February 2021 Social-Savvy Brands: How YSL Skipped CNY

Plus: Why Lanvin is still in trouble, Longchamp's "Emotionally Unavailable" collab, and Women’s Day results.

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Social Commerce – selling through social media – is becoming the norm in China. Simply advertising through Tmall is not enough to attract young Chinese consumers.  

Every month, Dao Insights selects the brand that has used Chinese social media in an exemplary way to gain attention. This month, we turn to YSL.  

Month: February 2021  

Brand: YSL 

Campaign: Valentine’s Day 

Social Platforms: WeChat, Douyin, Weibo, Xiaohongshu  

About the Campaign   

February’s title of “social-savvy brand” goes to YSL! The luxury brand stood out from the crowd like a sore thumb thanks to taking a calculated risk that paid off.  

In 2021, the Lunar New Year (aka “Chinese New Year” or CNY for short) fell on 12 February. That, as we all know, was dangerously close to Valentine’s Day. Banking on scoring big on both occasions wasn’t a wise move, hence why most brands chose the “logical” option: Let’s put all our money on Lunar New Year. It is, after all, the most important date in the Chinese calendar. But YSL saw this coming and made the decision to give that holiday a miss! Now, hazard a guess at who dominated the advertising space during the festival of love? 

YSL, of course! Their Valentine’s Day heart-shaped, limited edition gift boxes filled with their latest lipsticks and perfumes were everywhere. And it gets better: Because all their products and promotional assets were red (for love), they doubled up neatly as Lunar New Year gifts, seeing as red is the lucky colour during this festival. Their catchphrase, “for the twenty-first Valentine’s Day in the 21st century, surely you want to give a special and unforgettable gift to surprise her?” targeted male consumers who want to show their love to their (potential) girlfriends. Consumers could also personalise the products that were put in the gift boxes.  

How the Campaign Topped Chinese Social Media  

YSL successfully increased their Valentine’s Day’s campaign exposure by using paid advertising on Weibo and Xiaohongshu, along with promotions on WeChat and Douyin, covering the four most important Chinese social media platforms. 

Weibo: YSL used paid advertising to show its campaign on Weibo. The hashtag #YSL Valentine’s Day gift hit 53.87 million views while their other unique Valentine’s day hashtag, #Red Valentine’s Day, hit 320 million views. When users checked this hashtag, they landed on a page filled with YSL’s advertising. YSL linked its Valentine’s Day gift boxes to its Tmall store so that when users viewed the campaign’s pictures on YSL’s Weibo, they could click the shopping link below the pictures. 

Xiaohongshu: YSL also used paid advertising on Xiaohongshu. When users searched for #YSL Valentine’s Day gift on this platform, they could see its advertising and posts from makeup influencers pop up. Although users can’t buy the products on the platform, the brand successfully managed to increase the campaign’s awareness.  

Douyin: YSL changed its Douyin profile’s cover image to “Happy Valentine’s Day” and also posted their Valentine’s Day campaign’s promotional videos on Douyin. The brand worked with many famous Douyin KOLs (influencers) who have boyfriends or girlfriends, using a storytelling approach to attract potential consumers. The gift boxes were linked to the Taobao store on YSL’s Douyin profile. 

WeChat: YSL started promoting its Valentine’s day campaign via WeChat on January 17, cleverly capturing Chinese New Year shoppers in their net. Two promotional articles surpassed 100,000 reads. WeChat users could then buy the gift boxes via YSL’s WeChat mini-program store. 

Swimming Against the Current Can Pay Off

Investing a large amount of money into Valentine’s Day campaign instead of a Lunar New Year campaign was a wise and lucrative decision for YSL. Their promotions via paid advertising and influencer endorsements on China’s four key social media channels expanded the campaign’s reach and resulted in wide-scale awareness. Thanks to socially savvy e-commerce integrations, consumers were able to get hold of the products within a couple of clicks. 

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Mentioned in today’s newsletter: Bilibili, Burberry, Diantao, Douyin, Emotionally Unavailable, Fosun Fashion Group, Gucci, JD.com, Kuaishou, Lanvin, Loewe, Longchamp, Pinduoduo, Pokémon, St. John, Tmall, Weibo, Wolford, Xiaohongshu, YSL.


Without a Clear Content-Commerce Strategy, Lanvin Is in Trouble

by Avery Booker

The 132-year-old French luxury brand Lanvin has seen its profile decline steadily since the departure of longtime creative director Alber Elbaz in 2015. Over the past six years, the brand has been busily working to drum up consumer enthusiasm, with former owner Shaw-Lan Wang bringing on designer Bouchra Jarrar (who left after two seasons), who was followed by Olivier Lapidus (who also lasted just two seasons).

In 2018, Lanvin was acquired by China’s Fosun Fashion Group, owner of a portfolio of brands that includes Wolford and St. John, and former Loewe menswear designer Bruno Sialelli was installed as creative director the following year.

Sialelli seems to have stuck in his role, with the designer recently showing off his fifth collection for Lanvin. But regardless of the attention from Lanvin’s Chinese ownership and its willingness to pour money into a turnaround, sales have seen a sharp drop compared to the brand’s heyday less than a decade ago. According to Vogue Business, even before the coronavirus hit, Lanvin sales were just €41 million ($48.7 million) in 2019, down from €143 million ($169.9 million) in 2015 and nearly €200 million in 2012 ($237.7 million) under Elbaz.

Although Fosun looks to be playing the long game with Lanvin and remains — at least outwardly — happy to keep pumping cash into revitalizing the brand, there are few signs that the brand’s slow decline will be reversed anytime soon. Like the rest of the luxury industry, Lanvin had a difficult year in 2020, worsened by its heavy dependence on wholesale. With only 27 physical stores worldwide, the brand relied on wholesale for more than 80% of its business in 2019, putting it in a more challenging position compared to many of its peers. 

Whether due to Fosun’s influence or out of necessity, Lanvin has increasingly turned to China to buoy revenue. Lanvin joined Tmall’s Luxury Pavilion in August 2020 and the company now claims that upwards of 50% of its retail sales now come from China. And although there has been speculation about the hiring of Shanghai-based Chinese designer Calvin Luo to scale up its China-facing efforts, Lanvin’s interim CEO Joann Cheng told Vogue that Luo only works on projects “as a consultant under the guidance of Sialelli.”

Ironically for a Chinese-owned brand, Lanvin finds itself lacking a clear content-commerce strategy for the Chinese market. Lanvin has tried to paper over some of weaknesses in this area by throwing money at events, celebrities, and influencers, which is looking like a rather outdated approach as more brands turn more initiatives that engage consumer more directly with a clear path to purchase, such as e-commerce livestreaming, collaborations, and brand-funded content.

For its Spring/Summer 2021 show last year, Lanvin held a lavish in-person event in Shanghai that included nearly 2,000 guests with dozens of A-list celebrities and influencers among them, and spent on marketing on Douyin and Xiaohongshu. But despite attracting audiences to tune in, the event lacked a clear sales call-to-action.  

Both in China and globally, Lanvin still suffers from the lack of a compelling narrative to support its recent collections and brand direction as a whole. Though it has the quality, craftsmanship, and heritage needed to make it a leading luxury brand, it has yet to figure out how to delight consumers and keep them entertained. As licensing expert (and CCI columnist) Steven Ekstract recently said, “Brands that are fun and that entertain create greater emotional connections with consumers, who will buy more of those brands’ products as a result. Brands need to stand for something.”

If it is to evolve its marketing efforts in 2021 and beyond, Lanvin will need to stand for something, and figure out how to take a page from peers like Gucci and Burberry and to give prospective consumers more than just flashy events and traditional ad campaigns.

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Brand Collab Pick: Longchamp x Emotionally Unavailable

In keeping with the trend of international luxury brands collaborating with cutting-edge partners connected to the Chinese fashion scene, France’s Longchamp recently announced a collection with the label Emotionally Unavailable (EU), which was founded by singer-turned-streetwear entrepreneur Edison Chen and designer Kybum Lee. 

Taking its inspiration from the sport of boxing, the unisex collection of classic Pliage handbags and streetwear plays on the Longchamp brand name with the slogan “Been a champ a long time” splashed across the products, along with the logos of both brands. Referencing the sport more directly, it also includes pajama-like silky robe tops and shorts. The boxing ring features prominently in a short brand film and images promoting the collection, sharing a co-branded narrative of emotional battlegrounds.

“This joint series is about heartbreak, deep love, and inner strength.” said Chen. “We are always struggling with various relationships and feelings.” 

Fortuitous encounters reportedly led to the collaboration. Longchamp’s longtime artistic director Sophie Delafontaine discovered EU while shopping during a trip to Shanghai, and she later met Edison Chen by chance in Japan, where they hit it off. 

While Longchamp is best known for its classic tote bags, in recent years it has aimed for a transformation into a lifestyle brand, launching ready-to-wear in 2019 and releasing collabs with the likes of Jeremy Scott and Pokémon. Its latest collection extends further into this realm with comfortable pieces made for lounging, or sparring. 

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News From China

Women’s Day shopping festivals proliferate. This year’s March 8 International Women’s Day saw multiple platforms contending for the attention of female consumers, whose spending was worth an estimated RMB 10 trillion ($1.55 trillion) in 2020.

  • While Alibaba can claim to have initiated the rebrand of the socialist holiday into the current shopping-oriented “Queen’s Day” or “Goddess Day” in China, this year rivals JD.com, Pinduoduo, Douyin, and Kuaishou all launched multi-day e-commerce promotions encouraging women to treat themselves (and others in their lives to buy them presents). 

  • Livestreaming played a central role in this year’s sales, with Douyin reporting that its inaugural “Queen’s Day Festival” from February 27 to March 8 saw turnover worth RMB 13.6 billion ($2.1 billion), a boost to the platform’s e-commerce ambitions. Douyin relied heavily on celebrity-led e-commerce livestreams, and female hosts accounted for nearly two-thirds of all sales. 

  • To keep up with the competition, Alibaba’s platforms were forced to innovate harder, with its top livestreamer Viya giving out virtual red envelopes (aka hongbao) in a “hongbao rain” campaign that encouraged users to “grab” virtual envelopes with varying amounts of cash by downloading Diantao, Taobao’s new video-first e-commerce discovery app, and following Viya as “favorite fans,” winning both users for the emerging platform and followers for the popular anchor in the process. It was part of a broader Women’s Day effort to draw traffic to Diantao, which appears to have paid off. Viya’s kickoff broadcast on February 24 alone had a peak viewership of 74.5 million, while Diantao recorded 1.48 billion impressions between March 4 and March 8. 

  • “Lipstick king” livestreamer Li Jiaqi appeared alongside Tmall virtual idol Miao Jiang, sharing a screen with the “cross-dimensional” celebrity for a special March 8 evening broadcast designed to appeal to young ACG (Anime, Comic and Games) enthusiasts (aka the Bilibili generation) with a focus on fashion that highlighted Miao Jiang’s ability to “change” outfits in an instant. 

The promotional campaign for the event featured more than 50 female characters, from the traditional toy sector (Barbie and Hello Kitty) to stars of the virtual worlds (OG idol Hatsune Miku and characters from the game Onmyoji), plus involvement from top fashion influencers who shared their interpretations of the looks that were to be promoted on the broadcast.

The effort reportedly generated a huge amount of hype: the Weibo hashtag for the event reached 660 million views and drew more than 560,000 comments, and more than 31.3 million tuned in to watch the show on March 8. 

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News in English

  • Marketing to Chinese women: Dos and dont’s from Bessie Lee, a tech investor and former CEO of WPP China and of GroupM China. Dao Insights

  • The “super alpha” style is emerging as a top fashion trend for women, incorporating elements of menswear, athleisure, and streetwear, often in monochromatic ensembles. Radii

  • Authentication services and technology are keys to building consumer trust in resale in China. Vogue Business

  • How China’s all-inclusive, walled-garden style social platforms are inspiring efforts in the West. Forbes

  • Luxury malls have become the place to be for electric-car makers, with every shopping center in Shanghai now boasting at lease one showroom and many more on the way. Bloomberg

  • EV manufacturers are also turning to livestreaming to boost sales: GM’s Chinese venture sold discounted vehicles via Kuaishou during a broadcast that also included handbags from Chanel, Gucci, and other luxury brands. KrAsia

  • The first part of an inside look at what it’s like to work at Pinduoduo, where the “996” culture has come under scrutiny. Chinarrative

We’ve Got China Covered