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  • Laurence Lim Dally

Can Luxury Brands Stand Out With Humor?

During the many, many weeks of lockdown in China, social media channels like Weibo and Tik Tok were flooded with humor viral videos, as bloggers, tucked away in quarantine, turned the banality of daily life into one short funny video after another. Examples: a man fishing in a fish tank, people playing mahjong wearing cosmonaut suits, a lion dance performed by a family hidden under a giant plastic bag, or a woman going out to exercise in a full Christmas Tree costume, sporting Michael Kors handbag.

Such videos are subverting mainstream communication codes, which still rely on beautification and positive energy, like when influencers and livestreamers appear to be “casual” but are sporting perfect makeup and outfits. These funny, quarantine-related videos, however, mainly focus on everyday people, doing everyday things in their rather humdrum home environments, trying to have a bit of fun to cope with their solitude and anxiety.

This form of humor resonates with the modern Chinese form of humor linked to the “mourning culture” (Sangwenhua, 丧文化), a rising youth Chinese subculture associated with self-depreciation, dark sarcasm, and a sense of exhaustion from an overly competitive society. The popularity of Sang Tea’s “achieved-absolutely-nothing Black Tea” from (丧茶) a few years ago proved that depressing irony deeply connects with Chinese culture.

Another type of popular quarantine-related video focuses on “shaming” moments. Here, we see a young woman, perfectly made-up for a video conference call, only to burst into tears when she releases it’s going to be a phone call instead.

In another video, a student is following a make-up tutorial during her e-learning course and didn’t realize her web cam was on and that her teacher and students were watching her. These funny “shaming” videos rely on self-derision and contrast with the narcissism and constant need for self-appreciation of many Chinese influencers.

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