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Cosmetics Health & Wellness China

The Chinese beauty economy: investing in appearances and the rise of men’s beauty

By Emily Hassett, Business development executive

Emerging Communications


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November 29, 2021 | 5 min read

As the world’s second-largest beauty market, it is vital to keep up with the nuances of the Chinese beauty industry. In the era of social media, spending on appearances is generally perceived by the Chinese as an economic investment, not vanity.

 Emerging Communications provide tips for marketers to keep up with the latest Chinese beauty trends.

Emerging Communications provides tips for marketers to keep up with the latest Chinese beauty trends

Keeping up with today’s Chinese beauty consumers

Spending on health and beauty has become less of an indulgence but one of life’s necessities for Chinese consumers. This growing emphasis on beauty trends has spread out from the major cities, making tier three to tier five (developing cities) a more powerful segment in beauty consumption than in previous years. The trend is also especially relevant for Chinese gen Z, 60% of whom report having anxiety about their appearance, leading to a new term defining the trend: appearance anxiety.

Appearance anxiety is not limited to women, in many instances affecting young Chinese men just as much if not more than their female counterparts. Researchers Jackson, Hunter and Hodge found that stereotypes linking the competence of candidates to their appearance and attractiveness are stronger for Chinese men than for women, piling on the pressure for men to look a certain way when it comes to promotions or salary increases. Therefore, an increasing number of men are willing to spend on their appearance via aesthetical medicine, make-up and skincare. This trend has been reflected in Tmall’s sales of men’s make-up, increasing 40% in 2021 year-on-year.

China represents huge opportunity for western beauty brands to expand, and marketing teams that can capitalize on the most recent trends have the opportunity to win big. Let’s see how Estée Lauder tapped into the growing interest in men’s beauty to unlock a brand new market for its make-up products.

Estée Lauder: convincing Chinese men to be the ‘first’ to try make-up

Within two months, without any traditional TV advertising, this campaign reached 35 million users and achieved over 300,000 engagements on Sina Weibo. Within one week, almost 70,000 male users applied for the Weibo product trial and the estimated online sales inventory was sold out. This campaign could not have achieved such success without a deep understanding of the prevailing market trends enabling content creation that would deeply resonate with Chinese gen Z males – a group of young men who love to share online, are very active on social media and maintain good skincare habits.

Estée Lauder effectively addressed any potential reluctance to purchase from its target audience by creating content and a community around being ‘first’ – that is the ‘first’ generation to try out make-up products and the ‘first’ to become more handsome than their peers. So, how did Estée Lauder do it?

  • Weibo and WeChat accounts encouraging conversation around the acceptance of men’s make-up and building support for the products.

  • Collaboration with a local celebrity to build more credibility and encourage further conversation with user-generated content (UGC).

  • Establishing a specific page for L’Oréal men’s BB cream on, offering one-on-one advice and customizing product recommendations to individual men’s needs.

  • Daily content on WeChat with information on new product launches, usage tutorials and before-and-after comparisons, driving brand awareness further.

In summary, the winning factor of this campaign was the high reach leading to frequent exposure to its clear messaging, designed to resonate with its target market, along with the halo effect created from the celebrity endorsement.

The takeaways for western brands? By keeping up-to-date with the latest movements of the Chinese beauty industry and understanding the nuances of behavior, western marketing teams can ensure their content resonates with their intended audience and open up a new market for their products.

The complexity of China’s social media and influencer landscape is often underestimated. For more essential reading on the Chinese retail market and guidance on reaching Chinese audiences effectively, download our Retail Lessons from China Guide.

Emily Hassett, business development executive at Emerging Communications, with editorial input from Michaela Zhu.

Cosmetics Health & Wellness China

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