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Harbin Beer campaign

Harbin Beer’s secret to increasing their female consumer base: Leveraging the idol economy

At a time when China’s idol economy has an unprecedented influence on young consumers, Harbin Beer has successfully attracted the attention of the fan circle and set itself apart from other brands that use celebrities as their endorsers.

Harbin Beer is one of the oldest beer-brewing companies in China. Zhang Yixing is a Chinese idol that has endorsed over 30 brands such as Valentino, Calvin Klein, Perrier and Nestea. Harbin Beer announced their brand ambassador on the artist’s 9th debut anniversary on its official social media accounts attracting fan’s attention and more than tripled the brand’s impression and discussion index on social platforms.

The beer campaign uses the slogan “一起哈啤,一起Zào” (Let’s be happy and have fun together) and plays on words: 哈 (Hā) makes reference to the brand name “Harbin Beer” and啤 (Pí) to 啤酒 (Píjiǔ) Beer, put together is an acronym of the beer brand (哈尔滨啤酒) and sounds like “Happy”. “Zào” is a popular term used in the Northeast of China which especially refers to eating and drinking. It can be understood as “enjoy” in English. (Read more on brand naming in China.)

According to a survey conducted among Chinese Douyin users in March 2021, around 79 percent of craft beer consumers were male. However, Harbin Beer leveraged Zhang Yixing to target young women, the predominant group in the idol’s fan base.

Zhang Yixing has endorsed many brands, how does Harbin Beer stand out?

Celebrity worship has become an ever-growing aspect of modern Chinese society. China’s idol economy has propped up with the launch of countless TV shows, brand endorsement deals. As idols usually endorse a lot of brands at the same time, smaller and less known brands may encounter the problem of getting overpowered by brands that have a bigger reach and recognition such as luxury brands. These are the key points of Harbin Beer’s successful idol marketing campaign:

Spoiling fans with videos and offline events

If there’s one thing an idol fan wants, it’s to see more of their idol. Harbin Beer has moved on to give enough publicity for Zhang Yixing’s endorsement of the brand and make the fans feel spoiled through the release of plenty and exclusive content featuring their idol.

The beer company has first released a viral “haha” video on Weibo featuring the idol’s contagious laugh and two Weibo’s hot topic “张艺兴九年Zào梦成圆” (Zhang Yixing’s nine-year of Zào comes true) and “一起哈啤酒,一起Zào” (Let’s be happy and have some fun together). This is part of the communication strategy, although very minimalistic it is memorable by young consumers as it follows their mindset and sense of humour. In that way, Harbin Beer leveraged the idol’s anniversary in order to get the most out of his fan base. Additionally, the beer brand invested in offline means of promotion such as LED panels and 3D panels in Tier 1 cities attracting the attention of not only fans but also passer-by.

Chinese idol economy
Source: Harbin Beer’s Weibo, 3D panel promoting the brand

Offline events were also organized by the beer brand for Zhang Yixing’s fans, for example, a small event on 520, Chinese Valentine’s Day, where fans sang their idols’ songs together.

Harbin Beer hosts offline events for fans

Harbin Beer offline event
Source: 4A, a group of young women gathered at Zhang Yixing’s fan event organized by Harbin Beer

The last step to grab fans’ attention is to release scarce, limited-edition, celebrity-themed products. By buying a certain amount of bottles of beer in a set period of time, fans were able to win exclusive celebrity posters, limited-edition lyric bottles, or albums signed by Zhang Yixing.

Beer market in China
Source: Harbin Beer’s Weibo, Limited edition lyric bottle
Weibo’s celebrity ecosystem,
Source: Harbin Beer’s Weibo, an example of a fan event to win limited products

Making use of the idol’s fan community and Weibo’s celebrity ecosystem, Harbin Beer was able to improve its recognition among young women and vastly increase its sales.

Author: Oriane Corral