Yanxi Palace’s Influence on Brands

[Updated 27/08/2018]

I looked up and saw a waiter standing by the door. I have a habit of doing a 5-minute people-watching whenever I work at a cafe.

The waiter waived at his co-workers by putting his right palm next to his face and did a half-kneel. In Chinese history, this is called “请安” (qing an).

Right hand up in the air, palm facing outwards and a half-kneel, almost like a curtsey. This is known as 请安 (qing an) and it’s commonly done by concubines, wives of generals, princesses or empresses to someone of higher authority.

This is the effect The Story of Yanxi Palace has on consumers. Who would’ve known that the story on the rise of a royal maid to be 18th-century Emperor Qianlong’s favourite concubine would have such an impact on so many Asian consumers.

“The Story of Yanxi Palace” (延禧攻略) literally became an overnight success. From young to old, almost everyone is fervently following the release of each episode with social media flooded with GIFs and memes made from scenes of the show.

A screenshot of a Vietnamese netizen’s crazy obsession over the show

According to Taipei Times, the show received over half a billion hits at home and abroad during the first week of its release on online video platform iQiyi.

Many are relating the stories from the show to their own lives (albeit it sounds outrageous).

Chinese TV industry has certainly come a long way to have this influence on the people and it’s really through good story-telling, amazing production quality and astounding distribution capability. The show has been distributed to more than 70 different countries and social media world went ablaze with user-generated content of the characters from the show.

This is the iconic slapping scene from the show and fans have remade their own versions of it.

But beyond the amazing storyline of how concubines outmanoeuvre each other, they had the help of many outstanding casts.

Charmaine Sheh (now 43), for example, who has already been made popular back in the days by TVB Hong Kong where she stole the hearts of many not just through her looks but her acting skills as well. However, Sheh is just but one of the main casts in this addictive drama series filled with plot-twist.

With almost 700,000 followers on Instagram, she is hardly just another Asian actress

Sheh’s character in this show got the most attention by the fans. The fans particularly fancy how she turned into a villain while maintaining her composure in many of the scenes, but it’s all really just good acting.

Sheh eventually became the empress while plotting against all of the concubines without them even knowing it.

Back in 2014, Wu Jinyan (吴谨言) was nominated as Best Actress at Shanghai Television Festival and in “The Story of Yanxi Palace” she was given the leading role as “Wei Yinluo” (魏璎珞). Although Wu is the leading character, she is really just known for the slapping scenes.

4.2 million followers on Wu’s Weibo page — a far cry from Fan BingBing’s 62.6 million fan base

As for the LGBT community, they all fell head over heels over Chinese male model Xu Kai (许凯), who acted as Wu’s lover Fu Heng (傅恒) in the show.

Xu’s Weibo page currently has 2.7 million followers

There are many in the supporting casts, albeit temporary, were also part of what made the show so successful. Most are from the entertainment industry but not all of them are professional actresses or actors. They are singers, TV hosts, and social influencers but their cameo garnered more attention to the show due to their social amplification capability.

Brands Capitalising on the Hype

Here is Vivo sponsoring for a variety show called “Happy Camp” (快乐大本营) with special guest appearance and dance performance by Wu and Xu

Wu further promotes about the TV variety show Happy Camp via social media content to increase viewership.

“要看了快乐大本营才会有那么贵的东西可以戴“ Translation: “You’d be able to wear these expensive headgears too if you watch Happy Camp”

Mobile app TikTok (known as Douyin too) also jumped on the band wagon and produced special filters for their users. TikTok’s mobile app allows users to pair the video with either fan-made or supplied tracks which made the user-generated social content even more engaging for viewers.

A screenshot of a male TikTok user having fun with the app filter

Cosmetics brands and those in the fashion industry weren’t about to lose out on the chance to leverage on the fame of the show.

Screenshot of Wu demonstrating to her fans how to reproduce the look she has in the drama
Fashion illustrator & influencer Micko was featured on Sheh’s personal Instagram account due to his obsession of the show, but we all know this is how you brilliantly growth-hack for followers
Social ads on getting your brows done (the right term is “micro-blading”) to resemble the characters from the show

The most significant of all is the ad insertion of Chinese beauty & skincare brand Mageline (麦吉丽) into approximately 10 episodes of the show. Significant not because of the effectiveness of the campaign but rather how in-your-face the ad was.

The 10-second spot was used to promote Mageline’s facial mask and it was clear in Sheh’s monologue that it’s a sponsored feature.
Mageline’s brand logo and special tagline also appeared on the TV show’s official promo visual. It is clear that Mageline probably spent a big sum of marketing budget for this promotional purpose but there are no numbers yet to support how effective the sponsorship is.

Mageline’s recent video commercial has started adapting setup of olden days that somewhat resembles the setting of The Story of Yanxi Palace and clearly trying to create relevancy with the audience.

Is this too hard-sell? You be the judge.

The latest edition has got to be by Pantene, a hair care brand by Procter & Gamble. Below are screenshots taken from the scenes of the video commercial.

Pantene took it one step further by using the same cast from the show.

My Take On This Frenzy

Brands who are opportunistic would be able to generate temporary social buzz but it is not a sustaining strategy. Agencies who are tasked with social creatives need to think on their feet how to immediately create relevance with their intended social content.

This would mean that it is the responsibility of the agencies to actually binge on the show and try to understand how to perform adaptation even if it means to discard creative content that were created prior.

However, proceed with caution. It is important to relook at brand value to ensure communication message is inline and does not derail the brand image.

The world of social media thrives on trends and being present at the moment. It is not wrong for any brands to seize the opportunity, but it won’t be right if it does not reflect the core values of the brand.


About the Author

“Jon has an innate ability to see opportunities and then go the extra mile to make things happen. He weaves strategic thinking, his knowledge about all things digital, his ability to execute projects and his creativity to keep delivering results. He leads with passion and commitment; his entrepreneurial instincts always pushing him to explore what more can be done on a task or business or how something can be made better, more effective or efficient. That’s why I know that Jon’s work will always make a difference –to the brands and projects he leads, to the people he works with and to the organisation he works for.”


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