Beauty and Gaming: A Collabs Match in Heaven

Jing Daily’s monthly Chinese Collabs column looks at the China-related collaborations and drops that are transforming the retail landscape. From local fashion brands to C-beauty, virtual idols to NFTs, and KOLS to lifestyle and games, it offers a curated selection of what’s dropping and the trends behind them. 

A lot has changed for Li Xiaomeng over the past five years. In 2017, she was waiting in line to sign up for a gaming tournament and was told (by — who else? — a man) that she shouldn’t be there. “It’s not for you,” he said. She didn’t listen: as of March 2022, the pro-gamer, also known as Liooon, is now the highest-earning woman eSports player in China and ranked second in the world. 

2021 saw the number of game users here reach 664.79 million. According to a report on the Chinese Women’s Gaming Industry, it is estimated that by 2023, the country will have 396 million women gamers. This is a long way off 2013 when the number was only slightly more than 25 percent. It was the likes of Liooon and GLHuiHui (Or Chen YuYan) — a famous Hearthstone winner — who blazed the trail in an industry dominated by men.

The influx of women into esports in China means that plenty of luxury beauty companies have been piling into the sector too, initiating innovative collaborations (especially for 520 day). And it’s a trend that has been picking up steam in recent years: local disruptor Florasis collaborated with JX Online 3 in 2020 and the following year Armani joined up with Moonlight Blade, a game in Tencent’s arsenal. 

On the latter, gaming expert Kelly Vero was quick to point out that brands should learn from the multiplicity of Armani Beauty — which dropped on JD.com earlier this month. “I can wear the lipstick IRL. I can wear the lipstick in-game and the lipstick itself is apparel, it’s wearable in-game, and the ornate design can be part of my in-game hanfu.”

This opportunity represents an entirely uncharted territory of stories, imagery, and experiences. It’s also lucrative. Take YSL, who sponsored the most important championship of China’s League of Legends game earlier this year, alongside Mercedes-Benz, KFC, Nike, and JD.com. League of Legends Pro League (LPL) is one of the most influential homegrown e-sport projects and YSL’s cooperation rapidly boosted its sales, research agency ChemLinked found. 

Although this drew some criticism from netizens (such as: “so from now on players must wear full makeup before start playing games?”), it was nonetheless putting women “at the heart of this new web3, Metaverse, games world,” Vero commented. As China builds out its digital universes, that in itself is innovative.  

This month, local skincare name OSM (欧诗漫) collaborated with Tencent’s popular game Honor of Kings. “As video games and esports become trendy in China, IP cooperation with various video games has become part of the marketing routine of beauty brands,” ChemLinked Research Analyst Ye Chen explained. 

The partnership received multiple compliments online for the packaging, which features Honor of Kings’ popular female game avatar 貂蝉 (Diao Chan). Although 貂蝉 is a virtual character, she is becoming a real idol with her own group of fans. Such is her popularity that the social media reaction to her appointment as ambassador has been similar to the reaction triggered by IRL idols — which has obviously helped OSM grow its media exposure and potential audiences. Software company Launchmetrics found that OSM’s partnership generated $291,000 (1.95 million RMB).

OSM’s latest collaboration features an Honor of Kings character on its packaging. Photo: OSM

Even high-end global names are finding how game IPs can help them enter the mainland and access more young consumers. La Mer, for instance, has applied this strategy to broaden its customer base: it leveraged the domestic mobile game League of Legends (LoL) to offer gamers personalized profile images, frames, and other surprises such as a limited edition co-release gift box. 

“As a rising marketing strategy, interest-based marketing focuses on exploring the interests of the young generation and using these interests to build connections with them,” Ye continued, citing a survey from DT Finance and iQiyi. It found that the top 10 interests of Chinese Gen Z included fitness, painting, musical instruments, movies/dramas, basketball, and of course, video games, meaning that cooperating with game IPs represents a sure way to gain young consumers’ attention. 

Less obvious local cosmetic companies are leveraging the opportunity too, like contact lens brand Kilala and their collaboration with, again, Honor of Kings to release colored lenses. This May saw the drop of their second multi-colored partnership; the first was ambitiously released on a daily basis. Many beauty KOLs have been pushing the collab online including @大脸怪哪里跑 whose video secured 126,000 views on Weibo. On Alibaba’s Taobao, 13,000 netizens said they would purchase the product.  

Kilala collaborated with Honor of Kings on colored contact lenses. Photo: Kilala

There are still downsides to watch out for: firms need to realize that while successful partnerships with game IPs can rapidly improve a label’s exposure, they may not directly boost consumption. “Even though the group of game players is huge, don’t expect all the exposure to generate sales,” Ye added. Especially true in the case of an audience for a game like LoL, which is heavily subscribed by men (potentially, as a demographic, less interested in beauty).

Indeed, Vero predicts that only 20 percent of players will convert to purchase over gameplay, and it’s often challenging to present the main features of the product well from inside the game.  

But this is far from game over — quite the opposite. As Vero put it: “with functionality, the bigger the games franchise, appeal, or reach, the more opportunity there will be for brands.” Luxury needs to level up or, like the men who have had to eat Liooon’s dust, get left behind. 

The column also features in Jing Daily’s weekly Collabs and Drops newsletter — a 360-degree lowdown on the world of collaboration. For more analysis on the latest collaborations, sign up here.

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Beauty, Marketing