Over the past weekend, Beijingâ€™sÂ much-hyped ban on outdoor advertisements that promote â€œhedonism, lavishness and the worship of foreign thingsâ€ took effect.Â As Jing Daily wrote last month, the ban is ostensibly aimed at â€œ[easing] public concerns about the countryâ€™s widening wealth gapâ€ by ridding the city of advertisements that use words such as â€œluxury,â€ â€œhigh-class,â€ â€œsupremeâ€ and â€œroyalâ€ at risk of aÂ 30,000 yuan (US$4,595) fine per infraction. Though Beijingâ€™s new campaign should have little actual effect on the cityâ€™s fast-growing luxury market â€” new and increasingly lavish flagships are opening there seemingly every month â€” the ban shows that right now, in the words ofÂ one article, â€œluxury is a dirty wordâ€ in Beijing. (In public, at least.)
However, in private, Beijingâ€™s luxury-obsessed consumers are now more spoiled than ever, as many of the worldâ€™s top high-end brands have learned that outdoor advertising is less effective than online outreach and have goneÂ increasinglyÂ digital.
While some luxury brands have limited their digital efforts in China to Chinese-language versions of their websites, others have taken steps to harness theÂ growing popularity of online shopping. International retailers rangingÂ from the Gap toÂ Armani have recently launched online shopping platforms for the China market, and over the next year, weâ€™re likely to seeÂ brands like Diane Von Furstenberg offer e-commerce platforms on their Chinese-language sites. However, for some brands, simply adding a couple of extra features to their websites isnâ€™t enough. For Louis Vuitton and Burberry, two brands that have made serious pushes into the digital space in China, itâ€™s all about technological superiority in the China market.
Back in 2008, Louis Vuitton, already one of the most well-known luxury brands operating in China, tapped celebrities Shu Qi, Joan Chen and Gong LiÂ for its Soundwalk audio guides campaign, and last year LV became the first major luxury brand to experiment with digital marketingÂ via Sina Weibo â€” Chinaâ€™s answer to Twitter â€” a move saw other brands like Chanel, Gucci and DVF follow in rapid succession. Louis Vuitton has also taken steps to localize its digital outreach efforts by not only staking out a presence on Weibo, but also working to ensure its output resonates with Chinese netizens.Â From Wave:
Louis Vuittonâ€™s official brand page on SINA, a popular Chinese social network similar to Twitter, has attracted a strong fan base with over 70,000 followers, more than other premium brands like Chanel or Gucci. Alongside posts about their products and cultural events, Louis Vuitton have recently posted pictures of their charity sponsored panda, named â€œLouisâ€, who acts as an emblem for the brandâ€™s supportive actions towards panda protection in China.
WaveMetrix analysis shows that the post about Louis the panda generates the most positive response among all topics Louis Vuitton posts about. This suggests that a successful way to engage consumers in emerging markets is to post about topics that will resonate with their cultural background. In addition, Chinese consumers are not only more positive in response to the charity post, but also express more love for the Louis Vuitton brand than they do for product-related posts.
While Louis Vuitton was arguably the first out of the gates in terms of embracing the Chinese blogosphere, Burberry â€” which has spent the last couple of years trying to change its image from one of stodgy British tradition to one of hip internationalism â€” is in the midst of an extended (and expensive) effort to crack the China market. Last July,Â the companyÂ bought back control from its trading partner, Kwok Hang Holdings, for US$108 million as part of a restructuring effort and announced plans to unify its brand message to appeal to Chinese consumers. Earlier this month, Burberry unveiled its largest-ever digital rollout in preparation for the opening of its massive Beijing flagship, promoting the event by launching official accounts on the four major Chinese social media platforms (Kaixin001,Â Douban,Â Youku,Â Sina Weibo)Â and becoming the first luxury brand to experiment with Chinaâ€™s location-based social media network,Â Jiepang. (A social â€œcheck-inâ€ service akin toÂ Foursquare.)
To celebrate the opening of its flagship, BurberryÂ held a dazzling runway show at Beijing Television Centre, which incorporated huge digital screens and music by the British band Keane and DJ ShanXi. Following its star-studded event, Burberry announced that it would upgrade all 57 of its current China locations to make them more â€œdigitally-savvy.â€Â As PSFK notes:
The stores will have touchscreens as big as full-length mirrors displaying special collections and staff will carry iPads to help customers order items that arenâ€™t available in their store. Fashion shows will be streamed from other countries, and there will be special Burberry-produced entertainment. Burberryâ€™s other markets will later follow the digital retail model debuted in China.
Now, as Burberry Â has arguably taken the lead in Chinaâ€™sÂ digital luxury â€œwar,â€ the ballâ€™s in Louis Vuittonâ€™s court. But will LV be able to move quickly enough and appeal to a younger, hipper crowd? Do they want to? Will other brands like DVF or Gucci soon leapfrog LV in the digital sphere and successfully incorporate Chinese social platforms and cutting-edge technology into their China strategies? Interesting questions to keep in mind as major brands continue to make the transition from physical advertising to tailored digital outreach.
As Beijing Cracks Down On Outdoor Advertising, Luxury Giants Go Digital by Avery Booker originally appeared on Jing Daily and is republished on Signature9 with permission.