Beauty Brands Find Their Funny Bones in China

    While most brands rely on the star power of actors and idols, down-to-earth comedians are emerging as the newest faces of global beauty in China.
    Twin comics Yan Yi and Yan Yue do a stand-up routine for Benefit Cosmetics. Photo: Courtesy of brand
    Sky CanavesAuthor
      Published   in Finance

    While most brands rely on the star power of actors and idols whose passionate fans are willing to make purchases in order to support their favorite celebrities, down-to-earth comedians are emerging as the newest faces of global beauty in China.

    Brand interest in comedians really took off last year with the third season of Tencent Video’s stand-up competition Rock & Roast (脱口秀大会), which brought numerous new fans to top contestants, particularly female comedians such as Li Xueqin and Yang Li, who are (as elsewhere) underrepresented in the male-dominated field. Domestic brands and e-commerce platforms were among the first to seize on the potential of popular comedians to help boost sales. For example, during the hotly contested run-up to Singles’ Day on November 11, partnered with the producers of Rock & Roast to livestream a “season 3.5” spinoff of the series that promoted the advantages and benefits of shopping via the platform.

    Savvy beauty brands have been among the first international players to tap into comedians, with Rock & Roast champion Wang Mian appearing in e-commerce livestreams to promote L'Oréal and Biotherm during last year’s Singles’ Day sales. L'Oréal has also worked with the big-talking entrepreneur-turned-livestreaming star Luo Yonghao and celebrity interviewer Li Yijing, who appears on the latest season of hit comedy “talk show” Roast (吐槽大会), to star in commercials that promote the brand’s products in a humorous manner.

    The LVMH-owned Benefit Cosmetics recently took a creative approach with its stand-up inspired video featuring twin comedians Yan Yi and Yan Yue doing a routine on the subject of “post-makeup freedom.” Like many rising female comedians, the Yan twins have often tackled thorny issues, though that can pose risks for brands as well. Earlier this year, Intel came under fire when it posted a quote from “punchline queen” Yang Li that was deemed offensive to men, and faced the prospect of a boycott as a result (the company ultimately pulled the ad). Domestic lingerie brand Ubras also faced backlash for a comedian-centered campaign in which one of the participants used a sexist double-entendre that demeaned the role of women in the workplace.

    Stand-up comedy is still a relatively new format in China, and comedians lack anything akin to the established bar and club scene of the United States and other Western countries. Instead, they make their names through open mic events and through televised competitions such as Rock & Roast and Roast, but their earning power from live events remains limited (even in China’s post-coronavirus era), and they are more reliant on digital channels such as livestreaming for income. This creates numerous opportunities for brands to partner with comedians on various platforms (including Douyin and Kuaishou) and using various creative formats to entertain audiences while introducing products and encouraging purchases, as long as they take care to vet the content with a sensitive ear.

    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.