What the ‘Sisters Who Make Waves’ Sensation Says About Chinese Shoppers

    The third season of the variety show, "Sisters Who Make Waves," is taking China’s internet by storm. How can luxury brands ride on its popularity?
    The third season of the variety show, "Sisters Who Make Waves," is taking China’s internet by storm. How can luxury brands ride on its popularity? Photo: Sisters Who Make Waves' Weibo
      Published   in Consumer

    After a successful first and second season, the hyper-popular domestic variety show, “Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风破浪的姐姐),” is taking China’s internet by storm once again. Even before the program aired, the show’s comeback drove significant online traffic. On May 17, the announcement of the celebrity roster garnered over 230 million views on Weibo within eight hours.

    Unlike other talent shows where young unknown contestants compete to debut as a new girl or boy group, the Mango TV reality series invites 30 established female celebrities over the age of 30 to vie for a chance to re-debut on the stage. The casting largely taps into Millennials and Gen Z’s nostalgia.

    From Taiwanese singer and actress Cyndi Wang, who was one of the hottest stars in the 2000s and early 2010s, to Jessica Jung, the Korean idol and ex-member of the K-pop band Girls’ Generation, this season’s participants did not disappoint. On the first day alone, the show was played 136 million times, far surpassing the viewership of the previous two seasons.

    Here, Jing Daily analyzes how luxury brands can take advantage of this trending TV program.

    Dressing contestants#

    In recent years, high-end houses have been leveraging young traffic stars like Ouyang Nana, Song Zu’er, and Zhao Jinmai to appeal to Gen Z. However, the overly young cast of ambassadors alienates older generations from mirroring themselves in luxury brands’ offerings. Considering that China is one of the fastest aging populations in the world, this might be a loss for companies.

    The program’s celebrities present a unique opportunity for companies to reconnect with these older demographics by leveraging familiar faces. At the same time, because the series is widely popular among young consumers, dressing, featuring, and endorsing these stars will greatly resonate with this target, too.

    London-based demi-fine jewelry brand Missoma seems to have anticipated the popularity of the show. Thus far, its iconic necklaces, rings, and earrings have been seen on multiple contestants, such as 43-year-old singer and actress Aya Liu, singer and songwriter Kelly Yu, and Tan Weiwei, runner-up of the third season of the national singing contest “Super Girl.”

    The British designer jewelry brand Missoma dresses contestants Kelly Yu (left) and Aya Liu (right). Photo: Xiaohongshu
    The British designer jewelry brand Missoma dresses contestants Kelly Yu (left) and Aya Liu (right). Photo: Xiaohongshu

    Yet, celebrity seeding in the variety show is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. As Vanessa Wu, Europe Business Director at Gusto Luxe, stated: “The series presents a great chance for niche brands that offer garments and accessories for daily wear to rapidly gain awareness in the domestic market. But for the ultra-luxury ones, it will not necessarily work.”

    In fact, contemporary labels with more accessible price points will find it easier to convert exposure into actual sales. At this point, businesses will need to make sure they provide a smooth online shopping experience.

    Leveraging nostalgia marketing#

    Each participant made a gorgeous appearance on the show and performed impressively. Yet, one contestant stood out. Cyndi Wang — sporting a school uniform-like Thom Browne mini skirt and white shirt — sang her old hit from 2004, “Love You,” and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from netizens.

    Cyndi Wang dressed in Thom Browne for the performance of her 2004 hit song, "Love You." Photo: Sisters Who Make Waves' Weibo
    Cyndi Wang dressed in Thom Browne for the performance of her 2004 hit song, "Love You." Photo: Sisters Who Make Waves' Weibo

    At the time of writing, the Taiwanese idol had over 22 related hashtags trending on Weibo’s Hot Search. Meanwhile, the song she performed topped six major domestic music platforms for the most streams over the past week. Some hardcore fans, known as “Cyndi Wang’s boys” (mostly born in the 80s and 90s), even decided to buy Mango TV’s company shares to support the superstar. The corporation’s stock hit the daily price limit on the day of broadcast, pointing to the singer’s successful comeback.

    The buzz around the 39-year-old sensation signals a gateway to reach today’s Millennials and Gen Z: nostalgia marketing. Danni Liu, general manager at iBLUE Communications Europe and US office, noted: “Cyndi Wang emotionally resonates with today’s consumers; she unlocks the memories of an entire era. The fact is, these fans are seeing the celebrity as a symbol of their childhood.”

    That said, Liu added that brands should not simply pay attention to a certain star alone. Rather, they should “understand the zeitgeist their consumers have lived in to create topics and scenarios for them.” As such, creating sentimental value is key to fostering strong relationships with local consumers and competing against indigenous brands, which are snapping up market shares from their international counterparts.

    Creating their own “Sisters Who Make Waves”#

    While the impact of the first wave of COVID-19 was relatively small on residents’ daily lives, Shanghai’s nearly two-month lockdown has now battered consumer confidence. And it’s not just brick-and-mortar stores that have been hit; e-tailers have also been suffering from the ongoing pandemic. “People are re-examining their way of living,” explained Wu. “For brands, this may not be the right timing for commercial promotion but surely to promote deeper dialogue and a sentimental bond with Chinese consumers that are coming out of the lengthy lockdown.”

    Reality shows have largely benefitted from locals spending more time at home. However, Wu suggests that celebrity seeding or sponsorship might have limited effects. “Luxury brands can start considering bolder options. Perhaps partnering with an affirmed production house to create their own variety series,” she said.

    What happens behind the scenes has always sparked the audience's curiosity. So it is for fashion. Take the 2019 blockbuster variety show “Fourty": the iQiyi program invited five celebrities to launch a pop-up installation in an emerging fashion capital and sell guochao streetwear brands, which helped boost national interest in homegrown designers. Domestic labels like SMFK, Private Policy, and Sankuanz received impressive traffic from their appearance on the show.

    High-end houses launching a variety show will surely be a hyped novelty. But as Wu mentioned, it should not be a platform to just sell goods, but rather educate consumers about heritage, craftsmanship, and values so as to bring them closer to the brand. Perhaps in the long run, it can even have a big cultural influence in the way “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” does. It will be tantalizing to see a future in which a luxury house creates the next hit TV show in China.

    • "Sisters Who Make Waves," a variety show featuring female celebrities over 30 competing for a chance to re-debut, is massively popular in China, highlighting the power of nostalgia and celebrity influence.
    • Luxury brands can leverage the show to connect with both older demographics and younger audiences, using familiar faces to resonate with a wide consumer base, as demonstrated by Missoma's successful celebrity endorsements.
    • Nostalgia marketing, as seen with the buzz around contestant Cyndi Wang, proves effective for engaging Millennials and Gen Z, suggesting that brands should tap into the sentimental values of consumers to foster deeper connections.
    • Brands interested in the Chinese market should consider creating their own reality shows or content that not only promotes products but also educates consumers about their heritage, craftsmanship, and values, thereby building a stronger emotional bond.
    • As consumer behavior in China evolves, especially in the post-lockdown era, luxury houses exploring innovative content creation like variety shows could significantly influence consumer engagement and brand perception, potentially setting new trends in luxury marketing.
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