Marketing on China’s hottest short video platform Douyin, is no longer a one man job. Seemingly “casual entertainment” now requires a team of professionals who can balance fun and influencer management, and one of the best ways to do this is by using PUGC marketing. Short for “professional user-generated content,” and different to PGC, which is professional content created by a team or company, PUGC focuses on the influencer, enabling them to create intimacy with their audiences. A marketing team maintains the influencer’s original video content while managing the business collaborations and product placements. It hinges on the fact that the team gives the illusion that the content is done completely by the individual influencer alone.
The male Douyin influencer @Maoguangguang (毛光光)—known for crossplaying, which is a subset of cosplay—distills various original female characters from his personal experiences and creates comedy skits. Maoguangguang started his account in 2019, quickly gathering two million followers; as he refocused his videos on retail-related drama during quarantine, his popularity skyrocketed. According to Jiemian News, the KOL gained over eight million new followers in the past two and a half months for his successful leveraging of Douyin’s latest trend, soap opera style crossplay.
Since early 2019, crossplay comedy skits, which include product placement, have been steadily growing on Douyin. During the 618 Shopping Festival, Maoguangguang released a total of 13 short videos. Seven featured inserted advertisements from beauty products across different ranges (averaging over 850,000 views per video) and his most viewed livestreaming session produced around $31,827 in sales.
Influencer accounts like @DongDaiBiao（董代表）and @ZhouXiaoNao（周小闹）have been gaining mass followings since 2019. These influencers also create skits with original characters inspired by people from all walks of life; what they all have in common are humor, accurate representations of relatable characters, and crossplay content. While the creative plots allow for the placement of products such as food and home gadgets and accessories, the roleplaying nature of the content relies heavily on how convincing these men are when they dress up as female archetypes. This, in turn, is intended to make the beauty and fashion products used the main focus of the videos.
Why Gen-Z consumers like it
Influencers who successfully utilize PUGC have been praised for their realistic character portrayals, which makes them more relatable and likeable with Gen Z audiences. Therefore, the biggest attraction for these types of videos comes from the “user” element of PUGC. According to Chinese question-and-answer website Zhihu.com, Maoguangguang explained that he drew many inspirations from working at a Uniqlo store: his original idea for the role of “Wu Guifang”—a money-loving saleswoman—came from former colleagues.
These sketches—whether it’s the “demanding customer” sketch or the “jealous retail colleague” prototype—strike a chord with Gen Z who have extensive shopping experience or have recently started working in retail. One Douyin user commented on Maoguangguang’s video: “I love the “Wu Guifang” character so much, I feel like I was literally her in a previous life.”
Similar to the TV programs, these soap opera videos incorporate signature details such as the characters’ particular makeup styles, witty catchphrases, and jingles at the end of every video. But most importantly, they weave product placement seamlessly into the plots, making it more appealing for people who dislike ads. Sunny, a 22-year-old on TikTok told Jing Daily: “These types of roleplaying actually make me interested in the gadgets and food-related items they’re trying to sell.”
How luxury brands should approach the trend
With over 400 million daily active users, Douyin has been growing in importance for luxury marketers working with brands who wish to break into the Chinese market. And, though Douyin may seem like a platform for solo players to shine, brands looking to tap PUGC must collaborate with professional localized teams to actually gain heat on the app. The main Douyin audience are Gen Zers that are simultaneously interested in entertainment and online shopping, according to Ellen Le, Operations Director of Douyin lifestyle account @nycfoods.
“The hottest PUGC influencers such as @Li Ziqi（李子柒）and @AresCheng（大狼狗夫妇）all have MCN agencies behind them. Therefore, it’s best for companies who have a large budget to reach out to top KOLs for exposure,” Le explained. Newer and less experienced brands are better off working with low/mid-tier influencers (with between 10k to 100k followers) as this is more cost effective and their fanbase typically exhibit the strong loyalty associated with top-tier names.
Nevertheless, brands need to be aware that Douyin users are primarily looking to be entertained, not bombarded by advertisements. “Douyin has a strict policy on campaigning and limits how many adverts an influencer can take on per month. So that they don’t lose the app’s user base,” Le added. Yet, while PUGC is a great way to market, it’s only one of many methods that brands can use on the dynamic platform. Tailoring content and carefully treading the line between business and fun will enable brands to reap more rewards, especially for platforms like Douyin where e-commerce is merely a side feature for entertainment.