Move over, Stranger Things. A look at the list of 2018’s most-Googled keywords finds that the world’s top TV show is “延禧攻略,” or Story of Yanxi Palace. A smash hit in China, the show has been a trending topic of online discussion and inspired brands to embrace a craze for imperial style.
A Chinese period drama about a Qing Dynasty imperial harem created by the “Netflix of China” iQiyi, Yanxi Palace broke records with a staggering 700 million views in just one day thanks to its high-budget, beautiful costumes and set design. Viewers are also drawn to its storylines of backstabbing concubines with a skill for scheming that would put Cersei Lannister to shame.
Since Google is banned in mainland China, the show’s popularity on its search engine highlights its wider global appeal, with a huge volume of searches by a global Chinese-speaking audience in other locations like Singapore and Hong Kong.
The show’s massive online buzz in China has expanded to include discussion of beauty and fashion trends. Users and influencers on Weibo and social shopping platform RED post about beauty products using the “Yanxi Colors” hashtag, creating nail combinations and other beauty and fashion looks inspired by the show’s unique color palette.
Gartner L2 data shows that beauty brands have joined in the Yanxi Palace craze online, with one-fourth of tracked brands mentioning Story of Yanxi Palace on social media. Guerlain, for example, has leaned into the trend, announcing on Weibo that it provides the lip color for the show and sponsoring a branded hashtag that’s a play on the show’s name to promote its Rouge G lipstick collection. Users on RED have nicknamed three of the lip colors used by three different characters, including the “Empress Color”, or shade number 62, and the “Noble Consort Color,” or number 3.
Previously relatively unknown, the show’s stars are now attracting more brand promotions thanks to their newfound fame. Guerlain enlisted an actress from the show to promote a Tmall sale of its lipsticks on Weibo, while Wu Jinyan, the main star of the show, now promotes a wide range of beauty and fashion brands. Post on her RED and Weibo accounts include names like Dior, Salvatore Ferragamo Parfums, Shiseido, and Jo Malone.
In addition to Yanxi Palace, Forbidden City-inspired imperial style is hot in China right now: the Forbidden City Palace Museum’s gift shop recently launched its own line of lipsticks that generated massive online buzz in China, with several shades selling out quickly. For China’s top e-commerce festival Singles Day, the Palace Museum’s jewelry designer teamed up with local beauty brand Pechoin to create special-edition compacts in 2017. In 2018, Pechoin launched a new collection in the Forbidden City ahead of Singles Day with products that were also featured in a Forbidden City informational TV show. As a result, the collection made over 100 million RMB in sales within 30 minutes on Singles Day.
The Forbidden City has actually proven better than many top international beauty brands at responding to influencer trends in China: its lipstick release came after Chinese beauty bloggers began using special decorated Forbidden City gift shop tape to embellish their lipstick tubes. The gift shop previously teamed up with top fashion and beauty blogger Becky Li to create collaboration lines of jewelry and notebooks.
The trend also highlights the rising popularity of “Designed in China” style, which has been especially promoted by Tmall this year. “National wave” style (国潮) was named a top marketing keyword in China for 2018, and was promoted by Tmall in both its Singles Day marketing and its sponsored New York Fashion Week China Day presentations.