SHANGHAI (AdAgeChina.com) -- L'Oreal hopes an ambitious web series and social media campaign can modernize the image of its Chinese makeup and skin-care brand Yue Sai.
The French marketer launched an eight-part mini-series in early June called "Buzz My Heart," following the lives of three young Chinese women. The series is part of a major online platform that talks about issues facing Chinese twenty-somethings relating to their love lives, careers and friendships, and even sticky topics like affairs with married men and dealing with pushy mothers-in-law.
"Yue Sai has always been a brand that best understands and answers to the needs of modern Chinese women," said Michelle Kwok, L'Oreal's Yue Sai marketing director in Shanghai. "But we haven't historically been very active online. We wanted to create an online platform that engages women with our unique, emotional message in a new way."
"The characters, script and style of the program were inspired by real stories from the Chinese internet and beautifully shot in cinema-like quality," said Bryce Whitwam, Shanghai-based China general manager at Wunderman, which developed the online strategy with another WPP agency, Agenda. The mini-series was produced by a Hollywood veteran, Gil Wadsworth, under Shanghai-based agency, AtoAto.
"The show is the driver, but the real point of the campaign is to drive conversations around the stories," Mr. Whitwam said. "Between episodes there are loads of ways for girls to get involved."
The Yoka.com site features blogs "written" by the characters in the show, alongside discussion forums. Popular Chinese blogger debates, weekly contests and styling, cosmetics and fashion tips follow each program to stimulate online engagement.
What the platform did not include -- until now -- was any mention of the Yue Sai brand. L'Oreal introduces a new 12-to-15 minute episode every ten days but the fifth episode, which debuted on July 12, was the first to let viewers know who created the series. (Watch the fifth episode below.)
The show is hosted on the style and fashion vertical website at www.yoka.com/buzz, not Yue Sai's website, although it promoted on other fashion and beauty sites like www.onlylady.com and www.kimiss.com and the video site www.youku.com.
"We didn't want to divert attention from the show and let it build naturally," Ms. Kwok said. The Yue Sai connection has been revealed, but the show will still feature "subtle branding," L'Oreal hopes the soft-sell approach will attract younger Chinese consumers to the Yue Sai brand, "who spend a lot of time online for longer periods. Since many don't have siblings, they want advice from peers and they don't trust media and advertising too much. They also go online to watch videos and TV shows, so we thought this medium would be interesting."
By making the series honest and edgy, L'Oreal hopes the brand will reach a new generation of consumers who didn't grow up admiring the brand's namesake and founder, Yue-Sai Kan, who built an empire teaching Chinese women about beauty, etiquette and style.
Born in Guilin, she was educated in Hong Kong and the U.S. and, although she was not fluent in Mandarin, she starred in a hit show on China Central Television that introduced Chinese viewers to the rest of the world in the 1980s. The show made her a household name in China, and a fashion icon for millions of Chinese women who copied her signature Dutch bob hair cut.
In 1992, Ms. Kan founded the first major cosmetics company that catered to the skin and coloring of Chinese women. She sold Yue Sai to Coty four years later, and the fragrance-maker sold it to L'Oreal in 2004, just a few weeks after L'Oreal bought another local skincare brand, Mininurse.
Older Chinese women have followed her career and have enormous respect for Ms. Kan's success -- but women under age 30 look for role models closer to their own age and experience.
Ironically, perhaps, Yue Sai's products have become more Chinese since L'Oreal took over the portfolio, with even greater use of natural ingredients. L'Oreal isn't the only company moving into herbal medicine. Nestle, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and other multinationals are catering to a growing demand in China for products that promote good energy through herbs, roots, and flowers such as ginseng.
Getting the price right has been another challenge. Yue Sai products are positioned as an "affordable luxury but good value for money," Ms. Kwok said. Products sell for RMB 150 to 390 ($22-58), pricing that is close to other Asian brands like Shisheido.
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