The Zippo Manufacturing Co, maker of the iconic refillable lighters, is hosting a rock ‘n’ roll competition with Tencent, in which bands from Beijing and Shanghai will compete for votes cast online.

While Zippo’s marketing team is using social media to promote the Zippo Encore rock festival as well as its brand, Chinese bands musicians are hoping to win grand prizes from the company by campaigning on their Weibo accounts.

Zippo is not the only luxury brand to join the social media scene in China to advertise its products. Instead of creating a Chinese account on Twitter, which can be difficult to access in China, brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Este Lauder, Louis Vuitton, Anna Sui, and Swarovski have active and popular micro blog accounts on Sina Weibo.

The marketing teams for these brands have learned from their initial social media experiences with English-speaking customers. Social media channels are time-saving and cost-efficient for marketers and also interactive and dynamic for fans and customers.

Currently, China has the world’s largest Internet user population and has witnessed a rapid rise in micro blogs. Sina Weibo’s users numbered 140 million as of April, less than two years after it launched. Tencent Weibo’s number of users reached 200 million last month.

In addition to a large online population, China will also soon surpass Japan in becoming the biggest consumer of luxury goods. Luxury companies have responded to these trends by creating interactive micro blogs as a marketing strategy.

“Micro blogs are a fairly new but hot tool in China. Most brands have just recently started their micro blog and we are all experimenting with the potential,” said Anne Wu, Este Lauder’s public relations manager. Este Lauder currently has nearly 41,000 followers on Sina Weibo.

Zippo spokesman Gao Xu told China Daily that the Sina Weibo marketing strategy increased interaction between the brand and customers. The micro blog often gives out Zippo prizes to keen followers.

“Weibo succeeds in expanding Zippo’s brand beyond the lighter, such as its series of outdoor products.”

While many luxury brands have embraced the use of social media, not all of them use it as an advertising tool. Anne Wu told China Daily that different brands target different customers. “The brands with younger customers who like to use social media have more online events and interaction,” Wu said. “Brands with customers from different age groups and a developed e-commerce website, such as Este Lauder, use micro blogs to share details of products rather than marketing.”

Ogilvy China Group Director of Public Relations Autumn Guo also said that instead of advertising itself, Lamborghini has primarily used its Sina micro blog account to share videos and stories of car models.

“Every luxury car brand sets out its own style, and the same goes for each respective micro blog,” Guo told China Daily.

Yan Jun, director of the Peking University fashion and luxury management program, believes that micro blogs serve as the most direct and convenient platform for a luxury brand company to reach potential customers.

Furthermore, Yan believes that micro-blogging can strengthen a luxury brand’s online presence. “A micro blog can hype and reverberate customers’ positive feedback to the brand’s new products,” Yan said. Once the micro blog successfully increases a brand’s online visibility, it will also increase the brand’s social capital.

Sina Weibo’s increasing popularity serves as another indicator for micro-blogging’s marketing potential in the luxury product sector. Sina has provided technical support for third parties to promote and sell their products through the micro blog interface. Sina facilitates a “one-stop” shopping service because the users are willing to pay.

Other forms of social media are rushing for a slice of the pie in the luxury market. Niche website P1.CN hosts an exclusive forum that targets stylish urban dwellers. Forum members not only receive email advertisements from luxury brands through P1.CN. The site also frequently provides access to exclusive offers and events from high-end international brands.

Other websites have also taken a step further to facilitate the online marketing of luxury brands. China’s large e-commerce retailers such as Jingdong Mall and Taobao have ventured to create online luxury goods markets.

Liu Qiangdong, the president and executive officer of Jingdong Mall, said that his company’s new online business-to-consumer website would primarily target the “richest Chinese consumers”.

Jingdong Mall will compete with China’s largest retail website, Taobao, whose global section alone sold up to 3 billion yuan of luxury products in 2010.


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