In 2011, NBC released a competition show called Fashion Star to give the long-running Project Runway a run for its money. The show featured celebrities like Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie as mentors. It pitted 14 aspiring fashion designers against one another in weekly challenges, with their designs to be judged by a panel of buyers from Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and H&M. It also had a commercial angle: each week, viewers could buy the winning outfit at one of the retailers.
After two seasons NBC decided – to quote Heidi Klum on the Project Runway – to say “auf wiedersehen” to Fashion Star. Viewers had complained that the show was dull and tacky, with too little emphasis put on the fashion. Instead, it relied on visual spectacle (models on Harleys, back-up dancers and one-too-many smoke machines).
A similar concept – called The Goddess’ New Dress – has met with a much better reception in China. The design competition, which will start its second season later this year, became one of the most popular shows in primetime on Shanghai’s Dragon Satellite TV when it began to air last August. The first season was also a hit online, raking in over 100 million views on Youku Tudou, an online video platform.
In each episode, six female celebrities – including ‘Football Babe’ Zhang Xinyu (see our Red Star in WiC222) and Korean pop star Nana – design clothes with the help of professional designers according to assigned themes. The starlets then model those garments at a final runway show to win orders from four Tmall vendors like Eifini and ASOBIO. The winning outfit is put into mass production and made available for purchase on Tmall, Alibaba’s virtual store.
Critics say the show has struck a chord because TV viewers are craving novelty. “Audiences’ demand for variety shows is still very strong, but this type of programme has entered a weak phase domestically. It is our goal to introduce something different,” Li Hongshan, chief brand officer at the show’s producer, told 21CN Business Herald.
The show was a success not only in terms of ratings. Data from Tmall reveals that it has sold over 100,000 outfits based on designs from the series. Inman, one of the four Tmall vendors that carry its merchandise, says it saw the number of visitors on its virtual storefront jump more than fourfold after the show went on air. Similarly, ASOBIO reckons The Goddess’ New Dress has helped raise its profile among young consumers.
“When the first episode aired, the four virtual stores on Tmall saw their traffic increase by 10 times. By the time the second episode aired, traffic increased by 300 times and on average, they sold about 300 items a day,” Li told Yangcheng Evening News.
The success was the result of very careful planning from Tmall. The company got involved in the production of the show in 2013, participating in everything from developing the concept to vendor selection, says Linkshop, an e-commerce portal. “The goal of Tmall was very clear: investing in The Goddess’ New Dress is not about return on investment, it is about brand marketing,” the portal concludes.
Yangcheng Evening News says the collaboration between e-commerce firms and TV networks makes sense. When A Taste of China first launched, the food that was featured on the popular food documentary quickly sold out on Alibaba’s Taobao. The e-commerce platform says about 25 million viewers have conducted searches on the platform and it has sold over 7 million items that appeared in the documentary.
And taking a page out of the playbook used by The Goddess’ New Dress, video website iQiyi announced a similar deal with JD.com back in November, says Beijing News. All the dresses that appear in the online reality show I, Supermodel will also be available for sale on the e-commerce site as soon as it airs.
Of course, not every viewer is as appreciative of the link-up between e-commerce and TV programming. One netizen wrote: “Why can’t we just watch good TV without being prompted to buy something every other minute?”
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