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How These 10 New KOL ‘Rules’ on Weibo Could Affect Luxury Brands in China

Yiling Pan

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With recently new rules implemented by Sina, China’s online influential public figures (aka KOLs) can no longer do as they please on Weibo. An overview of Weibo’s new KOL rules here. This article was originally posted by our friends at Jing Daily.

 

The Purported Rules

 

If you’re a KOL with a Weibo account, don’t even think of linking your post to any e-commerce website other than to one of Alibaba’s properties. So says one of the 10 alleged new rules that Sina Weibo has recently implemented to regulate its gigantic KOL ecosystem, according to ParkLu, a digital advertising platform that connects China’s online influencers and brands.

Without further ado, here are the rules ParkLu posits:

1. Link blocking to all e-commerce sites, except Alibaba properties.

2. KOL accounts need to seek permission before promoting more than one brand in a single post.

3. All posts with external links will receive a 20% media exposure penalty.

4. Posts containing plagiarized content will receive a 50% page weight penalty.

5. Posts containing long form images will receive a page weight penalty.

6. Accounts that only repost will receive a page weight penalty.

7. Posts containing a QR code will receive a page weight penalty.

8. Posts that mention WeChat will receive max page weight penalty, limited to 10% total visibility.

9. Accounts that mention a marketing, sales, or advertising businesses could receive a page weight penalty.

10. Lucky draw campaigns must use Weibo’s official lucky draw function or receive a page weight penalty.

ParkLu contends that these 10 new rules, though not officially announced by Sina Weibo, have been uncovered by the agency based on talks with their insider sources, KOL surveys, and independent testing. If they’re true, they could have a huge impact on luxury brands’ businesses in China, as brands and KOLs have formed a symbiotic relationship in recent years. Sina Weibo have not responded to our request for comment.

“It just matters to KOLs and brands because their livelihood or sales depend on successful posting,” Elijah Whaley, the Chief Marketing Officer of ParkLu, told Jing Daily over WeChat.

Some well established online fashion bloggers including gogoboiMr. Bags and Miss Shopping Li all fall into the targeted group of the new rules.

 

Luxury Brands Now Have to Consider the Cost of the Gatekeeper: Weibo

 

For the past several years, many luxury labels have benefitted from the promotion by online influencers of their products and services, especially those influencers with large followings. Brands also frequently use them as a bridge to better understand the interests and preferences of Chinese consumers. Sometimes they’ll even collaborate with bloggers to launch events and release new collections because a carefully selected KOL can generate much more engagement than any one brand’s official social media account can.

However, if the new rules have indeed come into force, KOL accounts now have to seek Weibo’s permission if they hope to promote more than one brand in a single post (Rule #2—as per ParkLu’s list), and pay to mention any marketing, sales and advertising businesses (Rule #9).

“Luxury brands need to take these new regulations into account when working with KOLs,” said Kim Leitzes, the CEO of ParkLu, when explaining the underlying implication of the new rules on luxury businesses. “There is the cost of content creation, distribution and then the gatekeeper (Weibo).”

Leitzes also pointed out that the rule about “the blocked links to non-Tmall sites” (Rule #1) is going to pose some huge challenges to the operation of the luxury and fashion e-commerce sites such as Farfetch and Yoox Net-A-Porter in China.

“Their investment in Weibo for traffic is jeopardized,” she said.

 

The Rules Are Related to China’s Heightened Regulation and Competition of Alibaba and Tencent

 

However, the new purported Weibo rules did not come as a total surprise. Whaley viewed the action as resulting from a combination of the recent heightening of online regulation by the Chinese government as well as the growing competition between China’s two internet giants Alibaba and Tencent.

“Some of these rules are believed to be related to new Cyber Laws, others are protections against zombie style accounts,” said Whaley, “and some are believed to be directed at companies like Tencent.”

Therefore, Whaley contends, luxury brands in China have to embrace the new reality, which is that they “need to start promoting their e-commerce stories in natively accepted social platforms, namely, JD.com for WeChat and Taobao and Tmall for Weibo.”

– By Yiling (Sienna) Pan for @JingDaily

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©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Featured image: KOLs Mr. Bags and Leaf Greener. Image via VCG / Via www.jingdaily.com

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Yiling (Sienna) Pan is a Luxury Business and Fashion Reporter at Jing Daily. She revels in the challenge of working in a fast-paced environment and presenting Chinese consumer trends to Western readers. Her coverage of the Chinese luxury industry combines a native perspective with her background in finance. Yiling is an alumnus of Thomson Reuters News Agency in Shanghai and she holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbia University.

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Backgrounder

These Are the Foreign Brands Apologizing to China amid Hong Kong Tensions

Who’s apologizing and why? An A-Z list of the foreign companies caught up in China’s online brand hunt.

Manya Koetse

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First published

Foreign luxury brands hoping to appease the Chinese market are walking on eggshells as the political crisis in Hong Kong is deepening. Chinese netizens and state media recently condemned foreign brands for showing any signs of disregarding the One-China Policy. An online witch hunt has begun: this is the list of brands.

While the political crisis in Hong Kong is deepening, the propaganda machine in mainland China is running at full speed to condemn anti-Beijing ‘rioters’ and promote the one-China principle.

As state media has been intensifying its news coverage on the situation in Hong Kong, with virtually all outlets using similar narratives, Chinese web users started to focus on foreign (luxury) brands and whether or not they list Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan as being part of China.

Starting on August 8, Chinese social media platform Weibo has seen dozens of hashtags taking over Chinese social media in relation to the big brand scandal; one foreign brand after the other was exposed as ‘ignoring’ China’s one-China principle on their website or products.

By the beginning of this week, the online brand hunt had almost become like an online contest, with thousands of netizens suggesting new brands that are allegedly not respecting China’s sovereignty.

Although the trend initially began with Chinese web users condemning brands -starting with Versace-, Chinese state media soon also reported about the online controversies and intensified the movement.

Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily wrote that Western brands are quick to apologize, but should also “learn from their mistakes” in the long run, and cannot disregard the One-China Policy if they want to do business in China.

“This is common knowledge, it’s the bottom line,” – online propaganda poster by People’s Daily shows foreign brands and a crack in the “One China” symbol.

State media outlet Global Times also published an illustration online, writing the slogan “China can’t be one bit less” (“中国一点都不能少”) that has been used by state media to emphasize China’s one-China principle since the 2016 South China Sea dispute.

Illustration by Global Times.

In response to the controversies, it has been raining apologies from foreign brands on Chinese social media the past days.

Who is mainly responsible for this online witch hunt? Although it first started with Chinese web users sharing images and screenshots of foreign brands and their ‘erroneous representation’ of China, state media and celebrities soon also started to play a major role in this issue and have contributed to the enormous snowball effect of the trend.

What’s the ‘correct’ way to list Hong Kong or Taiwan according to the one-China principle? Below is an image of the (adjusted) website of Valentino where it lists countries and lists Hong Kong and Taiwan as being part of China.

Here’s a list of the global brands have become tied up in controversy on the mainland this week (this list might still be updated):

 

● ASICS 亚瑟士

Japanese footwear brand

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/asicsofficial (240,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
“ASICS lists HK & Taiwan as Separate Countries” (#亚瑟士将香港与台湾列为国家#): 110 million views.

What’s the problem?
The ASICS website listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.

Apology?
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “ASICS apologizes” hashtag (#亚瑟士致歉#), 6,5 million views on Weibo. The footwear brand emphasized that it abides by the one-China policy and that it will correct its “mistakes.”

Consequences:
Besides some netizens who vow not to buy any of the brands in this list disregarding the PRC’s one-China policy, there are no indications as of now that the brand is affected by the issue.

 

● CALVIN KLEIN

American fashion brand

Brand Weibo account:
https://weibo.com/calvinklein (303,000 fans)

Hashtag:
“CK Exposed for Insulting China” (##CK被曝辱华##): 1,5 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Calvin Klein faced criticism for listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries or regions on its website.

Apology?
Yes, statement on August 13, followed by “CK apologizes” hashtag (#ck道歉#), 15 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
Chinese actress Jelly Lin, Calvin Klein’s brand ambassador for the Asia-Pacific region, announced an immediate termination of collaboration with the American fashion house. The hashtag for this event (#林允终止与CK合作#) received no less than 510 million views. Zhang Yixing (Lay Zhang), a Chinese member of K-pop group Exo and a Calvin Klein model, warned the US clothing company to respect Beijing’s “one China” policy but did not stop working the brand (he did terminate collaborations with Samsung, also in this list).

 

● COACH 蔻驰

American luxury accessories company 

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/coachchina (4+ million fans)

Hashtag:
“Coach Lists HK, Macau, Taiwan as Countries” (#蔻驰将港澳台列为国家#): 6 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Less than 24 hours after Versace’s apology, Coach was among the second batch of brands, along with Givenchy, ASICS, and Fresh, to be exposed online for erroneous geographic listings. Coach got in trouble for a t-shirt displaying ‘Hong Kong’ as an independent region and listing ‘Taipei’ as belonging to ‘Taiwan,’ while Shanghai and Beijing are listed under China.

The tshirt that got Coach into trouble.

The brand was also found to have listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as independent countries under its website’s  “search country” option.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Coach apologizes” hashtag (#蔻驰道歉#), 300 million views on Weibo.

Consequences:
Coach’s China ambassador, supermodel Liu Wen, said on Weibo on Monday that she had cut off her endorsement deal with the fashion label (#刘雯终止与蔻驰合作#, 6 million views) as the brand “seriously impacted the national sentiment of the Chinese people.” State media outlet Global Times suggested the brand faced “potential boycott in China.”

 

● FRESH 馥蕾诗

American beauty brand 

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/freshbeauty (339,500 milion fans)

Hashtag:
No separate hashtag for this incident.

What’s the problem?:
Fresh faced backlash for listing ‘Hong Kong’ as a separate region on its official (English) website.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Fresh apologizes” hashtag (#fresh道歉#,) 8 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
No known direct consequences.

 

● GIVENCHY 纪梵希

French luxury fashion and perfume house

Brand Weibo account:
https://weibo.com/officialgivenchy (1.5 milion fans)

Hashtag:
The topic ‘Givenchy T-Shirt’ (#纪梵希t恤#) became big on Weibo. The hashtag page has over 500 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Like Coach, Givenchy also got in trouble for a t-shirt displaying ‘Hong Kong’ as an independent region and listing ‘Taipei’ as belonging to ‘Taiwan.’

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Givenchy apologizes” hashtag (#纪梵希道歉#,) 290 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
Chinese singer Jackson Yee terminated his brand partnerships with Givenchy (#易烊千玺与纪梵希解约# 680 million views).

 

● POCARI SWEAT 宝矿力水特

Japanese sport’s drink

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/pocarisweat (15400 fans)

Hashtag:
“Pocari Sweat Get Out of China”(#宝矿力水特滚出中国#) is one of the early hashtags associated with the Pocari controversy. With just over 300,000 views, it did not gain huge traction on Weibo.

What’s the problem?
Pocari Sweat is among the earliest brands – if not the earliest- to be caught up in the brand controversy relating to the protests in Hong Kong. As described by Japan Times, pro-democracy demonstrators praised Pocari after it pulled advertising from Hong Kong television station TVB, which protesters accuse of pro-Beijing coverage. Pocari became a popular drink among Hong Kong protesters.

Apology?:
The mainland China office of the brand issued two apology statements on July 11 and 21 in which it emphasized that it operates separately from the Hong Kong division and that it respects China’s “one country, two systems” policy.

Consequence:
Pocari Sweat was condemned by Chinese state media, but it is not clear if people in mainland China are drinking less Pocari because of the issue.

 

● VALENTINO 

Italian fashion house

Brand Weibo account:
www.weibo.com/valentinoofficial (413,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
No particular hashtag.

What’s the problem?:
Valentino listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries in the region/language menu on its foreign website.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 13, in which Valentino apologizes for making “a mistake” on its website. The website has since been changed.

Consequence:
No known consequences, the website seemed to be quickly adjusted, and many netizens expressed their praise for that and for the fact that the recent trend seems to make foreign brands more aware of the importance of respecting the One-China Policy.

 

● VERSACE 范思哲 

Italian fashion house

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/versacechina (850,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
“Versace Suspected of [Supporting] Hong Kong and Macau Independence” (#范思哲涉嫌港独澳独#): 3.2 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Versace is the first brand to be targeted in this week’s brand-hunting trend. An image of a T-shirt that listed Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries was first posted on Weibo by a female netizen on August 8, who wrote: “I discovered this recently, and wondered if the design of this t-shirt means that Versace is supporting Hong Kong independence?” Three days later, the image had circulated so much that it became a trending topic. Commenters called out the brand for being “two-faced” and for profiting from Chinese money while disregarding Chinese sovereignty.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 11, followed by “Versace apologizes” hashtag (#范思哲道歉#,) 860 million views on Weibo. In its statement, Versace stated that the t-shirts had already been recalled and destroyed in late July, and that the fashion house “deeply apologized for the controversy” that was caused by an “error in its t-shirt design.” Versace further stated that the brand “loves China” and “resolutely respects China’s territorial sovereignty.”

Donatella Versace, the designer and chief creative officer of Versace, also issued a personal apology through Instagram, writing: “Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s National Sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it may have caused.”

Consequence:
Chinese celebrity Yang Mi ended her relationship with Versace. The announcement received a lot of attention on Chinese social media (#杨幂终止与Versace合作# 1.1 billion views).

 

● SWAROVSKI 施华洛世奇

Austrian jewelry company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/swarovskicom (500,00+ fans)

Hashtag:
Swarovski, together with Calvin Klein, was one of the brands that popped up in the general ‘luxury brand scandal’ after the Versace controversy had snowballed and had moved to Coach, Givenchy, ASICS, and Fresh. The Swarovski issue was exposed just a bit later and had no separate hashtag on Weibo.

What’s the problem?
Swarovski went trending on Chinese social media for classifying Hong Kong as a country on its website.

Apology?
Swarovski issued an apology statement on August 13. The hashtag “Swarovski Apologizes” received over 750 million views on Weibo (#施华洛世奇道歉#).

Consequence:
Chinese actress Jiang Shuying, also known as Maggie Jiang, announced on Tuesday (August 13) that she would be ending her cooperation with Swarovski (#江疏影与施华洛世奇解约#, 410 million views).

 

CURRENTLY UNDER SCRUTINY BUT NO APOLOGIES:

 

● AMAZON 亚马逊

American e-commerce company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/amazonchina (4.4 million fans)

Hashtag:
“Amazon T-shirts” (#亚马逊t恤#), 140 million views; “Amazon Sells Hong Kong Independence Shirts” (#亚马逊售卖港独T恤#), 18 million views.

What’s the problem?
Amazon is one of the latest brands to be added to the virtual PRC wall of shame of international brands going against Beijing’s “One China” principle. On August 14, screenshots of the Amazon e-commerce platform selling t-shirts promoting an independent Hong Kong and displaying anti-China slogans went viral on Weibo.

Reaction
Amazon did not apologize for the merchandise sold on its platforms, but the company did respond to ChinaNews (#亚马逊回应T恤事件#), emphasizing that Amazon always has and will respect China’s one-China principle, and abide by local laws of the countries Amazon is active in. There were also netizens on Weibo saying they understood that Amazon cannot be responsible for all the merchandise sold by its online shops around the world.

 

● SAMSUNG 三星 

South Korean Tech Company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/samsung (2.8+ million fans)

Hashtag:
No separate hashtag for this issue, although the announcement that Zhang Yixing would terminate his contract with Samsung did receive over 980 million views, making it one of the bigger hashtags in this brand scandal.

What’s the problem?:
Samsung faced criticism on August 14 for damaging China’s “territorial integrity” by displaying choices Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan as “countries” on its website.

Consequence:
Chinese celebrity and K-Pop star Zhang Yixing (Lay Zhang) announced on August 13 that he would no longer work together with Samsung as a brand ambassador for “hurting the national feelings of Chinese compatriots” (#张艺兴与三星解约#, 980 million views!).

 

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Marketing & Advertising

CoCo Bubble Tea in Hot Water over Pro-Hong Kong Text on Receipts

Boycotting bubble tea? The popular CoCo Tea company is not so popular on Weibo this week.

Manya Koetse

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One of China’s most popular bubble tea brands is in hot water after one of its Hong Kong shops included an encouraging message to Hong Kong people on its receipts amidst ongoing demonstrations. The company’s apologies are not sufficient, many netizens say.

Popular milk tea company CoCo (CoCo都可) is under fire in mainland China for displaying the text “Go Hong Kong People!” (or: “Add Oil, Hongkongers!”) on the receipts of one of its shops in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong.

The receipt, dated June 16, started making its rounds on Chinese social media on August 6. Many take it as a sign that CoCo supports Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

CoCo also triggered controversy for supposedly listing ‘Taiwan’ as a country in its website’s list of countries where the brand operates, separate from ‘China’.

Some netizens are now vowing to boycott the brand for allegedly supporting both Hong Kong protesters and Taiwan independence.

CoCo is a global bubble tea brand that first opened in Taipei in 1997. Over the past two decades, CoCo has opened over 2000 stores worldwide with locations in countries such as the US, UK, Thailand, Korea, and Australia. It is one of the most popular milk tea chains in mainland China.

On August 9, the tea shop released a statement concerning the controversy. The hashtag “CoCo Statement” (#coco声明#) became the most-searched hashtag on Weibo on Friday, attracting 300 million views.

CoCo stated that the receipt in the Wanchai district shop was altered by the staff of this shop, and that their business is now suspended.

It further alleged that the screenshots of the ‘Taiwan’ listing circulating on social media are actually fake. They do not come from their official website, CoCo stated.

The company also added that “the Hong Kong region is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China.”

At time of writing, the official website of the CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice brand was not accessible.

CoCo is not the first bubble tea shop to trigger controversy this week. Another company, Yifang Fruit Tea, faced online backlash when it closed one of its Hong Kong shops for a day and put up a sign that said: “Stand together with Hong Kongers”.

Many big milk tea brands are Taiwanese; pearl milk tea or bubble tea was first invented in Taiwan in 1988 and has since become an important part of Taiwanese food culture. Over the past decade, the bubble tea craze has also blown over to mainland China (read more here).

Bubble Tea

The Guardian reported on August 8 that the Yifang Fruit Tea controversy also spread to two other bubble tea brands.

In response to the issue, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture of flavored tea on social media, writing that “China’s political power has invaded into various nonpolitical areas” and that “for people living in a society with freedom and democracy, we need to stay on high alert for issues like this.”

Meanwhile, on Weibo, many netizens are not too satisfied with CoCo’s apologies and demand that the brand also shares its statement on Twitter and Instagram – not just on Chinese social media.

Others complain that the company did not use an official seal for its apology statement, and have not indicated how it will handle this controversy.

But there are also those who say this supposed scandal is all a fuss over nothing. “Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with them encouraging Hong Kong people,” one commenter writes.

“Boycotting the stores in China will only hurt the position of Chinese franchise owners,” some Weibo users argue.

This incident shows some similarities to another controversy that occurred in 2018 involving the Taiwanese company 85°C Bakery Café. When president Tsai Ing-wen paid a visit to a Los Angeles chain of the café during her United States trip, mainland netizens accused the company of supporting Taiwan independence.

To read more about general discussions on Chinese social media regarding the Hong Kong protests, check our latest here.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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