Beijing's "Virtual Runway" was one of the highlights of its recent Beijing blowout (Image: Labdaily)
Over the past weekend, Beijing's much-hyped ban on outdoor advertisements that promote "hedonism, lavishness and the worship of foreign things" took effect. As Jing Daily wrote last month, the ban is ostensibly aimed at “[easing] public concerns about the country’s widening wealth gap" by ridding the city of advertisements that use words such as "luxury," "high-class," "supreme" and "royal" at risk of a 30,000 yuan (US$4,595) fine per infraction. Though Beijing's new campaign should have little actual effect on the city's fast-growing luxury market -- new and increasingly lavish flagships are opening there seemingly every month -- the ban shows that right now, in the words of one article, "luxury is a dirty word" in Beijing. (In public, at least.)
However, in private, Beijing's luxury-obsessed consumers are now more spoiled than ever, as many of the world's top high-end brands have learned that outdoor advertising is less effective than online outreach and have gone increasingly digital.
While some luxury brands have limited their digital efforts in China to Chinese-language versions of their websites, others have taken steps to harness the growing popularity of online shopping. International retailers ranging from the Gap to Armani have recently launched online shopping platforms for the China market, and over the next year, we're likely to see brands like Diane Von Furstenberg offer e-commerce platforms on their Chinese-language sites. However, for some brands, simply adding a couple of extra features to their websites isn't enough. For Louis Vuitton and Burberry, two brands that have made serious pushes into the digital space in China, it's all about technological superiority in the China market.
Back in 2008, Louis Vuitton, already one of the most well-known luxury brands operating in China, tapped celebrities Shu Qi, Joan Chen and Gong Li for its Soundwalk audio guides campaign, and last year LV became the first major luxury brand to experiment with digital marketing via Sina Weibo -- China's answer to Twitter -- a move saw other brands like Chanel, Gucci and DVF follow in rapid succession. Louis Vuitton has also taken steps to localize its digital outreach efforts by not only staking out a presence on Weibo, but also working to ensure its output resonates with Chinese netizens. From Wave:
Louis Vuitton’s official brand page on SINA, a popular Chinese social network similar to Twitter, has attracted a strong fan base with over 70,000 followers, more than other premium brands like Chanel or Gucci. Alongside posts about their products and cultural events, Louis Vuitton have recently posted pictures of their charity sponsored panda, named “Louis”, who acts as an emblem for the brand's supportive actions towards panda protection in China.
WaveMetrix analysis shows that the post about Louis the panda generates the most positive response among all topics Louis Vuitton posts about. This suggests that a successful way to engage consumers in emerging markets is to post about topics that will resonate with their cultural background. In addition, Chinese consumers are not only more positive in response to the charity post, but also express more love for the Louis Vuitton brand than they do for product-related posts.
While Louis Vuitton was arguably the first out of the gates in terms of embracing the Chinese blogosphere, Burberry -- which has spent the last couple of years trying to change its image from one of stodgy British tradition to one of hip internationalism -- is in the midst of an extended (and expensive) effort to crack the China market. Last July, the company bought back control from its trading partner, Kwok Hang Holdings, for US$108 million as part of a restructuring effort and announced plans to unify its brand message to appeal to Chinese consumers. Earlier this month, Burberry unveiled its largest-ever digital rollout in preparation for the opening of its massive Beijing flagship, promoting the event by launching official accounts on the four major Chinese social media platforms (Kaixin001, Douban, Youku, Sina Weibo) and becoming the first luxury brand to experiment with China's location-based social media network, Jiepang. (A social "check-in" service akin to Foursquare.)
To celebrate the opening of its flagship, Burberry held a dazzling runway show at Beijing Television Centre, which incorporated huge digital screens and music by the British band Keane and DJ ShanXi. Following its star-studded event, Burberry announced that it would upgrade all 57 of its current China locations to make them more "digitally-savvy." As PSFK notes:
The stores will have touchscreens as big as full-length mirrors displaying special collections and staff will carry iPads to help customers order items that aren’t available in their store. Fashion shows will be streamed from other countries, and there will be special Burberry-produced entertainment. Burberry’s other markets will later follow the digital retail model debuted in China.
Now, as Burberry has arguably taken the lead in China's digital luxury "war," the ball's in Louis Vuitton's court. But will LV be able to move quickly enough and appeal to a younger, hipper crowd? Do they want to? Will other brands like DVF or Gucci soon leapfrog LV in the digital sphere and successfully incorporate Chinese social platforms and cutting-edge technology into their China strategies? Interesting questions to keep in mind as major brands continue to make the transition from physical advertising to tailored digital outreach.