Audrey Low, Managing Director, L'Équipe L'Oréal at Mindshare China, will be judging the Effective Use of Partnerships & Sponsorships category of the 2020 WARC Media Awards. Here, she talks to Chiara Manco about the impact of lockdowns, the coming of age of Chinese e-commerce and the new partnership opportunities opened up by the worldwide digital transformation.

Describe your role.

I am responsible for leading Mindshare China’s biggest account team, L’Équipe L’Oréal, covering L’Oréal’s four product divisions, over 22 brands, and more than 180 campaigns annually.

How has your role been impacted by COVID-19 and lockdowns?

China was the first market globally to be affected by the pandemic. As such, we didn’t have a rulebook or examples to follow and had to quickly respond. As the situation unfolded, we needed to ensure we worked in ever greater partnership with L’Oréal, rapidly updating their communications plan in response.

COVID-19 has helped us become more agile as an agency, in both the way teams work with each other and the way we work with our clients. With a huge uptick in video conferencing calls, we’ve also been able to become more efficient and productive, while offering increased flexibility to the team. One of the great after-effects of the pandemic is how it has brought our global Mindshare network together. Despite being spread across more than 100 countries, today we share, communicate with and support each other more than ever before – be it lockdown recipes, health and wellbeing tips, grooming and beauty routines, or the latest changes in consumer and category trends in response to the pandemic. We have a global ‘stay connected’ round table, where the leaders of the company have opened up their management call to everyone in the agency and our global CEO Nick Emery sends an email to all staff every Monday, recapping the business week and praising us for stand-out work we delivered.

What approach has L'Oréal taken to remain relevant and support consumers during this time?

Naturally, with everyone being forced to stay home during lockdown, demand for digital content soared. As a result, we increased our focus on digital targeting, as well as changing our communication angle to become more appropriate for a pandemic – i.e. more emphasis on makeup that is visible when a mask is being worn instead of lipstick, as well as increased focus on skincare, given consumers’ increased time at home. All this while being very mindful of consumer sentiment. I am very proud to work with a group of brands that focused on what was appropriate, rather than just the commercial gains.

The Instagram commercial/tutorial made by Eva Longoria on how to cover roots springs to mind as an agile use of influencers when you don't have the means to shoot a traditional ad.

Yes, a great example from L’Oréal Paris USA. In China, KOLs and celebrities play a vital role in the e-commerce world. When COVID-19 began, shooting was postponed. We instead saw a lot of brands turning to authentic content from the influencers’ own homes, as well as the deployment of virtual idols – something Mindshare China has long been pioneering since our first use of Luo Tianyi – which can create non-stop content while engaging with China’s Gen Z.

What have you learned from this phase and how do you see L'Oréal's communications change in the post-lockdown world?

With online channels taking greater importance during lockdown, the need for digital transformation around data targeting has only increased.

In addition, for China specifically, we are witnessing the maturing of e-commerce. As this occurs, we will see a greater shift towards social commerce – where finding the right mix to balance platforms will be key to success.

Do you see the pivot to e-commerce lasting?

In China, the so-called ‘pivot to e-commerce’ is not new. China leads the world in e-commerce, and this trend continues to grow. While overseas KOLs and celebrities need to adopt a subtle tone when selling, in China, transparency is expected, with a far superior logistical set up to allow for this.

What we do see emerging, however, is the use of livestream selling. This has already taken off massively in China, and will likely grow as more and more platforms make this feasible – e.g., Douyin/TikTok has now integrated e-commerce fully into its app.

With events the world over being cancelled, sponsorships have been impacted – when do you see them coming back and what do you think they will look like?

While COVID-19 may have led to many offline event cancellations, I don’t believe that sponsorships and partnerships have been cancelled or called off to the same degree. Instead, many brands have pivoted to turn offline events into online ones to make sure consumers could still attend. From virtual concerts to trade shows, livestreams have actually managed to succeed in driving engagement – thanks in large part to the number of people around the world still working from home.

In this instance, COVID-19 has helped to accelerate the world’s digital transformation and I think we will see more of this moving forward as consumers accept this reality as the new norm. For example, I expect the Tokyo 2021 Olympics to adopt more digital measures, which would bring about a wealth of exciting opportunities for brand sponsors and partners.

Share an example of a partnership or sponsorship – not from Mindshare – that has impressed you recently. What was about it that stood out?

One of my all-time favourite campaigns was Mr Porter’s partnership with Johnny Walker Blue Label, ‘The Gentleman’s Wager’. It was a fantastic way to bring together two non-competing brands that could create synergies off each other, driving engaging commerce through an expansive content series.

You are judging the Media Awards' Effective Use of Partnerships & Sponsorships category. What do you expect from this year's entrants?

This category is where creativity beyond a brand’s normal realm can really shine through. In the same way that we brought together L’Oréal’s Infallible Cushion product with one of China’s most popular hotpot chains to demonstrate its efficacy, I will be looking for brands that have pushed past convention to cut through and win over consumers.

The WARC Media Awards will close for entries on 23 September. Click here to enter your work in one of the Awards' four categories: Effective Channel Integration, Effective Use of Tech, Best Use of Data and Effective Use of Partnerships & Sponsorships. Entry is free and there’s a prize fund for winning work.