Do Celebrity KOLs Actually Drive Sales in China? Sometimes.

In China, cosmetics brands have long seen celebrity endorsements as a shortcut to success. But what are the actual effects of working with KOLs? Are those effects equal for both big brands and small brands? And does the same influencer have the same effect, no matter what the brand?

We’ll use two case studies to illustrate answers to these questions, including actual sales data from our MeasureInfluence and MeasureCommerce dashboards.

China’s Lipstick King Sells Essence

Li Jiaqi is known as China’s Lipstick King for his track record of making products sell out in hours after recommending them. 

Last year, Li crossed categories and recommended two essence products. One was Gold Essence from Guerlain, one of China’s best known and most loved brands. It consistently ranked among the top 20 essence products sold through e-commerce in China throughout 2018. The other product was The Ordinary, from a lesser-known Canadian company called Deciem. 

In April, Guerlain added the phrase “Recommended by Li Jiaqi” in its product descriptions for Gold Essence. Month-on-month sales revenue for the product jumped an incredible 325.9%. This is especially impressive for a product that sells for nearly $200. 

In June, Deciem also added Li Jiaqi’s stamp of approval to The Ordinary and used his picture in their product thumbnails and advertising. Their month-on-month sales rose just 14.8%. While this was its best sales month of the year, the product still saw nowhere near the boost as its better known and more expensive Chinese competitor.

Figure2. Guerlain and the ordinary’s revenue trend | Source: MeasureCommerce

David vs. Goliath Trend Continues for Lipstick

The previous example crossed categories, so is it a fair comparison. Now let’s look at what happened when Li Jiaqi recommended two different lipstick brands, both Chinese. 

Perfect Diary, China’s top-selling domestic makeup brand, launched its new Star Dynamic Gold Diamond Lipstick (星动臻色金钻唇膏) last spring. Li praised the product in his review and the brand added his recommendation to product listings in May. 

Mansly is a smaller Chinese brand, primarily known for its color cosmetics sold in classical Chinese packaging. Li Jiaqi recommended one of their lipsticks in April.

We see the same trend as before. Perfect Diary’s May revenue grew 53%, month-on-month while Mansly saw just a 14.8% bump. As with the essence category, the effect on big brands is much more pronounced than for small brands.

Figure4. Perfect Diary and MANSLY’s revenue trend | Source: MeasureCommerce

“Chinese cosmetics buyers trust KOL’s recommendations, but only to a certain extent,” said Holly Kim, head of MeasureChina’s data business. “If women see an influencer’s recommendation for a brand they’re already familiar with and interested in, it can push them toward purchase. However, it may not be enough to get them to try a new brand for the first time unless they’re especially experimental. Smaller brands may see a better ROI from working with daigou and micro-influencers, before committing to working with high-profile KOLs.”

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