C-beauty’s new secret sauce: Mini dramas

    Decoding how digitally savvy Chinese beauty brands are marketing via creating original non-fiction series on video platforms Douyin and Kuaishou.
    Image: Xiaohongshu
    Juliette Duveauwriter
      Published   in Beauty

    Product seeding into regular drama and films can no longer satisfy Chinese beauty brands’ needs. These labels are now producing their own mini dramas to entertain Chinese consumers while harmoniously merging their products with the plots.

    In the second half of 2023, mini drama production ramped up. According to iiMedia, China's online mini drama market size reached $5.1 billion (37.4 billion RMB) in 2023, a year-on-year increase of 267.6 percent, and it is expected to rise to $14 billion (100 billion RMB) by 2027.

    The format is quickly becoming an opportunity for beauty players, especially Chinese ones, to create engaging original content. By doing so, they are reaching a massive audience and generating brand awareness as well as boosting online sales. This development heralds a new business model and revenue stream in the context of an economic slowdown.

    Major mini dramas#

    Mini dramas are short original online TV series distributed through short video platforms, such as Douyin, Kuaishou, and WeChat Mini Programs. Each episode lasts three to five minutes and never exceeds 10 minutes. There are also shorter versions of less than one minute, which are especially popular on WeChat Mini Programs.

    Kans mini series on Douyi. Image: Kans
    Kans mini series on Douyi. Image: Kans

    Despite their shortness, these mini series have fully captivating and addictive storylines.

    Spanning from sweet romances (#甜宠), CEO-centric love stories (#霸总), to more socially connected narratives, such as women’s empowerment (#女性成长) and revenge tales (#复仇), the themes resonate with people’s emotions – they are sometimes clichéd, yet satisfying.

    Moreover, the plots are like roller coasters, with fast twists and cliffhanger endings leaving viewers in suspense and eager to watch the next episode. These series have grown enormously popular among audiences aged around 18 to even the silver generations, mostly residing in Tier-3 to Tier-5 cities. Notably, females make up about 70 percent of the viewership.

    The popularity of mini dramas is the result of the booming short video culture. Compared to long videos, they provide quicker satisfaction and faster accessibility.

    Most of the branded mini dramas are co-produced with multi-channel network (MCN) agencies and star good-looking but unknown actors or eye-catching KOLs to gain user interest, boost brand exposure, reach potential customers, and achieve live sales conversions.

    Marubi: mini drama beauty pioneer#

    In October 2022, Marubi was the first C-beauty brand to launch a mini drama on the short video platform Kuaishou. The short series conveys a love story between a young CEO and his rebellious secretary. The episodes altogether attracted 120 million views.

    Micro short drama produced by Marubi and product placement. Photo: Marubi
    Micro short drama produced by Marubi and product placement. Photo: Marubi

    Kans: mini drama master#

    According to Douyin, from February to August 2023, the C-beauty skincare brand Kans released five mini dramas, attracting a massive audience for each, ranging from 650 million to 1.2 billion views. Each drama consists of 16 episodes, three minutes each, co-created with top KOL Jiang Shiqi (@姜十七), who boasts 36 million followers on Douyin.

    For example, in the mini drama Grow Up (以成长来装束) the heroine joins the Kans Group and quickly gains recognition in the company for her competency and outstanding soft skills. The mini series tells the story of the career development of the female protagonist, as well as her romance with the company’s handsome CEO.

    The entire drama is available on Douyin. While watching, audiences can directly click product links within the video to purchase Kans’ skincare products. Moreover, thanks to Douyin’s powerful algorithm, people who have watched Kans’ short dramas will also be pointed to the brand’s livestreaming broadcast room. Thanks to the influence of its five dramas, Kans ranked first in skincare monthly sales on Douyin from February to September 2023.

    Kans mini series. Image: Kans
    Kans mini series. Image: Kans

    Proya: dramatizing women’s empowerment#

    Popular domestic skincare brand Proya released three micro-dramas on Douyin from September 2023 onwards, each comprising 16 episodes of around three minutes each.

    In line with the brand’s values and communication strategy, the series focuses on female empowerment. One mini-series on a housewife returning to the workplace amassed 300 million views, and another on the wife exacting revenge on her cheating husband secured 100 million views. The third series, centering on a girl challenging her boyfriend’s mental manipulation, gained 360 million views.

    Instead of relying on KOLs, the brand worked with professional actresses such as He Landou (何蓝逗) and Liu Yun (刘芸), resulting in a higher quality production.

    The brand harmoniously integrated product seeding into the plot, for instance in the dialogue, in a subtle and non-pushy way.

    Mini C-drama produced by Proya that showcases the product placement during the short video. Image: Proya
    Mini C-drama produced by Proya that showcases the product placement during the short video. Image: Proya

    Commercializing the format#

    Mini dramas present an opportunity for brands to reinforce their presence on the trendiest Chinese social media, and secure more exposure as well as boost online sales. It’s a format that enables brands to spark Chinese consumers’ curiosity and match their newest online content consumption habits.

    At present, the mini drama content is more attractive to customers in Tier-3 to Tier-5 cities. C-beauty brands are deploying this content strategy as most of them sit in an affordable price bracket.

    However, as production becomes increasingly sophisticated, this format will likely earn the attention of audiences in higher tier cities. High-end beauty brands would then likely adapt the mini dramas’ plots to their refined positioning.

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