This week, Alibaba’s e-commerce extravaganza Singles Day saw another record-breaking year, raising US$30.8 billion in GMV for a year-over-year increase of 27%. To grab consumers’ attention in the all-out shopping frenzy, brands tapped into China’s obsession with pop idols for social campaigns.

The “idol effect” loomed large over beauty brands on Singles Day this year. Lancôme, the number one top-grossing beauty brand on Tmall during the 24-hour period, promoted one of its several special-edition beauty boxes using Wang Junkai of the ultra-popular boy band TFBoys. A post published by the official TFBoys Weibo account linking to the brand’s Tmall shop earned over 1.2 million shares. The pop group’s members are known for generating massive engagement for brands on social media, previously taking up 28% of total luxury brand celebrity mention engagement on Weibo, according to Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Luxury China.

Other beauty brands among the top 10 Singles Day sellers enlisted newly minted pop idols from mega-hit “idol-making” reality shows that have driven a pop-star frenzy in China. For example, Olay became one of the top Singles Day sellers after promoting its newly launched collection with Zhu Zhengting of the boy band Nine Percent, which was created on the hit iQiyi show “Idol Producer.” Chinese beauty labels also enlisted stars from Idol Producer: Pechoin featured a special-edition product box in collaboration with boy band ONER, which was featured on the show, while Chando featured Idol Producer contestant Qian Zhenghao in a video on its Weibo page. Meanwhile, L’Oreal launched a promotion featuring a livestream of members of the group Rocket Girls 101, a girl group created on the similar Tencent Video show Produce 101 China.

Foreign beauty brands with big budgets for top Chinese celebrities were able to beat local cosmetics giants this year, marking a shift from last year when a few C-beauty brands were able to surge past international rivals for sales.

While international brands generally use female models for women’s products, beauty marketing in China frequently revolves around male celebrities. Male pop idols, known colloquially as “young fresh meat” (xiao xian rou, 小鲜肉), have been particularly effective at generating high social engagement for beauty and fashion brands thanks to their devoted female fan bases.

These types of promotions have been part of beauty brands’ efforts to reach China’s younger consumers, especially those in the “post-90’s” and “post-95” generations (those born after 1990 and 1995). In addition to the “young fresh meat” idols, young female celebrities are also helped beauty brands popular with older women win over a new generation of Chinese shoppers. Lancôme used post-90’s Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu to promote a gift box featuring its best-selling Tonique Confort toner, while SK-II created a specially designed bottle of its famous essence treatment geared toward Gen Z shoppers promoted by 21-year-old singer Leah Dou (Dou Jingtong).

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