The goodies-filled Christmas advent calendar, an increasingly popular mega-box product in the Western beauty industry in recent years, has finally made its way into China.
The advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans over a century ago, as a way to count down the days of advent in the run-up to Christmas. In recent decades, children sometimes received candy-filled ones as presents. But in the past few years, the beauty industry has embraced this daily-treat concept with some success, serving consumers 24 (or, sometimes, 12) days of nicely-packaged yet discounted deals.
This year, various beauty brands operating in the Chinese market are offering consumers something special and creative during this widely-celebrated Western holiday in the country. Some high-profile names include Jo Malone London, Diptyque, Estee Lauder and L'Occitane en Provence, all of which have reinvented advent calendars their way for the market, adding their own branding touches. French luxury perfumery Atelier Cologne even offers two: a 49 and a 250 version.
The Christmas holiday is a golden opportunity for beauty brands to buoy sales before the end of the year. Chinese consumers’ demand for beauty goods typically will rise ahead of the holiday. Many players are already motivated to release special products to stimulate spending, kicking off their sales campaigns a few weeks (even months) ahead.
The advent-calendar gimmick is a smart one for several reasons: It often introduces consumers to a wider variety of products from a single brand than they would likely try otherwise. Attractively packaged and often a good value, these calendars can justify splurge purchases of more than 100 or 200. The volume of products and the “surprise reveal” concept lends itself to online video reviews, which themselves market the brand. And, because the first day of Advent is December 1, consumers don’t wait for the holidays to purchase.
"Advent calendars can give a very creative freedom to brands who want to promote the product through samples and discoveries of exclusive surprises,” said Matthieu Rochette Schneider, general manager of centdegrés China, a consulting firm that specializes in the beauty industry.
Schneider also believed this concept is not completely strange to China and consumers there, as “they are very much informed and interested in the international market trends and new launches.”
To Annalise Fard, director of beauty and fine watches & jewelry of Harrods, the advent calendar is also an educational tool to the department store’s customers. The British luxury department store once again released a Christmas advent calendar (retail price at 316, but holds products that would sell for about 860) and marketed it to the Chinese market through WeChat as early as October.
“This year, we also introduced international shipping to ensure our most loyal customers from overseas had the option to get their hands on one,” Fard told Jing Daily. (They are sold out.)
Through social media and testimonials from Chinese daigou agents, there is a clear sign that this form of creative marketing is appreciated by many Chinese consumers.
“Since early November, I have received hundreds of orders from my clients to purchase beauty advent calendars,” said Rita Han, a New York-based daigou agent, who named Charlotte Tilbury, founded by the namesake British make-up artist, as the most demanded brand from her side.
Han believed the visually-appealing, highly Instagrammable designs of most beauty brands’ advent calendars are a key factor why Chinese consumers cannot get enough of it. Also, “Chinese beauty bloggers,” who have gone to great lengths to round up all sorts of advent calendar offerings by brands since November, “should be credited for the enthusiasm,” she added.
However, not all beauty brands are in this game (yet). The French beauty brand Lancôme, for example, chose to release a Christmas limited-edition (限量版) collection in China - a traditional way to market in the Christmas season - even though it offers an advent calendar to a global audience.
“The logic of selection [of these items] is that headquarters will provide a full list of products that each market can order from, and our team in China then choose the items that we think will sell well based on our local expertise,” said Sheng Zijian, digital manager of Lancôme Makeup China.
Sheng did not rule out the possibility of releasing Christmas advent calendar in the future but believed the decision needed to be made with caution. Centdegrés China’s Schneider also agreed the advent calendar did not spell guaranteed success. Only brands backing it up with a well-planned promotional campaign cycle can get noticed, he said.
In addition, the home base of beauty brands also matters when it comes to using these as a marketing tactic. “When it comes to Chinese beauty brands, it is more delicate,” Schneider explained. “It could be perceived as a cash-machine weapon, made to increase sales and seen as a poor marketing move.”