Genki Forest Makes an “Irresistible” Branded TV Play 

Plus: Sotheby's Hip-Hop auction, aligning content & commerce, and the China implications of LVMH and Tiffany's breakup.

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The bottled drinks brand Genki Forest (元气森林, aka Yuanqi Senlin) is one of the fastest-growing unicorns in China’s consumer market. Launched just four years ago, Genki Forest completed a round of funding in July that saw its valuation reach $2 billion, more than tripling its worth in the nine months since its last financing. 

Genki Forest offers sparkling waters, teas, and milk-based drinks and has resisted pigeonholing into a particular category, instead moving quickly to capitalize on the latest market trends and position itself as an “internet famous” (wanghong) brand. Its  “0 sugar, 0 fat, 0 calorie” flavored beverages have been especially popular among younger consumers, and Genki Forest became the top-selling drinks brand on Tmall during its June 618 shopping festival, outselling global brand powerhouses Coca-Cola and Pepsi

  • The brand has fueled its rise by employing the full range of popular marketing strategies, including celebrity ambassadors, brand collaborations, and sponsoring hit shows. Most prominently, it has taken on the title sponsor of Hunan Satellite TV’s celebrity game show “The Irresistible” (元气满满的哥哥), which pits two generations of stars against each other, a “big brother team” (average age: 49) and a “little brother team” (averaging 26 years old), highlighting their conflicts and commonalities. A recent report from Ent Data ranked “The Irresistible” second among unscripted shows on satellite TV based on factors such as viewership, media coverage, and fan engagement on social media.

  • The Chinese name of the show translates as “brothers full of vitality,” a direct reference to Genki Forest’s Chinese name, which means “vitality forest.” The focus of the show on physical challenges aligns with Genki Forest’s emphasis on health, and allows for deep integration of the brand’s products on the series, from signage and products on set to branded uniforms worn by the cast members, along with their frequent consumption of Genki Forest beverages —  implying the products’ benefits to older cast members.  One of its stars, actor Wang Hedi, was named brand ambassador for Genki Forest just before the series premiere, and working with him offers additional opportunities for promotion tied to the series on social media and beyond. 

  • As a brand mainly popular on the internet, Genki Forest takes the classic approach to sponsoring a television show that can help the brand reach an even broader audience, and it is also the title sponsor for Hunan Satellite TV’s new lifestyle show “Youth on Record” (青春在大地) starring acclaimed host He Jiong, which premiered on August 30, which takes celebrities to rural villages to meet with locals and learn about poverty alleviation measures.

  • In recent collaborations, Genki Forest has partnered with weight loss app Boohee Health on a line of zero-calorie afternoon tea drinks with a gift box shaped like a vending machine and limited-edition cups and vouchers for products from both brands. Ahead of the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival, Genki Forest worked with pastry brand Xiang He Bo Bo Pu on a mooncake gift box that includes a retro-style camera, branded cutlery, and a cute cartoon character that is also featured in an emoji sticker pack released by Genki Forest for the holiday. 

- by Ginger Ooi

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Mentioned in today’s newsletter: Baume & Mercier, Boohee Health, Cartier, Casper, Coca-Cola, Everlane, Fresh, Fila, Genki Forest, Giorgio Armani, Hunan Satellite TV, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Jo Malone, Kilian, LVMH, Montblanc, Nike, Oppo, Peloton, Pepsi, Rimowa, Sephora, Sotheby’s, Tiffany & Co., Tmall, Uniqlo.



Sotheby's Hip-Hop Auction Puts a Pop Culture Spin on Curated D2C

While it has become commonplace for brands — from the established players such as Nike and Uniqlo to web-first firms such as Everlane and Casper — to seek to cut out the middleman by adopting a direct-to-consumer (D2C, aka DTC) strategy, the art world has just started testing out this approach. Initially used by smaller, online art galleries as means to draw new collectors, D2C strategies are now being adapted by major cultural institutions amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen an ever-increasing number of entities accelerate their digital efforts.

Sotheby’s has been one of the art world’s most active adopters of D2C. In June, the auction house took a page from China’s e-commerce livestreaming playbook and with its expansive five-hour livestreamed auction, which included 74 lots and brought in a total of $363.2 million — proving that its clients are willing to spend big online. 

Continuing the inroads Sotheby’s has made with new classes of collectors, Sotheby’s will hold its inaugural hip-hop auction on September 15, featuring more than 120 lots comprising artworks, fashion pieces, and photos documenting the birth and cultural impact of the hip-hop movement. Following the successful sneaker sales that the London-based auction house held in 2019 and 2020, this week’s event marks its expanding presence in the pop and street culture space, two areas that have seen huge growth in the Greater China market over the past decade.

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Aligning Content & Commerce Strategies: How China Paves the Way, Part I

If there is one thing that this Covid-hit year has proven, it is that companies can no longer silo their approaches to online and offline content and commerce. With millions around the world kept indoors due to extended quarantines and greater adoption of social distancing and working from home, businesses now realize that e-commerce strategies in particular need to be tied to compelling content that entertains as well as converts. 

It is this type of content-commerce approach that has been lucrative for brands such as Peloton in the United States. Peloton’s fusion of content — in its case, streaming spin classes with competitive and entertaining elements — with commerce (selling bikes, treadmills, class subscriptions, apparel, and more) was instrumental in its 66% revenue growth in the second quarter of 2020 year-on-year and 30% user growth quarter-over-quarter. 

However, the content-commerce approach is nothing particularly new for a company that, from day one, has merged hardware with cloud-based content. For brands built on a brick-and-mortar foundation, 2020 has accelerated their focus on e-commerce and driving consumers to convert online rather than in-store. Case in point: Sephora, which had no choice but to shut thousands of its retail stores during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year. Although Sephora has had a very active and effective e-commerce infrastructure in place for years, the company had to move quickly to merge its content with commerce, and it did this by promoting entertaining content such as quizzes that led consumers along a clear path to purchase. 

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What Are the China Implications of an LVMH and Tiffany Breakup?

Last week, the news of LVMH scrapping its deal to acquire the American jeweler Tiffany & Co. sent shockwaves through the luxury market (and Tiffany’s lawyers scrambling). On Wednesday, the American jeweler announced that it would sue LVMH to enforce the terms of the merger agreement. “We regret having to take this action but LVMH has left us no choice but to commence litigation to protect our company and our shareholders,” said Tiffany Chairman Roger N. Farah. Added Farah, “Tiffany is confident it has complied with all of its obligations under the Merger Agreement and is committed to completing the transaction on the terms agreed to last year. Tiffany expects the same of LVMH.”

At the moment, the central rationale for LVMH to scrap the deal is ever-changing — whether it ultimately comes down to the involvement of the French government and Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on French goods, the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global luxury market, or as LVMH is claiming in a new countersuit, mismanagement of Tiffany & Co. during the coronavirus pandemic.

Whatever ultimately happens with the developing LVMH and Tiffany story — and there are multiple scenarios — it is clear that a breakup will have implications in the China market. For LVMH, it is crucial to focus on maintaining the momentum it built in China during the second quarter of the year, when the country was a rare bright spot in a hard-hit global luxury market. 

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Brand Film Pick: Montblanc’s Movers and Shakers

Chinese actor Chen Kun takes his place alongside American director Spike Lee and British actor Taron Egerton in a new brand film campaign from Montblanc. The series, titled “What Moves You, Makes You” shares its stars’ stories of inspiration and career challenges through both interview-style videos and more dramatized films, and marks the trio’s appointment as global brand ambassadors for the German maker of pens, watches, and leather goods.

In Chen’s Q&A video, he discusses his evolution as an actor and his work co-founding the Dome Studio, an acting school in Beijing, while the fictionalized clip depicts him penning a letter of encouragement to one of his young students nervous about taking to the stage. There are no direct references to the Montblanc brand, and its products are subtly placed onscreen (Chen’s watch during the interview, and the pen he uses to write). 

Chen has long been a favorite among international luxury and fashion brands, representing Giorgio Armani, Baume & Mercier, Fresh, and Fila over the years, with an older and more established persona than the young idols who predominate the ranks of celebrity ambassadors.

The Montblanc series highlights a growing trend among premium brands to expand their representation in global campaigns by selecting diverse celebrities that can speak to target audiences around the world, producing series of films that feature each (see examples from Rimowa and Oppo). 

But brands must also take care to properly develop content in global terms, as highlighted by the recent controversy involving Jo Malone. The British scent and candle firm was forced to apologize and retract a film it made for the China market that essentially reshot a video that Black actor John Boyega made for the brand reflecting on his British-Nigerian cultural heritage.

Jo Malone cast the popular young actor Liu Haoran for its more upscale (and more heavily branded) Chinese remake — which also lacked the cultural resonance of Boyega’s film — but neither star was informed of the other’s film. Boyega has since stepped down as global ambassador for Jo Malone, while it remains to be seen what will happen with Liu, who was just announced as the brand’s first celebrity representative for China. 

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News From China

E-commerce livestreaming has been one of the biggest trends to take off this year, and the field is becoming increasingly professionalized with more entrants and official recognition, but it’s not all smooth sailing, and even the biggest names in the business can find themselves surrounded by controversy. 

  • Top e-commerce livestreamers are hugely influential and can help brands sell out the products they endorse, but they must also take care to guard against unauthorized use of their names and images. “Lipstick King” Li Jiaqi recently won suits against two companies that sought to capitalize on his popularity without consent. Two Hangzhou-based firms, Jiaqi Film and Television Culture Development and Meiwan E-Commerce, put the livestreamer’s name on a line of self-heating hot pots, branding the products as “Li Jiaqi’s choice,” with his face on the packaging. A court recently ordered them to halt production and awarded Li a total of RMB 160,000 ($23,000) in damages.

  • Leading Kuaishou livestreamer Xinba recently engaged in a public dispute with Chinese tech giant Huawei in which he told his fans to return their purchases during a broadcast on August 30. Xinba had been selling a new model of Huawei phones with a personal subsidy of RMB 300 ($44) and asked the company to offer a free headset worth RMB 30 ($4.41) to each buyer. Huawei rejected the request, leading Xinba to push for the returns, and canceling the subsidy offer for those who kept their phones. Xinba also stated that he “would not work together with the company anymore.” Fans have been caught in the dispute, with some supporting the livestream host and others finding his position unreasonable. Xinba later released an official statement and apologized to Huawei. 

Following the success of April’s virtual Watches & Wonders Geneva, which came to China in an expanded version with livestreaming, celebrity campaigns, and luxury watch executives added to the mix, organizers returned to China with Watches & Wonders Shanghai, an exclusive offline event that ran from September 9 to 13, along with an online event in partnership with Tmall Luxury Pavilion to kick off the month-long celebration of its third anniversary.

  • The latest edition of the digital hard luxury exhibition featured shoppable showcases throughout Tmall and on the official flagship stores of participating brands, including Net-a-Porter (a subsidiary of Richemont, which is also a major partner of Watches & Wonders), with curated content and immersive experiences promoting new timepieces from brands such as Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre

The stars of “Sisters Who Make Waves” (乘风破浪的姐姐) are making out on the global brand endorsement front following the idol group series finale, which saw the top seven finalists become the next big super-group, “Priceless Sisters.”

  • Actress Ning Jing, who came out on top of the competition, has been named the first brand ambassador for Kilian, the French “eco-luxe” perfume label founded by Kilian Hennessy, grandson of the LVMH group’s founder.

  • Automaker Audi launched a brand film campaign right before the finale, highlighting the life stories and personalities of contestants Lisi Danni, Wang Feifei, and Lan Yingying with the theme “Her beauty need not be defined,” a nod to the show’s portrayal of women over 30 as strong, capable, and confident. 

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News in English

  • Oracle has apparently beat out the combined power of Microsoft and Walmart to make a deal with Bytedance on TikTok, but the proposed “partnership” is no sale and may accomplish little in the long run. The Verge

  • The long-awaited Chinese theatrical release of Disney’s live-action “Mulan” was a relative flop, bringing in $23 million over its opening weekend (less than a third of what domestic war epic “The Eight Hundred” made) and drawing mediocre-to-poor reviews. New York Times

  • Alibaba’s Tmall has some big Singles’ Day goals for foreign brands, including adding 2,600 overseas brands to its roster (for a total of 22,000) and helping 2,000 of them break the RMB 1 million ($146,000) mark in sales. China.org

  • How C-beauty brand Thanmelin marketed its way to success, using a WeChat direct sales strategy, Douyin campaigns, and the title sponsorship of hit reality series “Sisters Who Make Waves.” Azoya

  • Black American designer Byron Lars made a comeback in China through e-commerce and partnership with a Shenzhen apparel factory. New York Times

  • About 30% of Chinese wine sales now come from online channels, a trend being driven by millenial consumers. Vino Joy

  • “Different gender, different snack”? Chinese packaged food brand Bao Cai Wei found itself under fire for sexist marketing. Sixth Tone

  • WeChat is addressing a weak spot by expanding search on the platform to cover the platform’s entire ecosystem along with partner sites such as Tencent Video and Kuaishou. KrAsia

We’ve Got China Covered

Thank you for reading. We’ll see you again this Thursday!