As e-commerce livestreaming has taken off in China, celebrities have started flocking to the format as a way to stay in the spotlight while generating income. Many actors have been less busy this year as a result of the coronavirus, with productions delayed and endorsement opportunities drying up as brands slashed their marketing budgets.
The trend reached new heights during last month’s 618 Shopping Festival, which saw more than 300 stars appearing on Taobao Live to sell goods, while JD.com hosted another 100 or so, with Kuaishou and Douyin also getting in on the action.
But has the frenzy over celebrity livestreaming peaked? One of the first stars of the celebrity e-commerce livestreaming trend, the somewhat notorious tech entrepreneur Luo Yonghao, has seen his viewer numbers and sales plummet by more than 95% since his April 1 debut on Douyin. And recently, one of China’s most bankable influencers, the actress and social media star Angelababy, had an underwhelming debut on Douyin, with a five-hour broadcast on July 18 that drew a relatively low RMB 12 million ($1.8 million) in gross merchandise volume.
Yet Jay Chou’s Kuaishou livestreaming show on July 26 showed that there is still a huge market for the right stars, even when there is nothing concrete to sell. Chou, the Chinese king of pop, opened a Kuaishou account on June 1 as part of a broader deal that brought his music to the platform, and he promised a magic show for fans if he hit 10 million followers, which only took 6 days.
Chou’s livestream drew 68 million viewers, with fans sending RMB 20 million ($2.8 million) in virtual gifts during the first 30 minutes. Among those offering support were high-profile celebrities such as pianist Lang Lang and Olympic gold medalist table tennis player Zhang Jike. Kuaishou even broadcast a nationwide celebration of sorts for Chou, lighting up landmark buildings in major cities across the country to promote the event.
For foreign celebrities looking to promote their products via e-commerce livestreaming, working with big-name professional hosts is the way to go. Last year, Kim Kardashian turned to top Taobao Live seller Viya to help sell her KKW fragrance, and this week Victoria Beckham adopted a similar approach to promote the launch of an official Tmall Global flagship store for her namesake beauty brand.
The former Spice Girl participated in a livestreamed Q&A session with Viya (herself a girl-group veteran) that attracted more than 14.4 million viewers, with exclusive Victoria Beckham Beauty sets on offer. Beckham described the Chinese livestreaming experience as “riveting entertainment that creates a great deal of engagement and excitement about products,” and the brand is already planning special marketing activities in China around the November 11 Singles’ Day and the March 8 “Queen’s Day” (aka International Women’s Day) in 2021.
Although less well known than Viya in the West, leading Taobao Live anchor Lie’er is aiming to break out of the livestreaming business to become a celebrity in her own right. A veteran of the e-commerce broadcasting industry, Lie’er boasts sufficient star power to host her own celebrity-studded entertainment gala shows on a major satellite TV network — she is reportedly the only e-commerce livestreamer besides Viya to host “fan festivals” — and this time around she showcased her own singing and dancing skills.
Lie’er has also parlayed her famed sense of style (developed during a previous career as a model) into her own fashion brands, the budget-friendly Lierkiss and the higher-end LRKS, which were featured in a runway show segment during the recent TV special. Lie’er has made appearances on top-rated reality shows such as “Ace vs. Ace” (王牌对王牌) and is aiming to diversify her e-commerce broadcasts by adding entertainment value with celebrity guest appearances and exclusive collaborations.