Wooing China with online buzz at Cannes

Chinese actress and singer Li Yuchun at the Cannes Film Festival.
Chinese actress and singer Li Yuchun at the Cannes Film Festival. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CANNES • L'Oreal hopes to add gloss to its bottom line from its marketing makeover efforts.

Take the example of what the company did at the Cannes Film Festival, where Chinese actress-pop star Li Yuchun glided down the hallway of the Hotel Martinez last week in a tuxedo-inspired Jean Paul Gaultier gown and blue-grey pixie haircut, trailed by a pack of videographers.

After striking a few poses on a marble staircase, she headed for the red carpet. The footage was rushed to L'Oreal's editing suite where dozens of editors and producers stitched together clips to post everywhere, from Instagram to China's Weibo, within hours of the shoot.

This is how the world's biggest beauty brand promotes itself in the smartphone age, with the company pulling out all the stops at the world's most-watched film festival.

L'Oreal Paris, the company's flagship consumer brand, used its unrivalled scale to fund events, including a live talk show on the Cannes beach with film stars such as Jane Fonda and Isabelle Adjani.

Some segments were produced in Mandarin, hosted by American-Chinese TV star Hung Huang and published on Alibaba Group Holding's TMall.

"Cannes is a spectacular opportunity for us to produce a lot of content, and this year, we wanted to take it even further," said L'Oreal Paris' global brand president Pierre-Emmanuel Angeloglou.

"The more we can combine accessibility and direct contact with consumers with the aspirational nature and beauty of cinema, the better."

The studio, backed by yachts crossing the Mediterranean harbour and equipped with a vintage convertible for capturing models tossing their hair in the breeze, marked a change of scenery from the celebrity magazines and nightly news shows that L'Oreal used to rely on to get out its marketing message.

The Chinese market is L'Oreal's second biggest after the United States, with roughly US$2.6 billion (S$3.5 billion) in sales last year.

"L'Oreal can't just depend on their reputation," said marketing professor Delphine Dion at Essec Business School near Paris, citing mounting competition from homegrown competitors in China, social-media-driven upstarts like LVMH's Fenty Beauty by Rihanna and South Korean beauty brands like Mizon.

"They have to keep making buzz online or else they'll lose out."

In the flurry of videos L'Oreal produced during the festival, red-carpet struts were interspersed with product demos and interviews with the brand's ambassadors.

If China gets special treatment in L'Oreal's online efforts - as with the Mandarin edition of the Cannes talk show - it is not only because of the scale of the opportunity, but because lessons learnt in the most advanced market for e-commerce can also be exported around the world.

One takeaway: Mixing entertainment and retailing works.

"It's really on a huge scale," Mr Angeloglou said of its Cannes foray.

"But when you are able to do something unexpected, the amount of engagement you can create is really worth it."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2018, with the headline Wooing China with online buzz at Cannes. Subscribe