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The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) isn’t new to marketing, but when it comes to capturing the attention of Chinese consumers, the storied institution is increasingly embracing unorthodox strategies. For this year’s Met Gala, an event that has never lacked for exposure, the museum decided to harness the vast power of the Chinese video-sharing app Douyin, aka TikTok outside of China, to the tune of 170 million views in 48 hours.

To make this happen, the Met partnered with Alfilo Brands (品源文华), a company specializing in developing inventive marketing and merchandising and retail programs for museums. And to capture “fashion’s biggest night out,” they launched a pair of Douyin campaigns to help draw the eyes of China to the Upper East Side. The first, “A Tribute to the Classics” (致敬经典), received 130 million plays in five days and the second, “Met Gala Wave” (Met Gala风潮), outdid expectations and dominated Douyin during the first weekend of May.

The feat was achieved by tasking 36 international KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) and Douyin users to post their creative “Met Gala dress” short videos as if they were invited to walk on the red carpet. Douyin users were also encouraged to chime in with their takes on this year’s intriguing theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion.”

Douyin user post from the Met Gala

A user’s post on the Met Douyin campaign. Photo: Jiemian

Simply put, the Douyin campaign was wildly successful because Alfilo Brands understood the Met Gala brand, the target Chinese audience, and perhaps most importantly, which channel to reach them. But according to Alfilo Brands CEO, He Yizan, in a recent interview with YiMagazine, the campaign nearly failed to materialize. “The management at the Met initially had concerns about this project, they didn’t know what Douyin was, and they were worried that the short video postings on Douyin wouldn’t fit with the museum’s character.”

As the exclusive licensee and retail partner of The Met in China, the Shanghai-based company is a well-established name within the industry. In fact, Alfilo Brands has fast become a specialist in developing Western museum brands for a Chinese audience with The British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and London’s National Gallery already on their books.

For the Met, Yizan and his content development team, first set about organizing the entire program, coordinating the shooting-style with the content director (a former producer from trendsetting Hunan Television), and pairing it with based in New York and Shanghai. Then in March — six weeks before the event — he got the OK at a meeting with senior representatives of the New York museum.

Yet Alfilo’s Douyin success represents only the first stage in what promises to be a highly profitable relationship for the Met. Alfilo Brands specializes in monetizing the intellectual property of museums, and was behind the wildly popular British Museum Tmall shop, launched back in July 2018, and multiple brick and mortar stores in China. It created a range of unique products inspired by the museum’s collection specifically for the Chinese audience. Incredibly, retail sales of the British Museum licensed products in China are projected to hit $46m dollars by the end of 2019. “First have IP asset developed based on the museum’s collection, then monetization, and supported by high quality content,” explains Yizan. “Through content comes story telling and engagement with the young Chinese audience and the retail business creates hype and energy.”

Alfilo launched  the Met flagship store on Tmall in May 2019. You can bet that this world-famous institution will reap the financial benefits of pairing with a company that knows quite well how to monetize a museum’s brand for a Chinese audience.

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