China Insights

The Secret of ‘Guardian Girls’

Ruby Tang

Senior Research Consultant

Social 27.08.2018 / 17:06

Guardian Girls 2 col

With enough passion, the fans of an online TV drama can ‘light up’ a twin skyscraper in Shanghai.

Guardian, an online drama adapted from the namesake popular online novel became the hottest online video this summer. Its total video views exceeded 2 billion. On June 14, the day after it premiered on exclusively, its Baidu search index jumped to 150,000 and remained around 220,000 throughout its showing period. It has also become a hot topic on Weibo with its hashtag received more than 11.42 billion impressions – making it the only topic that came near the popularity of the FIFA World Cup.

When the online drama was closing to its finale, Youku invited fans to “like” the show on its website and with 6.66 million likes, the website will sponsor an out-of-home ad on the gigantic screens of Shanghai’s Global Harbour Twin Towers. Surprisingly, within only five days, the fans accumulated 6.66 million likes within five days. In total, they gave more than 9 million likes in 10 days!

0813-CN-Youku Hearts

On July 20, a huge crowd of “Guardian Girls” joined the lighting ceremony at Shanghai’s Global Harbour Twin Towers and sang the theme song together.

Although now the online drama has been ordered to be pulled off shelf due to issues of its content, we still should research who these active, both online and offline, Guardian Girls are.

Some Background First - What’s So Special About Guardian?

As an online TV drama adapted from a subculture novel and produced with a small budget, Guardian was well received and praised by netizens for the talent of the actors and for the publicity surrounding the drama. It was not a success by chance. Here are four key factors:

* It is based on well-known IP (intellectual property, mostly refer to original cultural works, such as online novels)

The drama was adapted from the novel of the namesake novel written by Priest, a well-known novelist on the novel community website Jinjiang Literature City (晋江文学城). This already guaranteed its viewership among the fans of the original novel.

* Authentic representation of niche subculture

Youku’s version was true to the plot in the original novel, and yet also made necessary and understandable modification to make sure the storyline was in sync with current social values and government policy. As a result, it has successfully brought the “boylove” niche subculture to the mainstream. The drama focuses on a story of strong brotherhood (aka “bromance”) between the two leading actors.

* Outstanding performing by leading actors

Although the storyline and special effects of Guardian became the butt of many online jokes, the drama nonetheless successfully attracted a group of fans who followed its actors for their convincing performing skills. Compared to previous dramas of the same genre, Guardian chose actors with proven strong acting skills instead of fresh, young actors.

* Creating buzz and engaging fans while the drama is on air

The two leading actors often poked funs at each other through social media platforms and during live broadcasts. They also actively joined online and offline promotional activities. Seeing all these interactions, the fans were convinced by their “bromance”.

Kantar Media CIC did a data mining on Weibo posts between June 1 and July 15, 2018, through its IWOM Cooperator platform. Data shows that the Guardian Girls (of course a small number of them are men) mostly post-95s who live in tier-1 cities and go to bed very late.

EN Who Are Guardian Girls 

The Guardian Girls have a crush on celebrities, cartoons and animation. They seldom express their passion for niche culture through words or texts, but would choose emojis in many cases.

EN Guardian Girls Like

Then has any brand jumped on the bandwagon? When KFC initially launched its Red and Black Burgers, it used its existing ambassador Huang Zi Tao (黄子韬) to shoot an advertising video. But KFC’s buzz volume rose only modestly. On July 10, Zhu Yilong (朱一龙), one of the two leading actors of Guardian, posted on Weibo to promote the Red and Black Burgers, while Bai Yu (白宇), the other leading actor, commented on Zhu’s post. KFC’s buzz volume soared significantly.

On July 17, Zhu and Bai were both shown on KFC’s official poster to promote the burger. Again, KFC’s buzz volume jumped.

EN Guardian And KFC

Kantar Media CIC’s Viewpoint:

Guardian Girls are mainly post-95s across tier-1&2 cities. They are fond of animation, cartoons and celebrities and go to bed very late. Brands may attract Guardian Girls by showing these fans what they are already interested in (ie. male idol band or male celebrities, or the cartoon or animation of Founder of Diabolism (魔道祖师) or The King’s Avatar (全职高手)).

Netizens will not overtly discuss subculture and CP (celebrity couples designated by fans regardless of their relationship in reality) topics on the Internet, many using self-made emoji to express themselves. Empowered by this insight, brands should provide more materials to enable fans to unleash their creativity for spreading campaigns further. They may even embed the products their idol officially represent into their emojis, helping brands to earn more favourable online discussions.

While mass IP dramas still have massive reach, niche subculture contents should not be neglected – they can generate high engagement and consumption as well.

From the Guardian case we can see that young consumers who follow niche culture are more keen to support their idols directly, and this support may be converted into actual sales. The fans often will create organizations that can quickly expand in number and grow in influence.

Therefore, in addition to popular mass IP dramas, brands should also pay attention to niche subculture contents. Through appropriate in-movie product placement or licensed products based on the IP or characters, brands can leverage these niche subcultures to win the hearts of young people.

Source: Kantar Media CIC

Editor's notes

* This is an extraction from Kantar Media CIC monthly publication TrendWatch, August issue. To reach the author, or to know more information, data and analysis of social media marketing, please contact us;

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