TikTok vs Douyin: What luxury brands need to know

    With TikTok now firmly entrenched in luxury’s marketing playbook, its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, is rising as one to watch. But brands should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
    What can brands learn on TikTok vs Douyin? Photo: Jing Daily

    With TikTok boasting over 1 billion monthly active users and Douyin claiming 750 million, the ByteDance-owned short-form video apps are eclipsing their competitors.

    But mastering the two platforms is a delicate dance. Douyin, China’s equivalent of TikTok, is emerging as a powerful force in its own right across the mainland, with its own Chinese cultural nuances and local consumer preferences.

    To succeed on both channels, a copy-and-paste route isn’t an effective shortcut, marketing and communications specialist Federica Ingrosso tells Jing Daily, emphasizing that they are “two distinct entities that were created to serve different markets and audiences.”

    Case study: bifocal Loewe#

    Loewe, a master at harnessing the online zeitgeist, has adapted its efforts to suit the two channels.

    On TikTok, the maison earned its stripes by aligning with Western Gen Z consumers’ infatuation with memes, algorithmic content, and internet culture.

    Last December, the brand tapped TikTok sensation Adanna Duru, known for her viral videos of her speaking in the form of emojis, to recite ‘Loewe’ in the style of pictograms including a dolphin, ghost, and lizard. The clip has amassed over 5.7 million views. In another video, popular media personality Kristy Sarah – known for her chaotic product reviews – “rates” the sounds of different Loewe heels. Sarah’s video has been viewed over 11.2 million times.

    View post on TikTok

    Over on Douyin, Loewe takes a less meta approach, instead honing in on domestic interests, such as Chinese New Year, and celebrities. Content often spotlights the brand’s Chinese ambassadors, Yang Mi and Wu Lei, to maintain domestic focus; for example, a recent post features the two ambassadors partaking in a retro game show-style quiz, complete with official hashtags to drive online exposure.

    Nuanced cultural overtones#

    TikTok has recently seen an upswing in content relating to post-irony and meme culture. Luxury brands are listening.

    Humor has become a response mechanism for digital natives, reports trend forecasting company WGSN, with 91 percent of global audiences expressing a preference for brands that are funny, and 90 percent more likely to remember funny advertisements. On TikTok, Gen Z humor is defined by chaos, bad taste, memes, and “cringe” humor that often references other memes.

    China’s unique socioeconomic factors also come into play on Douyin, Sally Maier-Yip, founder of communications consultancy 11k Consulting tells Jing Daily. “Economic growth, urbanization, social norms, and government regulation all play a role,” she says. Cultural norms in China are also a key driver. “Content that promotes positive social values and avoids controversy is often favored,” Maier-Yip adds.

    Loewe's content on TikTok vs Douyin. Photo: Jing Daily
    Loewe's content on TikTok vs Douyin. Photo: Jing Daily

    A brand’s content should reflect these domestic sentiments. A running joke, meme, or trend in the West isn’t guaranteed to resonate with consumers in China, and vice versa.

    China’s roster of lucrative shopping festivals, such as Single’s Day and Lunar New Year, also requires brands to be agile in tailoring their content for seasonal interests.

    For instance, during this year’s Qixi Festival (China’s Valentine’s Day), Burberry launched an exclusive gift box alongside its usual collections as part of Douyin’s e-commerce Super Brand Day event. “Users on Douyin may engage more with educational or culturally relevant content, featuring traditional Chinese holidays, or cultural references unique to China,” says Ingrosso.

    Different semantics#

    TikTok’s unpolished cadence dominates brands’ content. “Videos that encompass spontaneity, authenticity, entertainment, and humor are more likely to go viral [for luxury brands] in the West,” says Sarah Yam, co-founder of Chinese digital marketing agency Red Digital.

    Douyin users favors a more refined angle, Yam says. “On Douyin, luxury brands prioritize content with a higher level of couture style, sophistication, and luxury aspiration, elevating a sense of status, taste, and elegance, and catering to the desires of Chinese consumers,” she adds.

    Tory Burch is a prime example. On TikTok, the label taps into the app’s lo-fi feel, while on Douyin, it takes a more put-together approach, with a focus on branding.

    View post on TikTok

    A love for livestreaming#

    According to a Douyin sponsored luxury industry whitepaper released by Deloitte and Ocean Engine, in the first half of 2023, bimonthly luxury livestream sessions amassed 20 billion views.

    Their continuous flow of product information and direct communication is what makes them so appealing for China’s netizens, says Ingrosso, noting that audiences on Douyin “tend to show a higher demand for educational and informative content compared to international audiences on TikTok.”

    Coach, Dior, and Louis Vuitton are capitalizing on Douyin’s livestreaming craze by hosting regular live broadcasts, offering styling recommendations, material compositions, and product comparisons. Deftness is essential, Maier-Yip says, stressing the importance of “adapting marketing strategies to the specific context and preferences of each platform and region.”

    The likes of Coach and Dior are tapping into China's Douyin craze. Photo: Douyin
    The likes of Coach and Dior are tapping into China's Douyin craze. Photo: Douyin

    “[Livestreaming’s] adoption in the US market has lagged significantly behind,” Joanna Williams, founder and CEO of influencer commerce start-up Since Tomorrow tells Jing Daily. “Unlike China, where livestreaming programs are often longer and more engaging, the US audience prefers shorter, more convenient content.”

    “The US has a much more fragmented online shopping landscape,” Williams adds, “with many brands, manufacturers and creators all selling directly on their own websites, unlike in China, where commerce is dominated by super-apps.”

    While TikTok’s livestreaming ecosystem may not be as robust, it isn’t to be overlooked. When Burberry livestreamed its SS24 collection from Highbury Fields, over 160,000 people tuned in.

    The influencer economy#

    Both TikTok and Douyin users have grown savvier about the content they consume. It’s a development partly driven by the rise in influencer-based scandals, says Ingrosso, citing both Li Jiaqi (the “Lipstick King”) and Italian influencer Chiara Ferragni as examples.

    “Chinese consumers have become adept at distinguishing between organic and paid content promotions based on the tone and manner of the post,” Yam says.

    But the mainland’s flourishing KOL economy remains fertile ground, bringing in $681.5 million in 2023, according to Sekkei Digital Group.

    Livestreaming and KOLs reign supreme on Douyin. Photo: Azoya Group
    Livestreaming and KOLs reign supreme on Douyin. Photo: Azoya Group

    Douyin boasts a thriving ecosystem of KOLs, including Crazy Little Brother Yang (the most followed KOL on Douyin in 2023), which are forming strong ties with luxury houses.

    “KOL marketing in China is deeply rooted in its culture, centered on strong personal relationships, the so-called guanxi,” Ingrosso says. “In a highly competitive market dominated by millions of players, Chinese consumers not only rely on recommendations from trusted friends and relatives, but also on figures they perceive as credible sources due to their expertise and trustworthiness in specific niches.”

    In the West, however, the influencer tide is turning. Trust is plummeting as the barriers for micro-influencers decrease, Yam says, placing significant pressure on brands to rethink their endorsers.

    Brands are switching to more buzzy strategies in place of influencers, such as celebrity-driven fashion week content. “A prime example is Louis Vuitton’s behind-the-scenes video featuring K-pop sensation J-Hope [Jung Ho-seok] at the June show,” Williams says.

    View post on TikTok

    Unique entities#

    As both apps mature into content overlords, Ingrosso says brands should treat them as unique media channels, and avoid cross-posting.

    TikTok’s global scope may offer more breathing space, but Douyin’s rising status in China should be on every luxury brand’s radar, says Maier-Yip.

    But to convince China’s cybernauts, brands should invest in collaborating with local creators, incorporating region-specific cultural elements, and using language that is appropriate for its domestic audience.

    “By leveraging Douyin’s unique features and capabilities, brands can engage with a highly engaged audience, amplify their messaging, and drive sales in this important market,” she adds.

    • TikTok and Douyin, despite similarities, have distinct cultural nuances and audience preferences, necessitating tailored content strategies for each platform.
    • Brands like Loewe adeptly navigate both platforms by aligning with Western Gen Z humor on TikTok and focusing on domestic interests and celebrities on Douyin.
    • Cultural differences between Western and Chinese audiences influence content preferences, requiring brands to adapt humor, cultural references, and seasonal content accordingly.
    • Brands must prioritize authenticity, adaptability, and collaboration with local influencers to succeed on both platforms, avoiding cross-posting and understanding the unique features and capabilities of each app.
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