Reaching China’s Generation Z: A Mini Guide to Bilibili

Launched in 2009, Shanghai-based Bilibili (哔哩哔哩) is now one of the major video streaming platforms in China, with the other big players being iQiyi, Youku, Tencent Video and Mango TV. It’s backed by Alibaba, Tencent and Sony and has been in the headlines in the West recently as a result of its Hong Kong IPO but more and more brands are also coming to understand its marketing potential

It first started with a focus on ACG (animation, comic, games) and gradually began to add more diversified content. Nowadays, Bilibili features e-sports, tech, music, dance, movies, TV dramas, educational shows, personal vlogs, etc. It also provides live streaming services.

Compared with other major video streaming platforms, Bilibili’s users are generally younger. In its marketing brochure released this March, Bilibili claims that “One in every two young people in China is a Bilibili user,” and that most of them belong to Gen Z. Bilibili made this rough estimation based on the statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics, which indicate that the number of post-90s and post-00s in China reached around 328 million. According to Bilibili’s latest financial report, as of Q4 2020, the number of its monthly active users (MAU) reached 202 million, 86% of whom are under 35 years old.

Danmu culture

The most signature feature of Bilibili is danmu (弹幕), also called “bullet comments”, which move across the screen from right to left overlaying the top of the video. Registered members – who need to pass a quiz about internet etiquette, anime, comics and gaming – can add a bullet comment at any time and it is added to the ones that already appear. People even rewatch videos so they can add comments at key moments. It creates the feel of an evolving chat room and gives viewers a chance to communicate with other users in a unique way. So although it’s a video sharing site, it has strong social media functions and a community feel.

Viewers leave bullet comments to give their reactions to specific moments, express their views, make jokes, give more detailed explanations of a specific scene, or to provide Chinese subtitles for videos in foreign languages.

For very popular videos, the screen can become so crowded with comments that it’s hard to read them or even see the video. Luckily there’s a button that can be used to turn the bullet comment view off. 

Bilibili offers a variety of styles for bullet comments. White comments that roll from right to left is the default style. Only registered users can submit bullet comments. To make bullet comments in other colours (彩色弹幕) users must be at Level 2. More settings, like comments that stay in the middle of the screen for several seconds, require a Level 2 or 3 account or virtual coins (硬币). 

These coins are usually used to make small payments to the videomakers, like a mini built-in Patreon, and can be earned by logging in daily. Users can also move their account up the levels (there are 6) by logging in daily for a certain number of days, adding real-name authentication and security features, uploading videos or by paying a flat fee.

Bilibili marketing

Bilibili offers various options for brands that want to market on the platform.

1. Display and video ads

Bilibili offers a variety of display ad formats including app open ads, large video or still picture ads on the home page, feed ads that show up on the home page or video ads that appear in the list of recommended videos.

2. Platform festivals

Bilibili has platform festivals every year like its Creativity Festival, New Product Day (B站新品日), and offline exhibitions and events that brands are invited to participate in. Brands can take advantage of them as an opportunity to engage their target audience, increase brand awareness, highlight new products and boost sales.

3. Official accounts for brands (企业号)

Bilibili also allows brands to set up official accounts. Brands can display video ads and campaign hashtags, showcase promotional materials and even link to external e-commerce platforms on their account page. Brands with official accounts on Bilibili include DingTalk, Tencent, Pinduoduo, Honor, Fanta, Audi, Huawei, OPPO and more.

DingTalk (钉钉) is a digital working platform developed by Alibaba Group. Last February, not long after the Covid-19 initial outbreak in China, students were forced to stay home and DingTalk was used for online classes. However, students got so tired of having to attend online classes every day and were so frustrated with the frequently choppy streaming that many gave the app a one-star rating.

This led to a steep drop in the app’s overall rating on the App Store and Google Play. With an overall rating below one star, DingTalk risked being removed from Apple and Google’s app offerings. In order to improve the app’s overall rating, in mid-February 2020, DingTalk uploaded a video on Bilibili called DingTalk begs for mercy online (钉钉本钉,在线求饶), which features a humorous song and funny memes “begging” users to improve the app’s rating.

Screenshot via Bilibili © DingTalk 

Bilibili viewers, who tend to appreciate such kind of self-mocking humour, liked it. By early May last year, the video had reached over 24 million views and DingTalk’s account followers increased by 500,000.

4. Doing KOL marketing / influencer marketing on the platform

According to Bilibili’s latest financial report, as of Q4 2020, 91% of the content on the platform is professional user generated videos (PUGV) uploaded by its video bloggers (KOLs / influencers)  who are nicknamed “up主” (uploaders). This makes working with bloggers who have lots of fans on Bilibili a popular option. In July 2020, Bilibili launched a platform called Huahuo (花火平台) to help brands and bloggers to find each other.

During Bilibili’s Creative Festival (B站脑洞节) last year, an annual event when Bilibili invites its influencers to produce videos based on a designated theme, Fanta did KOL marketing with several bloggers who produced a series of creative videos related to the drink. 

In a video made by foodie blogger Mianyangliaoli (绵羊料理), she first showed how to make fish and chips. Then at the end of the video, she took a drink from a bottle of Fanta. Then she began to eat the bottle, which, as it turned out, she’s made from gelatin. In another video uploaded by artist Yanhong (雁鸿Aimee), she spent 300 hours making a phoenix coronet using Fanta cans. The series got a positive reaction, which helped increase brand awareness, and viewers spoke highly of the creativity shown.

 Screenshot via Bilibili © 雁鸿Aimee

Now Bilibili also allows uploaders or brands to add hyperlinks to external e-commerce platforms like Taobao, which makes the “video + e-commerce” or “live streaming + e-commerce” mode another possible collaboration option between brands and video bloggers on the platform.

5. Collaborating with famous brands, mascots, characters and virtual idols on the platform

As mentioned before, Bilibili has a unique positioning on content with a focus on ACG. Therefore, another way to do marketing on Bilibili is to collaborate with famous brands, characters, and virtual idols on the platform. They can be from popular ACG productions, dramas, movies or individual characters from them. Virtual idols can also be found on Bilibili. The most popular ones include Luotianyi (洛天依) and Ling Yuan yousa (泠鸢yousa).

In October 2020, Audi launched a crossover campaign with Chinese animation Incarnation (灵笼). In Season 1 Episode 12 of the animation, main character Bai Yuekui (白月魁) drives Audi’s concept car “AI:Trail quattro” for several minutes, which surprised many viewers. The character Bai was also announced by Audi as their first virtual car owner. Later, on Christmas Day, Audi and Incarnation produced another video ad as a spin-off, which accumulated 720,000 views on Bilibili within three days.

Screenshot via Bilibili © Incarnation

The young generation in China are familiar with these symbols, brands, products and virtual characters. Brands can apply for the authorization of rights to use this kind of intellectual property and virtual characters via Bilibili for a crossover campaign. Alternatively, brands can also create their own virtual characters.

Unlike other mainstream video platforms in China, Bilibili is unique not only because its video content is mostly related to ACG, e-sports and lifestyle, but also because its users are mostly Gen Z consumers, who have huge purchasing power and lead the new trends. They’re willing to try something new and appreciate originality and creativity. They seem to be more tolerant of sponsored videos uploaded by their favourite bloggers as long as the content is creative and high quality.

On Bilibili, video is only the format. Whether brands choose to produce their own content or work with popular bloggers, they need to bear in mind that creativity is king. Therefore, in order to succeed in Bilibili marketing, brands first need to understand Bilibili’s unique culture, study what Generation Z consumers like, and then get creative.

Alarice provides Chinese market research and strategy services and does social media marketing – from account registration and content creation to social monitoring. You can also access our FREE resources such as our mini books, consumer reports, and ChoZan’s quarterly mega reports. Contact us with your Chinese digital marketing questions, and we’ll help you sort things out.

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