C-Beauty Collabs Hits and Misses From Singles’ Day

This monthly Chinese Designer Collabs column looks at the very best 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, Jing Daily offers a curated selection of what’s dropping. The column will also feature in Jing Daily’s bi-weekly Collabs and Drops newsletter — a 360-degree lowdown on the world of collaboration. 

Once a hot category, C-beauty has been cooling down in China recently. This was evidenced in a slide in figures from Singles’ Day — a barometer of what’s hot and what’s not in China’s world of consumer trends. During this year’s retail extravaganza, local beauty disruptor Perfect Diary’s sales reached 291 million yuan in sales, which was a steep drop from the previous Double 11’s high of 602 million yuan. Another hot contender in the C-beauty sector, Guochao brand Florasis, also saw sales dive — last year they topped 519 million yuan but this year fell off to 307.

This downspell has forced local C-beauty brands to ideate inventive new ways to capture young consumers; collaborations remain a powerful marketing tool and have been on the rise over the last three years as they drive conversation for a brand, and help tap into an audience beyond a company’s core followers. They also help create additional buzz.

Hwee Chung, Head of China beauty market at Kantar Worldpanel, told Jing Daily, “There is a limit to true innovation and it’s very expensive whereas collab products are an essential way to refresh brand image and equity.” But as she adds, not all are successful.

Here Jing Daily analyzes C-beauty’s collaboration hits and misses during this year’s Singles’ Day shopping event from Perfect Diary, Judydoll 橘朵, and Girlcut.

The Esports Trend: Perfect Dairy and Arena Of Valor 

Perfect Diary x Arena Of Valor. Photo: Perfect Diary’s Weibo

Although Perfect Diary’s figures are waning, the company’s disruptive success means it’s not only the number one online cosmetics brand in China, but it also has 23.5 million private domain traffic (or DTC consumers). It works with an average of 10 KOLs every day (from a pool numbering 15,000) and on October 19, announced Zhou Xun as its first global spokesperson  — the first since it launched in 2017.

A Singles’ Day pairing with Arena Of Valor, a popular online game, continued the brand’s “beauty without limits” manifesto and saw it cleverly tapped the mythology of the mobile game (whose popularity has now far transcended and surpassed the game itself). The line-up, inspired by the Chinese legend of Four Beauties, hit the jackpot by cleverly infusing local heritage with gaming — two driving forces for younger audiences.

Both parties also have extensive followings on Weibo and Xiaohongshu and Vfluencer — a competitive intelligence platform — found that the announcement generated a combined engagement of 130,000 across the two platforms. Ye Chen, research analyst at REACH24H Consulting Group and beauty expert, explained: “This cooperation was by far the most successful. The crossover eye shadow palette achieved over 200,000 units monthly sales, and it was the most popular eye shadow palette on Tmall during the Double 11.”

The History & Guochao Trend: Judydoll and Dunhuang Museum

Judydoll x Dunhuang Museum. Photo: Judydoll’s Weibo

As the distinctions between high and low culture become increasingly blurred, beauty and fashion offer lucrative outlets for museums and institutions looking to license their IP. This partnership is just the latest in a very long line of product overlaps from Dunhuang Museum which licensed over 40 partnerships in 2020 (including Li-Ning and Lenovo).

Judydoll entered the market with monochromatic eyeshadow in 2016 and quickly rose to success, opening a Tmall store in 2018 which now has six millions fans. Monthly sales of some single products can be over 90,000. The company used a mix of top, mid KOLs and KOCs to promote the collab on Xiaohongshu but this only yielded engagement of around 5,000 Vfluencer identified.

Still, the products cut through. Ye noted: “In terms of sales, the partnership of Judydoll and Dunhuang Museum was not the most popular but it still performed well. Related product’s monthly sales were about 40,000 units, ranking sixth in the Judydoll Tmall store.”

In addition, the Dunhuang area is a well known tourist attraction for domestic travellers visiting from other parts of China. Chung goes on to say: “This adds to the value especially when citizens want to commemorate their visit or gift a friend, or work colleague so it works in that sense too.”

Art & Culture Trend: Girlcult and Frida Kahlo

Girlcult x Frida Kahlo. Photo: Girlcult’s Weibo

Entering Girlcult’s Tmall flagship store is like flipping through a book of Wonderful Worlds — each product has a fantasy story to tell. The three-year-old brand’s bold, distinctive, and avant garde aesthetic meant it was a match perfect partner for a collab with the uncompromising and eye-popping Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Right?

Well despite all the positive signs, according to Ye this was not so popular. In terms of IP co-branding, the daring company found a credible partner which boosted traffic; however Chinese consumers still prefer products that are based on IPs that are already familiar to them. “This cooperation launched three products, lip glaze, eye shadow palette, and eyeliner. Their monthly sales were 2,000, 500, 300 units respectively, far lower than the most popular product of Girlcult, which is a different lip glaze with over 20,000 units monthly sales,” she stated.

“Arena Of Valor is one of the most popular mobile games in China and has many fans and gamers, while Dunhuang Museum is a recognizable culture-related IP. By contrast, Frida Kahlo is a less identifiable person for most Chinese consumers,” Ye continued.

Packaging plays a role too and Chung said it has to fall into three categorie: beautiful, cute, or premium. “Make sure your package fits into the right category. If it’s make-up, you carry it around meaning the packaging is important as you are showing it off to people.”

Although the trend is also cooling somewhat, the market is still full of potential. But given the cost of IPs and new packaging, more companies are accessing the ROI beyond productivity which sets the bar high for collabs in 2022.

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Beauty, Marketing