Love in times of Covid: China’s Fictitious Valentine’s Day

520, and how to create marketing content for Chinese holidays

For any brand looking to enter the Chinese market, May 20th, known as 520 in Chinese, is a key date to be aware of. Like Singles’ Day and other e-commerce festivals, 520 is one of a plethora of new holidays in China, which have mainly been developed with sales in mind. So, what does 520 actually mean? The Chinese pronunciation of 520 (五二零 wǔ èr líng) sounds very similar to ‘I love you’ (我爱你 wǒ ài nǐ), which became a popular internet slang phrase. It then became associated with the date May 20th (05.20), and some canny marketers saw the opportunity to reach younger consumers through a new kind of Valentine’s Day.

Over the last few years, Chinese domestic brands such as Perfect Diary and HPF have started to dominate the beauty sector. 520 is a clear example of how they’ve achieved their success - highly localised products and marketing content based on a deep knowledge of Chinese consumers. For this year's 520, HPF partnered with popular artist Gangsida to put on a virtual exhibition, aimed at marketing their new eye cream. The exhibition is filled with collages of lovers' eyes, producing some striking artwork. This campaign shows HPF's deep understanding of their target consumer, working with a popular artist to celebrate 520.

Hpf X Gangsida Virtual Art Gallery Campaign
Hpf X Gangsida Virtual Art Gallery Campaign

How can foreign beauty brands compete?

Brand positioning is key. For now, the majority of domestic Chinese brands primarily compete on price. But this is changing. The influence of Japanese and Korean beauty has raised the standards that Chinese consumers expect from low-priced products. Luxury Western brands have traditionally performed well, as they operate in a different market segment. It’s important therefore for foreign brands seeking to enter China to carefully work out their brand positioning. Needless to say, luxury foreign beauty brands must still work hard to attract Chinese consumers. Here at TONG, we’ve found that holidays like 520 provide a great opportunity for brands to create engaging, localised content.

Brand collaborations are an effective way to create localised content. For 520 this year, MAC collaborated with Honor of Kings (王者荣耀), a wildly popular multiplayer online battle arena game. Through a WeChat article, the reader is encouraged to choose one of the handsome avatars to go on a 520 date with. After clicking on the chosen avatar, a themed set of makeup is revealed. This unique and engaging concept demonstrates MAC’s understanding of current youth culture in China.

MAC X Honour of King 520 WeChat campaign
MAC X Honour of King 520 WeChat campaign

Collaborating with key opinion leaders (KOLs) for holidays can also be highly effective. This year, we worked with Malone Souliers for their 520 campaign, which also promoted the launch of their new online store. The campaign came at a particularly important time, as Chinese consumers start to regain confidence after COVID-19 and return to in-store shopping. In our content, we used 520 as a hook, leading people to engage with the launch of Malone Souliers New online store. The influencers we collaborated with on WeChat and Little Red Book emphasised how a pair of Malone Souliers shoes is their favourite gift to give to or receive from a loved one, or indeed to buy for themselves as a post-lockdown treat. The collaboration also included a Malone Souliers voucher that the KOLs could gift to one of their followers, in order to drive traffic to the new store. We then used the influencer-generated assets to compile 520 content for direct publication on the Malone Souliers official account.

Malone Souliers 520 influencer campaign
Malone Souliers 520 influencer campaign

"Engaging with KOLs on e-commerce sites is vital for brands," says Laura Deng, an account manager at TONG Digital. "Right now, after lockdown in China, is the perfect time for KOL campaigns, as fashion bloggers can't wait to dress up again and start creating fresh content." In order to run a successful influencer campaign, Laura recommends "using tier 1 influencers to increase awareness, but at the same time be careful not to forget about micro-influencers - normally they have their own loyal fan groups who share similar traits and interests and will listen to their suggestions. Secondly, the theme is essential. For example, our 520 campaign had the theme of 'step into spring after lockdown' with 520 used as a seasonal hook. Finally, make sure to find the right influencers. Make sure they have a similar audience as the brand and are able to produce high-quality assets."

Influencer-generated 520 content for Malone Souliers
Influencer-generated 520 content for Malone Souliers

For brands new to China, utilising and repurposing existing brand assets can be a powerful way to cost-effectively engage with holidays such as 520. For this year’s 520, we used an existing interview from Shay and Blue’s English language website for their China campaign. The interview was between a couple who spoke about their experience sharing a fragrance. Our account managers translated excerpts into Chinese, highlighting the importance of the sense of scent for relationships, and the ability of gender-neutral scents to break the conventional boundaries of gender, relationships and love. This storytelling strongly linked to Shay and Blue’s identity as an inclusive, progressive brand. What’s more, it helped Shay and Blue to stand out from domestic brands, who generally emphasises perfume as a highly gendered ‘for him’ or ‘for her’ gift.

Repurposed content used for Shay and Blue's 520 WeChat campaign
Repurposed content used for Shay and Blue's 520 WeChat campaign
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