Co-branding in China – M.A.C & Honor of Kings

Early this year, Canadian cosmetics brand M.A.C. partnered with Chinese mobile game Honor of Kings (王者荣耀) to introduce 5 limited edition lipsticks featuring the game’s most popular characters. This cross-industry collaboration achieved tremendous success with over 14,000 pre-orders on M.A.C’s WeChat mini-program, Tmall shop and official website. All of the lipsticks were sold out within 24 hours after the campaign launch.

What Is Honor of Kings? 

Launched in November 2015, Tencent mobile game Honor of Kings – a multiplayer online battle arena game – has gained great popularity among Chinese consumers. According to Tencent’s 2016 annual report, there were over 200 million registered mobile users including 50 million daily active users. These users show quite unusual demographic features: according to data company Jiguang, female users represented over 50% in May 2017. The 2018 Honor of Kings pro league games had 63% female followers on Weibo.

Why Did an International Cosmetics Brand Collaborate With a Chinese Mobile Game?

Weng Yanling, M.A.C China’s marketing director, revealed the inspiration behind this collaboration in an interview. His team found out that M.A.C was mentioned several times by Honor of Kings’ online users as the lipsticks were perfectly matching the game characters’ lip colors. In addition, both M.A.C and Honor of Kings share the same target audience composed of young female aged between 18 and 24. This was a perfect opportunity for them to collaborate. 

The co-branded advertising campaign featured 5 celebrities from famous Chinese music band Rocket Girls 101 counting millions of followers on social media. Each celebrity dressed up as the 5 characters, showcasing M.A.C.’s signature color palette. With the help of celebrity endorsement, the campaign not only grasped the attention of make-up enthusiasts and the game users, but also significantly helped boost the brand visibility among a larger crowd of young Chinese netizens. The lipstick promotional post on one of the celebrities Weibo page reached 4.7 million views and over 120k discussions, 15 seconds only after its release. 

What Can We Learn From this Collaboration? 

As shown on Baidu Index below, the search index of M.A.C has always been stable until January 8th, when the collaboration started. M.A.C has significantly increased its brand awareness in China through this co-branding initiative. Here are some takeaways from this campaign for companies who intend to cooperate with other brands. 

  • Collaborating with a popular Chinese brand with similar target group can help brands increase their exposure. Besides, brands must approach a suitable co-branding partner sharing a similar awareness level to make sure to be seen by a sizable number of new potential customers.
  • Thinking outside of the box is key. In this case, the collaboration between cosmetic and mobile gaming industry is a rather bold approach. The idea of being able to use the same lipstick colors as your favorite characters can be very exciting and appealing to the consumers. 
  • In China, key opinion leaders have larger influence on consumers than their counterparts in western countries. Selecting the right KOL can effectively facilitate the branding process and push the campaign to another level. 
  • Always listen to and understand your consumers. The idea behind this co-branding emerged by tracking online conversations about M.A.C. Social media listening can provide opportunities for brands to obtain valuable consumer insights and inspiration to design relevant advertising initiatives.