Alibaba and Youku Promote China’s Greatest Luxury: A Good Night’s Sleep

With consumers spending far more time at home in 2020, in China sports and health and wellness brands, personal trainers, and even doctors quickly pivoted to content-commerce mainstays like livestreaming in the first half of the year to reach the large share of the population that was kept home for an extended period, and —once restrictions were lifted—often preferred to do yoga or speak to a GP in the comfort of their own home.

But even as life in China has returned to a new normal, one thing that has remained a problem for hundreds of millions—both before and after the peak of Covid-19—has been stress-fueled sleep deprivation, a health emergency in China and worldwide. According to the CDC, not getting enough sleep is linked to many chronic diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. And in China, sleep deprivation has become a national concern in recent years, with a recent study by the Chinese Sleep Research Society finding that around 300 million people (nearly a quarter of the population) struggle with sleep disorders, and 94% of the population does not meet the recommended health standard for quality of sleep.

This, of course, means lots of sleep-deprived people and potential consumers of supplements, apps, and sleep-related gizmos, and e-commerce sellers and platforms have been quick to capitalize on the demand. By 2017, China’s sleep aid market was valued at RMB 280 billion ($42.7 billion), with the vast majority of that made up of sleep monitoring and assisting devices. During last year’s 618 Shopping Festival, Tmall reported a 530% increase in sales of sleep-related items, led by melatonin supplements, essential oils, bedding, and blackout eye masks.

Catering to this vast market of sleep-deprived consumers, Alibaba Health (阿里健康) recently took a page from its parent company’s expansive content-commerce playbook with the rollout of an eight-episode reality program on Youku, the Alibaba-owned video streaming platform. The show, called “Sleep Tight” (睡有好眠), aims at “saving [audiences] from every sleepless night,” and looks into the lives and sleep quality (or lack thereof) of stressed-out representatives from eight key groups, including new mothers, working women, IT workers, newlyweds, middle-aged people, and digital creatives.

Hosted by Liang Dong, founder of Beijing’s Z’an Sleep Clinic (正安自在睡觉), “Sleep Tight” brought in experts like Sun Wei from the Department of Sleep Medicine and Professor Zhang Qiming of the Chinese Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences to analyze guests’ sleep quality and provide solutions to help them attain a healthy lifestyle, get a better night’s sleep, and improve overall wellness and mental health. By all accounts, the show struck a nerve in society, with “Sleep Tight” racking up more than 100 million Baidu searches over the course of its eight-episode run, and hot topics related to the show spreading on Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu.

A program like this is full of opportunities to infuse content-commerce into the mix, and Alibaba has made sure to include plenty of shoppable sleep-related products on the show, while letting audiences know they can scan on-screen ads to make purchases on a special “Sleep Tight”-branded Taobao page or via Youku’s Super Brand Day.

The show also rolled out strategic campaigns on WeChat, Douyin, and social platforms to reach as many sleep-deprived consumers as possible and get its brand sponsors in front of them as well. Alibaba Health broadened promotion of the show via official partnerships with the sleep monitoring app “Snail Sleep” (蜗牛睡眠) and the female-focused lifestyle app “Take a Moment” (花点时间).

Alibaba Health also bridged online and offline by providing coupons to physical stores and for items such as ResMed’s sleep apnea devices, leading to a reported three-fold increase in visitors to the ResMed website during the eight-episode run of “Sleep Tight.”

With the success of “Sleep Tight” and all of the e-commerce extensions it entails, expect to see more shows in this vein in 2021, both from Alibaba/Youku and its competitors. Alibaba Health also recently produced “Health Buyers’ Shop” (养生买手店) (a partnership with Tmall Pharmacy), a youth-oriented celebrity wellness series that also aired on Youku (naturally), and has additional IP in the works, including Tmall Nourishment (天猫道地滋补) and the Tmall Nutrition Academy (天猫营养学院), which we can expect to lead to other reality and/or competition shows in the months ahead.

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Content Commerce, Market Analysis