Print ads, online ads, TVCs, influencer content… today, short-form video is the go-to form of media for brands trying to reach young new audiences, writes Tim Jeeves
Short-form videos are increasingly becoming the go-to medium for advertisers trying to reach a large or targeted audience in China. Usually between 15 seconds and one minute in length, short form videos are watched on mobile screens by hundreds of millions of Chinese Gen-Z consumers and are now more popular than TV shows.According to iMedia Research, there were an estimated 242 million short-form video viewers at the end of 2018 and they are taking up a growing share of the advertising market. These figures are only expected to grow; over 85 per cent of short-form video watchers are below 35, with the majority being 25 to 30-years-old – a key demographic for many brands.
Last year, China’s online video market income grew by 56 percent to 60 billion yuan (£7 billion) with half of that coming from ad revenue according to iResearch. Mobile video is now China’s fastest-growing digital ad platform and is expected to overtake television advertising by 2021.
The videos are often uploaded, distributed and shared through well-known Chinese social media channels such as Weibo and WeChat, or through other video streaming apps and micro-video sites such as Xiaohongshu, Kauishuo and Douyin. Douyin, which started out as a playful lip-sinking app, has now evolved into a platform that allows people to upload 15-second videos on a range of subjects and boasts 150 million daily active users.
Whilst platforms may come into and out of fashion, the medium of video isn’t going anywhere
According to Lionel Sim, founder of China Tech Roundtable and a former staffer at WeChat, the popularity of short-form video is due to three factors.
“Firstly, the scarcity and fragmented nature of time drives the popularity of short-form videos for users,” he says. “Short video platforms also use social aggregation to publish timely content from social networks, and thirdly, short videos encourage impulsive and emotional engagement. Users want a meaningful connection between their online and offline environment,” he explains.
Whilst platforms may come into and out of fashion, the medium of video isn’t going anywhere. The use of influencers – individuals or celebrities with large numbers of followers – is a common tactic adopted by brands trying to reach targeted customers, but increasingly, as short-form videos evolve, their quality is improving – there is a shift in production from a phone to high-quality studio production by companies more used to making television commercials (TVCs).
Brands are becoming fully aware of the value of short-form videos and are using them to launch promotional campaigns, conduct market research and to promote products or their brand – often with the help of influencers.
Tom Pattinson, is the Creative Director of content creation agency Yhden that makes short-form videos the China market. He has worked with luxury brands including Gucci, Jaguar and Xiaomi. “There’s a sweet spot where quality content featuring an influencer can be seen by a much larger and more targeted audience than a TVC and is significantly cheaper to produce and free to distribute,” he says. “One of our recent films was viewed 400 million times in its first week and the engagement was phenomenal. There’s no better return on investment (ROI) than short-form videos right now.”
Mistakes, such as the recent Dolce & Gabbana debacle in which the Italian fashion brand released a series of videos for the China market that were deemed culturally insensitive at the very least (and outright racist by many), shows how important it is to get the content right.
In January this year, the China Netcasting Services Association – a government entity – issued a new set of rules containing 100 provisions on prohibited online video content. These Detailed Censorship Standards for Short-Video Content Featured on the Internet are setting out standards for this new form of media as its influence grows. Many of these rules are politically driven and warn against “displaying offense towards China’s political system or legal policies”, and some are very open to interpretation, warning against presenting “unhealthy or negative values and world views.” Most of these provisions won’t affect companies looking to market their brands, but where the line is drawn on “stimulating content”, a “decadent outlook on life” or “non-mainstream concepts of marriage and love” might be interpreted differently in different cultures.