After a rapid ascent over the past year to become China’s top-downloaded app, musical short video platform Douyin is attracting the attention of brands even as it faces increased government scrutiny.

Similar to lip-syncing social app Musical.ly, which was acquired by its parent company ByteDance, Douyin has an estimated 32.5 million users and 100 million daily video views. Known for UGC challenges and viral memes like dance crazes or beauty transformation videos, the app has recently been pursuing commercialization with features like advertising, brand-sponsored challenges and Snapchat-esque filters and stickers, and a new commerce button on influencer videos linking to purchase on Taobao or Tmall.

Global brands across a range of sectors have become early Douyin adopters, including names like Adidas, Audi, and Under Armour. Since the app appeals to a younger demographic from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities and is popular with women, fashion and beauty brands like Marie Dalgar are also getting on board.

Three luxury fashion brands have launched official Douyin accounts so far: Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, and Dior. Dior recently enlisted Douyin influencers to attend and film its recent Shanghai runway show, including an influencer known for his street dance videos who boasts more than 2.4 million fans on the app. Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger have both sponsored promotions in the brand’s challenge section, where users can create videos doing specific stunts like dance moves or singing. Michael Kors created a challenge in November asking users to show their fashion walk with a branded filter, while Tommy Hilfiger had a branded filter challenge that gave the creator of the top video the chance to meet actor Shawn Yue. The challenge asked users to showcase the elements of music, fashion, art, and speed. 

E-tailers are also embracing Douyin. Tmall and JD.com both operate accounts on the app, and Tmall has promoted individual brands such as La Mer. Currently trending on the app is a challenge by luxury e-tailer Secoo with a sticker that looks like a Secoo gift box is being given to the users, who pretend to take luxury goods out of the box and show them off. Challenges like these are juiced by top influencers participating in order to encourage followers to submit their own videos.

Launched in 2016, Douyin’s ascent was made possible in large part by investment from ByteDance. The company also owns the ultra-popular content aggregator Toutiao, which features Douyin videos. With massive popularity growth come challenges, however: scared competitors like Weibo now block Douyin videos in favor of elevating their own short video platforms like Miaopai, while Tencent News recently claimed that the app has a problem with the proliferation of videos depicting counterfeit luxury and beauty products.

Douyin and Toutiao have also been targets of the Chinese government’s new online censorship campaign this month, which caused Douyin to disable downloads for the next three weeks and temporarily remove its livestreaming and comments features. While government censorship always makes the future of Chinese apps uncertain, these types of clampdowns are usually a sign an app has “made it,” as the government has stepped in to “clean up” content on China’s most popular social platforms in the past. 

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