Are KOL Collaborations Still Important For Luxury Brands In China?
The following is an excerpt from “Big in China: Brand Collaboration,” the Jing guide to brand collaborations in China. Packed with revenue-generating strategies and interviews with leading designers, artists, and luxury decision-makers, this report is a must-read for anyone interested in leveraging one of China’s most influential marketing and retail trends. Download your copy today on our Reports page.
Collaborating with celebrities and key opinion leaders (KOLs) is a popular way for Chinese and global brands to leverage vast fan bases, reach new audiences, and ultimately spur revenue. This is particularly true when a brand taps a celebrity or KOL who is associated with a specific niche — be it sports, wellness, cosmetics, or fragrances. “Fan-focused” collaborations are a tried-and-tested approach in China. While brands have signed Chinese brand ambassadors and spokespeople for decades, collaborations in which the celebrity takes a more active role akin to a co-creative director and essentially “co-brands” a product or collection have only gained ground over the past several years.
Typically, in this type of collaboration, the brand produces a run of one or more items employing a tweaked design or colorway chosen by the KOL or a customized range of products created with his or her input, released in limited quantities to fuel urgency and demand among fan bases.
One example of this approach is Givenchy’s 2019 collaboration with the popular Chinese handbag blogger Mr. Bags (Tao Liang) on a limited-edition pink Mini Horizon purse. Priced at 15,000 yuan ($2,243), the collection sold out in just 12 minutes. Another international brand that took this KOL-led approach is Milan-based Palm Angels, which launched a collaboration in July 2021 with Team Wang, the aforementioned streetwear brand founded in 2020 by Hong Kong designer and performer Jackson Wang 王 嘉爾. The eight-piece, unisex capsule collection included a track jacket and pants, souvenir jacket, sweatshirt, bowling shirt, long sleeve tee, short sleeve tee, and cropped women’s T-shirt.
Domestic Chinese brands are arguably using this strategy to the greatest effect, riding the wave of brand nationalism that has swept the country in recent years and leveraging big-name collaborations to stand out in a cut-throat retail market.
One domestic brand that has made KOL collaborations a cornerstone of its marketing efforts is Perfect Diary. Founded in 2016, the Yatsen Holding-owned Chinese beauty brand rapidly conquered China’s local cosmetics market through affordable pricing, slick marketing tactics and product design, and a deep understanding of what makes young consumers, quite literally, click.
While Perfect Diary has seen success in B2B collaborations — partnering with cultural institutions like the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as household names like Oreo and the Discovery Channel – it is the brand’s KOL collaborations that have seen the most reliable and sustained buzz. A few short years after its founding, Perfect Diary proved adept at fostering relationships with Chinese beauty KOLs, largely those with sizable followings on the lifestyle-focused platform Xiaohongshu. Within one year of its debut, Perfect Diary surpassed global brands like Tom Ford, L’Oréal, and Estée Lauder to become the top-mentioned beauty brand on Xiaohongshu.
Another Chinese brand that has successfully leveraged KOL collaborations is the lingerie and lifestyle brand NEIWAI. In April 2022, NEIWAI announced a partnership with the Chinese fashion KOL @SavisLook on its Weibo account with the launch of a vacation capsule collection featuring dresses, lingerie, and accessories. The 15-second campaign teaser video released by NEIWAI, along with a longer edition posted on @SavisLook’s Weibo, respectively racked up 14,700 and 61,000 views within one day.
The brand has also launched loungewear collaborations with singer Faye Wong 王菲 since announcing the 52-year-old pop legend as its global brand ambassador in 2020, and developed a positive reputation among consumers in China for its inclusive sizing and casting of models of all ages and shapes in nationwide marketing campaigns.
To read more, get your copy of “Big in China: Brand Collaboration” on our Reports page.