Is Hit C-Drama ‘A Dream of Splendor’ Brands’ Golden Ticket?

Jing Daily’s monthly Chinese Collabs column looks at the China-related collaborations and drops that are transforming the luxury 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. 

Before it even officially hit screens, Chinese period drama A Dream of Splendor 梦华录 was a hit among netizens for its star-studded cast. Marking Mulan actress Liu Yifei’s long-awaited return to the genre after 16 years, the official premiere was viewed over 500 million times within just a few days. To date, the hashtag #梦华录 has 16 billion views on Weibo. So big news then. 

The hit C-series, which follows three women transforming a tea shop into a successful restaurant, has driven a wave of imitation of Song dynasty desserts, tea, and clothing. Recipes for osmanthus rice jelly cake, green bean cake, and perilla leaf tea have been circulating on Xiaohongshu, with users recreating the Song-style afternoon tea.

Recipes for osmanthus rice jelly cake, green bean cake, and perilla leaf tea have been circulating on Xiaohongshu. Photo: Xiaohongshu screenshots

Due to its sheer popularity, the show has become a recent go-to for collaboration among local brands. Chinese businesses have leveraged the IP to co-launch limited edition products, such as food, gadgets, and garments, attracting millions in media impact value (MIV) according to Launchmetrics ($2.46 million MIV in total).

Ashley Dudarenok, the founder of China trend-watching company ChoZan, believes the accomplishment of these collaborations speaks to the success of IP marketing. “Chinese consumers, especially Gen Z, love it and demand more of it. IP marketing is a lucrative and effective way to break into a demographic that is saturated with ads from sun-up to sun-down because consumers already like an aspect of the product, thanks to their preferred IP.”

For Jing Collabs & Drops’ latest issue, we analyze the trend around A Dream of Splendor and how luxury brands can tap into the fan economy of popular TV shows.

Bubble Tea Chain Heytea x A Dream of Splendor 

Launching a co-branded tea drink on June 30, bubble tea chain Heytea was the first to seize the opportunity and join forces with A Dream of Splendor. On the first day, 300,000 cups were sold. Due to the large number of people ordering, the official app crashed several times, and some stores even had to close early due to running out of the ingredients. 

Additionally, Heytea opened limited-time themed tea houses in Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenzhen, offering immersive settings to C-drama fans. There, shoppers could watch the ancient tea acrobatics that were featured in the series. The initiative further boosted the engagement, as well as helped to promote the spread of traditional Chinese tea culture. 

Heytea rolled out themed tea houses in Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenzhen. Photo: Xiaohongshu screenshots

According to Launchmetrics, the partnership has garnered $1.74 million in MIV. Arnold Ma, the founder of the marketing agency Qumin, commented that it was well executed and offered a good alignment between brand and the media: “Bonus points for offline activations with pop-up tea houses replicated from the show.”

Bubble Tea Chain Nayuki x A Dream of Splendor

Fans took pictures at the Nayuki tea house pop up in Shenzhen in Hanfu costumes. Photo: Xiaohongshu screenshots

Nayuki was another bubble tea name that partnered with A Dream of Splendor. Besides the drinks (bottled red fruit tea), Nayuki also offered desserts — like the Midsummer green bean cake — which frequently appeared in the show. Shoppers were positively surprised by the collaboration, with some suggesting that the two beverage houses create the same drinks to compete with each other.

Like Heytea, Nayuki also opened a themed store in Shenzhen, recreating the setting of the historical period. The installation quickly became a popular spot for Gen Z. Young people were seen on social media wearing traditional Hanfu costumes to take pictures there, helping the label drive more traffic and exposure. Largely thanks to social engagement, Launchmetrics calculated that Nayuki’s tie-up reached an impressive $501,000 in MIV.

Hanfu Label Shisanyu x A Dream of Splendor

Bubble tea labels weren’t the only ones tapping the lucrative opportunity. Shisanyu, a domestic Hanfu clothing brand, also jumped on the bandwagon by launching a series of looks inspired by the characters of the show. 

In recent years, Hanfu has transformed from a niche Gen Z hobby into a massive consumer market of 400 million people — and the hit historical drama has fed the trend. According to Xiaohongshu, the search volume of Song-made Hanfu has increased by 41.26 percent month-on-month since the show’s launch.

In light of this, Shisanyu’s partnership with A Dream of Splendor comes just in time to fill the gap. “Another strong collaboration, naturally compatible, converting enthusiasm for Meng Hualu (A Dream of Splendor) to interest in Shisanyu products,” observed Ma. In terms of MIV, Launchmetrics revealed that this particular crossover garnered a total of $220,000.

Shisanyu, a domestic Hanfu clothing brand, launched a series of looks inspired by the show’s characters. Photo: Shisanyu

Given the fierce fan culture of C-dramas in China, TV shows can prove to be a reliable gateway to reach young locals. However, ChoZan’s founder Dudarenok noted, “Luxury brands tend to vie for C-dramas because their target audiences overlap. But many viewers are upset by the weirdly-placed product seeding as it often contradicts the plot.” Especially in the case of period dramas, Ma agreed that a partnership could feel forced, or worse, risk criticisms of cultural appropriation. 

Compared to product placements, IP collaborations could be a safer way for luxury brands to leverage a popular series. Once a drama airs, businesses have access to consumer reactions and preferences for certain characters. As such, they’ll be better equipped to develop creative projects that cater to fans left wanting more. 

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.

Categories

Gen-Z, Marketing