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Philosophy Turns to Influencers for China Launch

The brand is seeing sales in the region that are three times those of original projections.

Philosophy can thank Chinese influencer, actress and singer Michelle Chen for a launch in China that yielded a 10-fold increase in sales.

The Coty Inc.-owned brand entered the Chinese market for the first time — via a pre-launch on Tmall in mid-July followed by an official rollout in early August — and according to Marie-Pierre Stark-Flora, senior vice president of global, Philosophy, sales skyrocketed to three times original projections.

She declined to give figures, but maintained that the company saw the above sales spike immediately following the announcement that the brand contracted Chen, who has 14 million followers on WeChat. No doubt because of Chen’s involvement, Stark-Flora said the company became a “preferred customer of Tmall” within days of rolling out a virtual storefront with 30 stockkeeping units — what she described as a “deep and narrow” approach to initially selling hero products and “star franchises.” A week later, in mid-August, Chen hosted a live-stream for Philosophy on the commerce platform that was cross-promoted on the brand’s social channels shortly thereafter. To date, the video has garnered 10 million views.

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“The biggest successes we have with influencers are with ones who are generally attached to the brand. Yes we might be supporting them financially, but they always have an affinity for the brand,” Stark-Flora said, noting that Chen was already a user of Philosophy products. She declined to reveal the size of the deal, but called it the most significant influencer partnership to date. Reportedly, Chen is receiving a six-figure sum for her work with the brand, which is estimated to be about a $250 million business.

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It appears to be a hot time for U.S.-based beauty brands to hit Tmall.

Benefit Cosmetics did something similar — namely, tapping a Chinese celebrity to host a Tmall live-stream to help introduce the brand to the Chinese consumer — when it launched its virtual storefront on Tmall in July. And the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis brand saw similar success to Philosophy as well.

In early 2017, Benefit named celebrity influencer Yang Zi, who has more than 23 million followers on Weibo, as its Chinese brand ambassador. As part of a yearlong contract, Zi hosted a two-hour live-stream with Chinese blogger Gogoboi the day the Tmall store went live.

As previously reported, Benefit claimed the event drove the “highest engagement that Tmall has had for a beauty launch.” Toto Haba, senior vice president digital at Benefit, said upwards of than 2,300 units, equivalent to about $55,000 in sales, of Benefit’s Goof Proof Brow Pencil were sold in two hours, which comprised almost a third of the nearly $153,000 in launch day sales.

Following its Tmall rollout, Philosophy will attempt to solidify its presence in China with a freestanding store that is due to bow in the Tai Ku Xui mall in Shanghai at the end of this month. The 500-square-foot space will be the second market outside the U.S. to have a “Well-being Workshop,” the brand’s new retail concept introduced last year. The first Workshop — which also doubles as Philosophy’s flagship — is a 1,096-square-foot store in Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall in New Jersey. The sensorial, high-touch environment includes experiences that range from a Gratitude Room with virtual reality-guided meditation to a Consultation Table and Sink and Gratitude Wall populated with consumer-generated content.

But it’s not only Chen’s influence that contributed to Philosophy’s early success in China.

Edgar Huber, president of Coty Luxury at Coty Inc., acknowledged that while the Chinese market has potential to welcome a host of global beauty brands, Philosophy is “particularly poised for success” in the region because of its unwavering brand voice, a tenant of the company since it was founded over two decades ago.

“Philosophy, a brand built on words and sentiment, has meaningful resonance with the Chinese consumer, who holds feelings of hope and grace in the highest regard,” Huber said, noting that another point of resonance for this consumer is a physical manifestation of the brand.

“[It’s] not just to bring the brand to life but also to engage consumers in a way that they especially appreciate and are unable to do virtually. This is why we’ve chosen Shanghai as the second market outside the U.S. in which to build out philosophy’s well-being workshop — an enhanced, specialized retail experience befitting of Chinese consumer preferences and expectations,” Huber continued.

This is just one of the brand’s recent initiatives. Also on the horizon is the opening of a second Well-being Workshop in the U.S. in the World Trade Center’s Oculus, which Stark-Flora thinks is especially interesting in terms of location due to a “very varied visitor” comprised of tourists, commuters and residents. The 600-square-foot shop will see additional in-store experiences that aren’t part of the Garden City store, such as a skin-care diagnostic tool and the ability to design your own label for a bottle of Amazing Grace.

Philosophy is gearing up for a significant presence at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Paris later this week, too. The brand will work with influencers here as well, albeit a “different kind,” according to Stark-Flora, who will help raise awareness for mental and physical well-being. A panel discussion — where speakers include Stark-Flora; tennis champion Monica Seles; Stephanie Covington, PhD., codirector of the Center for Gender & Justice, and Kavita Beri, and MD  fellow at Regenerative Cosmetics at TRI Princeton — will shed light on “reframing wellbeing as a key to resilience and change.”

“Advocacy is becoming really front and center…A greater number of women know what we’re doing… and we’re more vocal when it comes to the Hope & Grace initiative,” Stark-Flora said, noting that the Hope & Grace fund has made 63 grants, totaling $3.57 million, to date. “It will become global. So far it was just U.S. centric [and now we’re] launching it elsewhere, especially in China. We know how important purpose is for consumers of all ages, especially younger consumers.”