Young Chinese consumers are redefining luxury. They are hungry for a fresh perspective, creative twists and culturally nuanced interpretations of centuries-old Western ideals. In the past several years luxury brands have made headlines for unconventional collaborations that would raise eyebrows in Europe, but in China, have been widely embraced.
An increasingly competitive market, especially for global luxury, China is forcing brands to re-think how they connect with consumers, how products can be localized and how to create unique, sharable experiences. A successful collaboration can be a game changer for brands, generating massive awareness over a short period of time. However, it can also backfire.
So how can brands ensure that their collaborations breakthrough one of the noisiest markets and end up benefiting their bottom line? Below we outline 5 key approaches to successful collaborations.
1. LOCALIZING STORY AND PRODUCT
Today localization in China goes beyond translating campaigns and creating local assets. It requires brands to appreciate and understand the nuances of Chinese culture. A growing ‘China pride’ sentiment among Chinese millennials is not to be underestimated. It can be leveraged in collaborations with rising domestic brands, or designers, to showcase a brand’s commitment to the China market and generate local stories and awareness.
Everlane x Seesaw
Seesaw is China’s pioneer in specialty coffee and popular with young coffee drinkers in China’s 1st and 2nd Tier cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen.The company is committed to sustainability, working directly with farmers and developing world class baristas through a robust education program.
Everlane, the American DTC brand focused on ethical and transparent fashion, launched in China in 2019. To celebrate its first anniversary in China the brand collaborated with Seesaw Coffee to create limited edition boxes made from recycled materials. These little kits encouraged people to reuse utensils as well as highlighted the amount of waste generated from take-away and delivery lunches. Throughout Seesaw locations coffee drinkers could receive one of these kits, as well as Everlane products.
On one of China’s top social media platforms, Weibo, viewership topped 12 million, with engagement over 15,000. In recognition of the impact of the campaign, Everlane was awarded Special Contribution Brand by the SEE Foundation, an NGO organization focused on environmental protection.
Marni x Miao Ethnic Group
In 2019, Marni introduced a collaboration called “Marni Miao.” The collaboration focused on embroidery, as the Miao ethnic group is well known for its knowledge of exquisite craftsmanship (embroidery, lace, weaving, etc). During the entire project more than 400 craftsmen were involved, completing each embroidery by hand. The pieces were completed in China and then returned to Italy to be assembled on ready-to-wear garments.
The significance behind the “Marni Miao” collaboration is rooted in tradition and craftsmanship. The culture and ancient skills from the Chinese Miao nationality are blended with Marni’s Italian heritage. The result? Two models of craftsmanship that have been passed down for centuries are intertwined in a one-of-a-kind collection. Marni used Chinese supermodel Liu Wen to model the series and released a series of content about the collaboration across their social media channels.
Angel Chen x Canada Goose
In order to drive cultural relevance and deepen affinity with women, Canada Goose collaborated with up-and-coming Chinese fashion designer Angel Chen. Angel is known for her creative approach to fashion through fusing Eastern and Wester aesthetics. Her colorful and edgy designs are in retailers worldwide, and she was the first Chinese designer to collaborate with brands such as Urban Outfitters and H&M.
The capsule collection was launched via a private virtual event, live-streamed on Canada Goose’s official WeChat channel from the brand’s new flagship location at Shanghai IAPM mall. Angel Chen, together with host, fashion blogger Linda, introduced pieces from the collection to viewers. The livestream attracted over 120,000 viewers, and generated more 21 billion impressions on social media, and resulted in over USD 1.7 million in PR value.
2. IDENTIFY THE RIGHT IP
In China, “IP Marketing” has allowed brands to collaborate with different intellectual properties ranging from manga or anime characters to cultural landmarks and state-owned institutions. IP marketing gives product-makers the opportunity to bring novelty and uniqueness to an item or collection. Then in turn this can ignite engagement across China’s most popular social media platforms.
MAC x Honor of Kings
In 2019, Honor of Kings, a Chinese mobile game with more than 100 million players, collaborated with cosmetic brand MAC on a set of lipsticks. The presale drove 14,000 pre-orders and all products sold out on the first day of release.
Honor of Kings (Chinese: 王者荣耀) is a mobile multiplayer online battle arena developed by Timi Studio Group and published by Tencent Games for Android, iOS and Nintendo Switch, is the Chinese-original version of Arena of Valor.
SWAROVSKI x The Palace Museum
Swarovski collaborated with The Palace Museum in Beijing (also know as the Forbidden City) to co-create a limited 2021 Chinese New Year collection. The Palace Museum is home to over 1.8 million pieces of art, mostly from the imperial collection of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Expressing a traditional message of luck and love to the consumers, products were sold on Swarovski ecommerce channels and selected offline boutiques.
Skechers x One Piece
Global footwear brand Skechers paired with One Piece, a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda, on a limited edition sneaker series. The collaboration was so successful in Asia it dropped a second time and followed up with an expansion to the US, Canada, and Europe.
3. KOL (INFLUENCER) COLLABORATIONS
Brands today are accustomed to the powerful sway of influencers and celebrities across various social media platforms. In China however, influencer marketing operates on another level. Referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), their power and influencer is unrivaled, making KOLs a non-negotiable part of any successful China marketing strategy for luxury brands.
Collaborating with KOLs allows brands to create products better aligned with their target audience’s desires and fosters deeper engagement, while amplifying awareness across multiple channels to more effectively drive sales.
Mr. Bags (Tao Liang) is a fashion KOL (influencer), famous for recommending bags. He is one of the most influential fashion bloggers in China, with over 6 million followers on Twitter-like platform, Weibo, and more than 850,000 followers on China’s most popular social media platform, WeChat. He maintains a close relationship with international luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, hermès, Chanel, Christian Dior, Valentino and Gucci. Mr. Bags has launched collaborations with Burberry, Longchamp, Chloé, dunhill, Givenchy and Strathberry.
In a 2018 collaboration with Tod’s, 300 dog-shaped handbags were crafted to honor the Chinese Year of the Dog. The handbags, priced around USD 1,500, sold out within 6 minutes, generating USD 500,000.
C/MEO Collective, the Australian fashion label invited fashion blogger Savi to co-create capsule collections. Savi is one of “the first generation bloggers” in China. Since the start of her Weibo account in 2015, it has grown to over 4 million followers. Savi’s WeChat articles resemble blog-like content, and typically reach over 30,000 views. She has nearly 300,000 followers on fashion, beauty and lifestyle-focused social media platform, Little Red Book, over 600,000 followers on video platform, BiliBili, and has accumulated over 400,000 followers on Instagram and YouTube combined.
This was Savi’s first collaboration with the brand and helped the C/MEO Collective generate awareness among her large audience.
Over the past several years live-streaming has become the hottest way to sell products in China. Typically hosted by an enthusiastic and entertaining character, live-streams can go on for hours, with hosts trying every trick under the sun to keep their audience from scrolling on. Live-streaming hosts have become sought after by brands as a way to leverage their massive audience to introduce products to the market. Austin Li has emerged as one of China’s most famous hosts, crowned, the “Lipstick King” for his infamous live-streams where he tries on different lipsticks for hours on end.
Austin’s social media following is undoubtedly impressive, with nearly 30 million followers on Twitter-like platform Weibo, 44 million followers on Douyin (China’s version of TikTok) and over 10 million followers on fashion, beauty and lifestyle-focused platform, Little Red Book.
In many of his live-streaming sessions, Austin’s dog ‘Never’ makes an appearance, and the dog has even grown a social media following of its own. Chinese no.1 beauty brand Perfect Diary took note of this, and created a special version of their shadow palette inspired by Never. Less than 5 minutes into Austin’s live-stream to promote the palette, all 3000,000 sets sold out.
4. CREATE A TANGIBLE EXPERIENCE
While China may lead the world in digital innovation, it has simultaneously made physical spaces more important than ever. Brick-and-mortar locations, pop-ups or exclusive events can provide consumers with a tangible experience that can be shared and amplified across social media channels. This allows consumers to craft and weave their own personal story with the brand.
& Other Stories x The Beast
Established in 2011, The Beast is a unique Online-Offline lifestyle retail concept dedicated to upper and middle class Chinese consumers. Originally launched as a new age flower shop, The Beast has since grown into a creative house of lifestyle and sophistication with massive social media status on a national level.
In 2020 Swedish fashion and accessories brand, & Other Stories, collaborated with The Beast Shop for their China launch to set up the brand’s first pop-up shop in the market. They brought limited edition gift boxes designed by The Beast Shop containing hair bands and fragrances. The gift box as well as the pop-up space at The Beast Shop generated quality content on main social platforms and quickly spread the news of the brand’s debut in China. Views on China’s popular Twitter-like platform Weibo surpassed 11 million.
5. ENSURE THE UNEXPECTED (GOES WELL TOGETHER)
‘Unexpected’ collaborations with interesting products never fail to drive attention and generate online discussions. Discovering and unveiling the underlying similarities between two seemingly disconnected brands can tell the brand story in a fresh, exciting way. This is especially important in targeting Chinese millennial consumers. They are driving a new definition of what it means to be a luxury consumer. They are expressive, original and seek brands that allow them to explore a more unique self.
Written by: Aslada Gu, Director Product & Innovation at Gusto Luxe
About Gusto Luxe
REDEFINING LUXURY WITH ASIA.
Gusto Luxe is Asia’s leading integrated luxury agency. We help luxury brands grow in Asia with consulting, creative solutions, and digital innovation.
With a team of more than 130 and offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and London, we represent some of the world’s most celebrated luxury and premium brands. Our clients include Harrods, Canada Goose, Swire Hotels, Estee Lauder Companies, Tourism Australia and LVMH.
We are part of Gusto Collective, Asia’s first ‘brandtech’ holding company. The Collective brings together best-in-class marketing and digital agencies with technology firms to help brands run and manage their marketing better, faster and more efficiently.
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