In China, Luxury Brands Sell the (Virtual) Boyfriend Experience

    In China, presenting virtual intimacy in advertising has become increasingly common, as a genre of POV (point of view) marketing.
    Pandora’s 2017 Christmas campaign. Photo: Pandora official Weibo.
    Jiaqi LuoAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    Imagine that you’re snoozing in bed. You awaken and click a video on your phone. You immediately see your celebrity crush, a handsome young man with an angelic voice, whispering “Good morning, beautiful” while making intense eye contact with you through the screen. You know it’s an ad, but it’s also an incredibly intimate moment.

    In China, this type of virtual intimacy in advertising has become increasingly common, as a genre of POV (point of view) marketing—a camera and script style that immerses the viewer into a digital pseudo-relationship—has been taking off. Ads shot in POV style are not only letting viewers feel closer to their idols, but they also make these brands’ message more pleasant and digestible to consumers.

    This "little fresh meat" concept, which leverages women’s admiration for young male pop stars, is becoming a global trend, but in China, these fans are much more emotionally invested (not to mention financially committed) to their idols. They’re so focused, in fact, that they’ve started to divide into subgroups. On social media, fans have different motives: “girlfriend fans” (女友粉) who fantasize about their idols as an ideal boyfriend, “truelove fans” (真爱粉) who act irrationally to every word that comes out of their idol’s mouth, and “Mom fans” (妈妈粉) who adore their idols’ youthful appearance and see support for their idol as a form of child-rearing.

    Within this intense and growing idol culture, top male idols could easily turn their appeal into highly valuable commercial influence, and luxury brands see this potential. By transforming an ad into a “virtual” love experience, many luxury brands are gaining even deeper access to these fans than ever before. Here are some recent examples:

    Girlfriend-style POV shots from YSL Mon Paris video story. Courtesy photo
    Girlfriend-style POV shots from YSL Mon Paris video story. Courtesy photo

    1. YSL Beauté's 520 Paris Specials#

    On May 20 (“I love you” Day in China), YSL Beauté launched a series of romantic Paris adventures starring the Chinese rap idol Z.Tao. Named “Mon Paris” to promote the perfume of the same name, the series took fans on an intimate journey with Z.Tao by immersing them in romantic visual details: eye contact under bed sheets, hand holding in the streets of Paris, and views of a woman’s hand lingering around their idol’s neck while he looks back passionately.

    Shot in a POV style, the video gives fans an exclusive view of their idol’s daily lives wrapped within a lavish story about touring Paris with him. Hashtagged #LoveZ.TaoLoveIt# (#黄子韬爱就粉TA#), the promotion racked up 53,594 shares on Weibo.

    Maxime Scheyen, International Director for Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) fragrances, previously commented on the advertising campaign in an interview with Jing Daily. According to Scheyen, the video with Z. Tao suggests the singer is inviting a girl on a romantic getaway to Paris – but leaves the identity of the girl up to the viewer's imagination.

    Pandora’s 2017 Christmas campaign. Photo: Pandora official Weibo.
    Pandora’s 2017 Christmas campaign. Photo: Pandora official Weibo.

    2. Pandora 2017 Christmas campaign#

    The jewelry brand Pandora relies heavily on traditional gift-giving as a form of love, and their 2017 Christmas campaign in China hit all the right keywords to inspire romance. The video, shot in a vertical format for mobile phone viewing, begins with heartthrob Chen Boling practicing a love speech to confess his feeling for an imaginary protagonist behind a door (essentially, the other side of the phone’s screen). At the end of this video, the door suddenly opens, and Chen offers the Pandora gift as a Christmas present. Unlike modern Western dating, the “love confession” (表白, the act of saying “I like you”) is an essential phase in Chinese dating and a necessary step before embarking on a real date. Therefore, it was a smart decision on Pandora’s part to cater specifically to the Chinese market with a love confession like Chen’s.

    Shot like a virtual reality love show, Pandora’s campaign successfully touched the hearts of Chen’s large fan base. For the video post on Weibo, the most liked comment is “Aw, I think I just fell in love.” And the second most liked comment writes, “I was saying ‘yes I do’ the whole time to my phone.”

    No Image Found
    Courtesy photo

    3. Chloé 2017 Perfume Launch#

    Compared to Pandora and YSL Beauté, Chloé’s collaboration with actor Jing Boran offers a subtler path towards creating virtual intimacy between idol and fan. Instead of explicitly flirting with the viewer, Chloé’s perfume ad implies old-fashioned romance through handwritten letters and calligraphy.

    During the video, the camera acts as the female gaze following Jing as he makes seductive poses with the Chloé perfume and writes poems to his ideal lover. The campaign message states that “the perfume, just like a signature, helps your idol spot you in the crowd.” It’s an ad that subtly lets the viewer fantasize about an imaginary encounter with her idol.

    Flirty, seductive, and highly sensorial, these POV ads are awakening a new style of storytelling within the world of luxury and further proving that the digital realm is far from a walled off area for luxury brands that want to make consumers’ hearts beat just a little faster.

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