that has always been so supportive of me and the moment will be a culmination of everything the teams and I have been working towards since I first started. It will be a celebration of our collections and our new attitude in one of the most innovative and inspiring cities in the world.”

Burberry currently has 61 stores in China and is set to open a social retail store in Shenzhen Bay as part of an exclusive partnership with Tencent during the first half of 2020. Previously, Burberry hosted a holographic show in 2011 for the opening of its Beijing flagship store and another catwalk in 2014 for the opening of the Shanghai Kerry Center. Nonetheless, this is the first time the brand has chosen to show a full collection in China and with new looks created entirely with Chinese consumers in mind.

According to the brand, driving engagement and inspiring luxury consumers in China is a key focus for Burberry in 2020. November 2019 saw Burberry report strong H1 results, despite continued unrest in Hong Kong shaking profits in the region. In mainland China, sales grew by a “mid-teen percentage” with the brand continuing to localize its China communications.

In line with this, Burberry began the year with a dedicated Lunar New Year campaign and limited-edition capsule supported by a new online game in honor of the Year of the Rat. Despite the brand’s last Lunar New Year campaign being branded as “creepy” and “insensitive” by Chinese netizens (and quickly removed from online) Burberry’s sleek Year of the Rat collection has so far appeared to strike the right note with Chinese consumers.

Marco Gobbetti, Burberry’s Chief Executive Officer, stated, “Over the next 12 months we will be focusing our communications on the highest visibility touchpoints to deepen the emotional connection we are building with luxury consumers. We want to continually inspire our customers. The show is the latest in a series of exciting events we have planned this year in China, one of our most important markets, as we set out on the next phase of our transformation.”

Given that the Shanghai show will be certainly a star-studded event, Burberry is hoping that that it will help increase its popularity amongst China’s savvy, young consumers. Back in 2017, for example, Victoria’s Secret‘s first show in Shanghai saw seats selling on Taobao for $13,700 dollars a cushion. In a city with that kind of spending power, Burberry’s move could prove very lucrative indeed.

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2020 Trends in Content and Commerce Integration in China

This post originally appeared on China Film Insider, our content partner. 

Before the new year, we reviewed some of the top trends in brand integration in China over the course of 2019, and now it’s time to look ahead to what we think will be key drivers influencing the merger between content and commerce in the coming year and beyond. Key trends include short video, e-commerce livestreaming, brand collaborations, and offline experiences show no sign of abating, though they are sure to undergo further transformations as China’s biggest tech companies compete and cooperate with upstart players and expand on their abilities to commercialize content.

1. 5G and interactive content

China’s technology giants are already leading the world in the integration of content and commerce, and this area is poised to take another leap forward with the widespread adoption of fifth-generation cellular networks. The rollout began on November 1, 2019, and China will soon have the world’s largest 5G network, with 110 million users forecast by the end of this year, representing seven percent of the population.

Dramatically higher-speed 5G mobile internet will enable the rapid development of interactive content, livestreaming, augmented reality and virtual reality, along with the seamless integration of e-commerce features. Brands and content producers will be required to innovate to make the most of the new opportunities to connect with consumers under 5G.

2. E-commerce entertainment

IQiyi’s latest hit reality series “Fourtry” (潮流合伙人) sees celebrities operating a trendy, streetwear-oriented boutique in Tokyo and represents the next wave of entertainment-fueled consumerism. It boasted the most major sponsors for an online reality show in 2019 with 11, and are they are featured prominently: The cast uses title sponsor Vivo’s X30 phones to snap the photos they share with their huge social media followings, their modern urban dwelling is furnished entirely by Ikea, and a boxy Mazda truck hauls them around and becomes the butt of many friendly jokes. Dozens of fashion brands are highlighted through their placement in the store, with special text effects added to note the names of products, which may be purchased via sponsor Aomygod’s app.

While several reality shows with an e-commerce angle have aired over the past few years, they will appear far more regularly this year, especially on video streaming platforms. At least 15 such shows have been announced to date, including Tencent Video’s streetwear-oriented “Generational Gravity”(我们的浪潮) and “Secret Garden” (女人的秘密花园), a competition for rural livestreaming hosts on Jiangxi Satellite TV.

The spread of 5G will encourage the inclusion of additional interactive elements on e-commerce shows. With “Fourtry,” iQiyi has already begun experimenting by using features such as branching plots, AR and VR capabilities, and “see now, buy now” technology, as well as offline experiences such as pop-up shops in Shanghai and the creation of limited-edition designer collaborations tied to the show.

3. Branded shows

Brands may also seek out a leading role by developing entertainment content that revolves around core products. The trend has started to gain ground over the past year with efforts such as the Airbnb-sponsored “Adventure Life,” real estate app Beike’s “New Life” (你好新家) and Didi Chuxing’s “Let’s Go, Driver!” (出发吧, 师傅). Each of these series highlights how brands work with different production processes to integrate their content into the core of a series. In Airbnb’s case, the brand worked closely with Tencent Video embed itself into the existing IP “Adventure Life” for its second season, while Beike worked with a production company that had developed the concept of a house-hunting show with celebrity participation and shopped it around to various real-estate companies. Didi has taken another route, establishing its own media company to become actively involved in the production process from start to finish.

Major tech companies may also use content to promote their own offerings, as was the case with “The Truth! Everything” ( 真相吧!花花万物) which airs on Youku. Alibaba, the streaming service’s parent, used the second season of the show to promote Idle Fish, the secondhand goods platform that it also owns.

4. Celebrity incubation

In addition to creating shows and other content to promote their offerings across the internet ecosystem, streaming platforms are becoming more actively involved in the incubation of idols and celebrities who can appeal to brands as spokespersons and ambassadors, establishing their own talent agencies to manage their business.

Actors and other celebrities with links to particular tech companies will not only star in their original series, where they can be seen to promote brands they are linked with offline as well, but may also engage in the creation of short videos, vlogs, livestreams, and exclusive interviews that can appeal to fans and provide a vastly expanded presence for brands.

Major players such as Tencent and iQiyi are also investing heavily in the creation of virtual idols, which are still largely seen as a niche concept that appeals primarily to the anime-comics-games community, but with clear potential for expansion.

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Have Luxury Brands Learned Their Lessons About CNY Campaigns?

  • International luxury brands have a history of offending Chinese consumers with their campaigns during this holiday.
  • It’s important to gain favor with CNY internet marketing in China, and a negative response could deal a severe blow to business.
  • What did these five major brands do right — and wrong — in their 2020 campaigns?

’Tis the season for luxury brands to court Chinese customers — on tiptoes. As China’s Lunar New Year approaches (beginning this year on January 25), luxury brands are releasing dedicated campaigns that pay tribute to one of their biggest markets’ most important holidays. But after a series of missteps in their 2019 CNY campaigns, which received comments ranging from “horror movie” to “misrepresentation of Chinese culture,” brands are becoming increasingly cautious.

It’s admittedly hard to please such a judgy crowd every year, and for this holiday, it’s a real task trying to originate content that isn’t zodiac signs, the color red, or loaded cultural symbols like lanterns and chopsticks (maybe we should forget about chopsticks altogether.) In fact, there’s rarely a winner in this game, and brands constantly find themselves losing ambassadors or having to issue apologies when things go wrong. That’s because the campaigns for China’s most important festival aren’t just for prospective customers — they’re also for China’s throngs of plugged-in netizens.

But, as we enter a new decade, is it possible that these brands have learned their lessons? Jing Daily looks at five of this year’s major Chinese New Year campaigns to see if any of them stand out.


Gucci has multiple ambassadors and friends of the brand in Greater China, and thankfully, it uses the gorgeous actress Ni Ni as the face of its one-minute CNY video. In it, she hangs out with models like Earl Cave and Zoë Bleu Arquette in Disneyland, while snapping pictures with other visitors, going on a roller coaster, and genuinely having a great time in various Gucci outfits. It was directed by edgy American director Harmony Korine, whose lurid taste in cinematography serves as the perfect balance for a wholesome holiday hangout. The only sad part is that Gucci isn’t the only brand that decided to feature the world’s most famous mouse for the lunar year: H&M features Minnie in its 2020 CNY campaign, too.


After having its 2019 campaign called “creepy,” Burberry decided to ditch the family idea and return to what it should focus on — their apparel. The 20-second video stars the brand’s 27-year-old Chinese ambassador, Zhou Dongyu, alongside Chinese models He Cong and Liang Jiyuan. The spot has a tight rhythm of thumpy beats that resemble footsteps, making viewers feel like they are watching a catwalk show. Aside from an obvious red theme for CNY, the holiday is also referenced with a subtle “mouse” element that’s been enmeshed into Burberry’s new interlocking “TB” print, which is honestly more memorable than a famous cartoon mouse.

Christian Dior

Dior’s campaign brings a breath of fresh air to viewers when red has become a default choice for this holiday. The brand’s Chinese ambassador, actress Sophie Zhang, and its fragrance ambassador, singer and actress Yang Caiyu, demonstrate Dior’s limited CNY capsule collection, which features embroidered phoenix patterns and red flower petals on a white backdrop. A lot of Chinese consumers may not immediately recognize the two ambassadors, but they bring the “poetic and picturesque” vibe that Dior’s famous for. It doesn’t hurt that they also resemble the typical Dior handbag buyer in China: wealthy girls in their 20s and early 30s.


Despite going to the lengths of using a Chinese-American director for their 2019 CNY video, Prada suffered the criticism Burberry did with Netizens saying the campaign looked like a scary movie. This year, Prada gave its campaign a human-centered angle by following Chinese model Chun Jing’s journey to return to her familial home. As many residents from big cities go home for the holiday, ‘Chunyun’ (Spring Festival travel season, “春运”) has been deemed as the world’s largest human migration, and it’s been estimated that over three billion trips will be made this year. The video is a snapshot of a modern Chinese Lunar New Year ritual that cleverly embeds holiday gifting ideas. It looks as if Prada has finally learned the importance of proper cultural marketing.


Actresses Lily Collins and Amanda Seyfried, both wearing red pantsuits, step onto a boat that transports them from Paris to Shanghai. Once there, they run through a bustling market to release a sky lantern bearing a mouse print that flies to a rooftop by the Bund and catches the eye of Chinese-Canadian actor and singer Kris Wu (吴亦凡). By hitting on five major CNY marketing elements — the color red, mice, lanterns, a hot Chinese celebrity, and Western A-listers — the video looks more like a numbers-based checklist than truly creative content. But Kris Wu’s massive fanbase, which has championed the campaign video and related posters on the walls of subways and airports by dutifully churning out the Weibo hashtag #KriswurepresentsLancôme (#吴亦凡代言兰蔻), don’t seem to mind at all.

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