When it comes to advertising to China’s sought-after Gen Z consumers, it’s not just human influencers doing promotions. Brands are now turning to their favorite video game characters.

Earlier this year, cosmetics label MAC launched a creative collaboration with Tencent-owned fantasy game Honor of Kings, China’s most popular mobile game. For the campaign, analyzed in Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Beauty China, MAC created a special-edition lipstick collection which included five shades that each corresponded to a different character in the game. In addition to more traditional beauty marketing tactics like promotions through beauty influencers and a pop idol group, the brand also enlisted gaming and cosplay influencers to promote the collection on the gaming-focused livestream platform Chushou (触手直播). The brand also worked with Tencent to market the campaign throughout the tech giant’s ecosystem of apps, including messenger app WeChat, QQ’s News, Music, and Browser apps, photo-editing app Pitu, Tencent Video, and Tencent Sports.

The campaign proved successful at generating social buzz and sales: posts by the idol group Rocket Girls alone about it received over 3.1 million interactions. The collection sold out within 24 hours, causing MAC to reach its total monthly sales average in one day.

The decision of a beauty brand to partner with the game highlights the fact that girls are avid gamers in China: more than half of Honor of Kings’ players are female. Brands have also been marketing in the popular mobile game Love and Producer, a dating simulation role-playing game in which players receive text messages and voice calls from virtual boyfriends. L’Oréal-owned Chinese skin care brand MG and personal care brands like Dove have created ads in the game in which the fake boyfriends recommend the products in their “texts” to players.

Brands across a wide range of industries are catching on to China’s video game boom. Nike, for example, recently signed an official sponsorship deal with the Tencent-owned League of Legends Pro League, China’s top league for the popular game that was acquired by Tencent three years ago. Like NFL or NBA players, League of Legends Pro League members will compete clad in Nike apparel. Last October, Chinese League of Legends player Jian “Uzi” Zihao starred in a Nike campaign along with basketball star LeBron James.

With a massive, avid young user base, gaming is being taken seriously by brands in China. Honor of Kings is estimated to be one of the biggest games in the world with over 100 million monthly players, while League of Legends dominates China’s $12.87 billion professional esports industry. 

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