China might be world’s most romantic country, given that it has not one — but three Valentine’s Days: international Valentine’s Day on February 14, the traditional Qixi festival, or “Chinese Valentine’s Day” in August, and the upcoming “I Love You,” or “520 Day” on May 20.
The latter is a very recent invention. Rachel Daydou, partner and China managing director at innovation agency Fabernovel explains: “In a typical modern China way, 520 was born from an internet shortcut slang, grown through popular songs, and quickly leveraged by brands and platforms.” In Mandarin, “five, two, zero” sounds similar to “I love you.”
Over the past decade, with China rising as a critical growth engine for luxury consumption, maisons have taken advantage of all these gifting opportunities. Brands have painted their handbags and jewelry in romantic shades of pink and released star-studded campaigns to court young Gen Z consumers on these special occasions.
In the early days, the tailored strategy generated colossal popularity. Chinese consumers raced to obtain limited edition items. However, as more brands have piled in, consumers grew fatigued by the repetitive formula — limited edition plus celebrity promotion. Additionally, beauty brands face challenges grabbing consumers’ attention while not overpackaging their products, which would contravene regulations due to be implemented later this year.
How can brands overcome these challenges and stand out?
“Out of the three Valentine’s days celebrated in China, 520 is both anchored in local culture and ultra-contemporary. As such, it offers a unique chance for brands to create valuable consumer engagements inspired by edgy internet culture, modern expressions of love, and the celebration of unconventional relationships,” states Fabernovel’s Daydou.
This year, Louis Vuitton chose not to create an exclusive capsule for 520 as it has on previous occasions. Instead, the French house came up with a dedicated “art of gifting” WeChat mini-program page to help consumers choose the perfect gift across six categories — sports, home décor, fragrance, accessories, travel, and office objects.
The luxury business took the festivity as an opportunity to showcase its existing lifestyle offerings, which are usually overshadowed by its leather goods products, and emphasize its personalization services such as engraving, hot stamping, and hand painting. Additionally, the brand introduced the possibility for shoppers to purchase fragrance gift cards, thus, allowing recipients to choose their preferred scents themselves.
Meanwhile, Balenciaga turned to gaming, and another resonant topic: sustainability. For this year’s 520 Day, Balenciaga is enabling users to choose via its official WeChat account a farmer avatar dressed in products from the brand’s limited edition 520 capsule, who is tasked with growing virtual crops using regenerative agriculture techniques. The game helps draw awareness to projects supported by the Regenerative Fund for Nature, which is transforming crop fields and rangelands into regenerative agricultural spaces.
520 campaigns: heart and soul
“While many brands rely on celebrity power to enhance their visibility during 520, inviting romantic actors from popular romantic C-drama can amplify exposure even more,” says Laurence Lim, founder and managing director of marketing agency Cherry Blossoms. Lim shares the example of Estée Lauder, which shot its 520 campaign with Yan Chengxu and Xu Ruohan — actors from The Forbidden Flower (夏花) — and integrated elements from the original show into its campaign.
“Such campaigns target a broader audience and generate more engagement, appealing not only to fans of the celebrities, but also to the viewers of the show, who immediately relate the two actors to the romantic plot,” says Lim. The video has attracted 3.63 million views on Weibo.
Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, and Estée Lauder’s unconventional way of marking the festivity has helped them distinguish themselves from the crowded field.
Sustainable gift boxes and balletcore beauty
Beauty gift boxes have become a go-to solution for presents, attracting young shoppers with sophisticated and heavily embellished packaging, rather than with the products. Even simply purchasing a lipstick or a small-sized item, shoppers would receive packages as big as a shoe box, and the purchased item would come wrapped in layers of delicate paper and cloth.
However, a new Chinese standard aimed at controlling excessive packaging coming into force in September this year is prompting businesses to rethink their approach to beauty gift boxes in a more sustainable and utilitarian way.
Inspired by the love locks hanging on the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge in Paris, beauty brand YSL designed a shocking millennial pink gift box in the shape of a heart lock and a limited edition fragrance with a golden heart-shaped lock on the neck.
Unlike the usual packaging options, such as cartons, the lock handbag is entirely covered with caviar leather, so consumers can use and carry it just like a handbag. Across Xiaohongshu, numerous KOLs have started posting their outfit of the day carrying the bold piece. Under those posts, users like @Luluisred, have been praising the item and asking where to purchase it.
Although domestic label Perfect Diary has simplified its packaging for 520 this year, it still won consumers’ attention. The brand leveraged young girls’ craze for balletcore aesthetics, which is inspired by ballerinas’ backstage outfits. So far, the hashtag #Balletcore has taken over the local lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, racking up more than 281,000 views.
Alongside lipstick, a nine-color eye shadow, and a loose powder, Perfect Diary’s light pink gift box contains a petit handbag, a headband, and two ribbon hairpins, all in the same tone mirroring the trending balletcore aesthetic.
From fashion to beauty brands, businesses are reevaluating their approach to romantic festivities to better engage with consumers.
“The digital and retail spaces are increasingly saturated, media prices off the roof, and consumers’ attention quickly fading. Most brands’ response is to do more, quicker, which has resulted in many unsuccessful campaigns and much waste,” says Daydou from Fabernovel.
To stand out, companies should go the extra mile. Brands must propose refreshing ideas while staying true to their DNA rather than copying and pasting the well-worn formula.