Keeping up with China, and its beauty-spending boom, last weekend global superstar Kim Kardashian West entered the fray of powerful Chinese influencers when she opened an official account on China’s social media beauty platform Little Red Book with an understated video that said simply, “I’m excited to launch my official account and connect with my fans here.”
Chinese netizens and beauty fans immediately responded to the news with excitement and hope that the reality star would soon make her KKW Beauty products available in China. “Kim Kardashian is about to put KKW Beauty on Little Red Book, and then if Kylie Cosmetics and Rihanna Fenty Beauty join… that will be even better!” commented Weibo user “Theblond.” Kardashian’s cosmetics brand, KKW Beauty, launched in June 2017 with classic makeup palettes that now retail anywhere between $45 and $260 in the U.S.
China’s e-commerce industry will reach $1.8 trillion by 2022, and more international brands are setting their sights on the market, according to an August report by Forrester. However, despite millions of active users, simply joining a platform like Red Book won’t necessarily secure the future of a brand like Kardashian’s in China. “Foreign celebrities have long used their perceived cosmopolitan prestige to endorse brands [in China] but it often ends up being a bit of a fiasco,” China Fashion Collective Co-founder Claire Lin told Jing Daily. “With Kim Kardashian West, her core brand message and brand values are not in sync with the Chinese market.”
The tech startup Little Red Book launched four years ago promising Chinese beauty fans an unprecedented opportunity to discover and buy international cosmetics brands that were previously off-limits. Just last year, the site boasted more than 17 million users, and as of this month, Red Book enjoys over 100 million registered users. That’s already more than the 10-year-old e-commerce site Vip.com, which currently has 60 million registered users and specializes in the sale of top luxury brands.
By providing users with a platform to share reviews and tips, Red Book has created a trusted community for beauty followers—and a world of opportunity for luxury brands. Since the company’s inception, brands like Lancôme and Dior have taken advantage of the Red Book’s advertising capabilities—as well as the power of Chinese influencers that frequent the site—to promote their products to fans in China.
The site’s influencers, or key opinion leaders (KOLs), can garner millions of followers on their accounts. For example, Chinese actress and Dior brand ambassador Angelababy now has over 14.4 million dedicated followers. Kardashian likely wants to leverage her influence in a similar way to help sell her beauty brand in a booming Chinese luxury market. It’s a move that could also place Kardashian in a place to advertise for other luxury brands in China, a position that’s familiar territory for the star (her popular Instagram account already features collaborations with luxury labels such as Fendi, Gucci, and YSL).
But Kanye’s better half isn’t the first Western celeb to join Red Book. In May of 2018, American supermodel and Taylor Swift buddy Karlie Kloss joined and now has over 270,000 followers. For this week’s Chinese Mid-autumn Festival celebrations, Kloss shared a video of her enjoying a traditional mooncake treat while attempting to deliver a message in Mandarin to her Chinese fans.
But some are skeptical as to whether a western celebrity can create a substantial presence on Red Book. “Karlie Kloss joined to promote Estee Lauder’s products, and it didn’t make any lasting impact for the brand,” said Lin. “For brands to generate sales, they need to rely on the domestic celebrities in their repertoire. Chanel, Gucci and Dior have powerful and expensive foreign A-list endorsers, yet take a look at their stores or social media-related posts in China—it’s endless Chinese celebrities.”
Since joining the site on Saturday, Kim Kardashian has gained 10,000 followers, which is just a fraction of her huge following on Instagram (118 million followers). “Data has consistently shown that the most popular social posts by brands almost always feature top Chinese celebrities,” said editor of Asia-Pacific Research at the business intelligence firm Gartner L2 Liz Flora. “The only foreign celebrities able to get anywhere near this level of engagement have been K-pop stars. In our recent Luxury China report, the top ten luxury brand Weibo posts with the most engagement exclusively featured mainland China-based celebrities—for both the fashion and watch and jewelry categories. Kim K. might be the social media queen bee in the U.S., but she’s got nothing compared to the TFBoys in China.”
And the numbers support Flora’s assertion: The Chinese boy band TFBoys boasts over 177 million combined followers on Weibo compared to Kim K’s “measly” 158,000. “Chinese celebrities are much more accessible, they speak Chinese, and they are more helpful to users in terms of content,” said Chinese millennial and lifestyle journalist Jiaqi Luo. “Most Chinese celebrities on Red Book usually give in-depth instructional videos on skincare and makeup. They establish themselves as beauty bloggers and not just celebs posting selfies. Because of this, I don’t think western celebrities will be much of a traffic threat to Chinese celebrities on the platform.”
So to win at Red Book, it’s clear that a celebrity must offer personal and beneficial connections to their fans. “The trick is finding the right platform in an increasingly fragmented landscape,” said Marketing & Communications Manager at Ogilvy Olivia Plotnick. “Platforms like Red Book allow brands to do this while also leveraging an e-commerce-centric customer experience. The influencers and brands who succeed will be the ones who build meaningful relationships with consumers.”