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Beauty vs. Fashion: The Early Access Strategies of Collabs in China

One of the reasons collaborations appeal so much to brands is that they can surprise and stir excitement from consumers because they are different from the usual offerings. And, by providing influential names with early or first access to those products, the hype can be accentuated even further.

Research from Jing Daily’s latest Insight Series, The Drop: Understanding Successful Brand Collaborations, found that beauty brands and luxury fashion labels tend to adopt different early access tactics in China. It is common for the former to give products to various key opinion leaders (KOLs) before a launch, allowing them to review and demonstrate the use of the product before it goes on sale. By comparison, big fashion names rely far less on private influencers to generate consumer anticipation in China. Instead, they tend to grant early access to their brand ambassadors or A-list celebrities.

By examining their respective drops over recent years, one can see the difference. For instance, Esteé Lauder gave several Chinese beauty KOLs first access to its limited Esteé Lauder x SHUSHU/TONG beauty gift boxes for 2021’s Qixi Festival (China’s traditional Valentine’s Day). On local social media platforms like Weibo, the KOLs posted pictures using the brand’s makeup and praised the collaboration for its quality and originality. One beauty influencer with almost 3.7 million followers even produced a 90-second-long promotional video to advertise the new collaboration — and it received more than 25,000 likes. This same strategy was adopted by the Bobbi Brown x Monopoly collaboration, released in Fall 2021. For this drop, KOLs created over 75 percent of the original promotional content on Weibo, as shown in graph one.

Graph one: A breakdown of brand and media vs. KOL promotional content using marketing technology platform Vfluencer. Credit: Jing Daily

Graph one also indicates how luxury fashion brands differently strategize their drops. For their collaboration, Gucci and The North Face released photos of various Chinese celebrities — many of whom were the former’s brand partners — wearing outfits several days before their collaboration was launched in China on December 29, 2020 (the earliest worldwide). Similarly, Louis Vuitton’s tie-up with Supreme was boosted by Chinese idol Lu Han, who acquired the highly sought-after hoodie before its official release in China on June 30, 2017. A day before, Lu posted pictures of himself wearing the hoodie on Weibo and received more than 1.8 million likes.

Most recently, the Fendi x Skims collaboration, which was launched on November 9, 2021, saw several celebrities acquire items early, prompting public recognition of a drop that eventually yielded $1 million in profit in the first minute of launching. In late October, several Chinese idols posted pictures for Fendi x Skims, leading the Italian house’s Weibo posts featuring them to noticeably receive more likes, comments, and shares compared to other posts announcing the collaboration. Graph two highlights the significant role that Chinese KOLs play in Fendi’s online strategy, despite it being a world-famous, highly-recognizable brand.

A breakdown of Fendi’s official Weibo announcements. Credit: Jing Daily

Beauty and luxury brands ultimately use contrasting first-access strategies because they command different levels of cultural capital. The former is more prolific in introducing new offerings and conducting cross-brand collaborations and thus spends more effort in distinguishing their products. The saturated beauty market, particularly in China, sees fiercer competition than the luxury market, given the simultaneous presence of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Western players. Therefore, beauty influencers play a critical role in explaining and demonstrating the uniqueness of products in detail.

Individually, beauty KOLs have far fewer social media followers than generic celebrities, so the latter is still crucial for persuading their followers (who are a target market for the beauty industry) to purchase products. In contrast, renowned luxury fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Gucci command a higher level of cultural capital, so their drops focus more on hype and going viral, to uphold their name in the zeitgeist, instead of their goal being to convince potential customers to make direct purchases. Thus, photos of pop idols wearing yet-to-be-released collaboration apparel are generally sufficient for promotion.

In luxury fashion, overall, collaborations are seen more as a marketing ploy than a direct consumption driver – but is that true for brand crossovers as a whole? Now available on our Reports page, The Drop: Understanding Successful Brand Collaborations answers this question and many others concerning the strategy of collaborative releases across multiple industries.

Buy the report HERE