Foreign makeup, local star: a look back at M·A·C’s collaboration with Vietnamese pop star Hoang Thuy Linh

When global brands enter a new market, there is usually an adjustment period while they get used to the local culture and how to communicate and spread their messaging within it. They may begin by recycling campaigns from elsewhere to test the waters, but eventually they’ll have to speak to local people’s interests if they want to keep growing. And because this is the age of the influencer, that usually means finding a famous local to speak for them. For M·A·C Cosmetics (hereafter MAC), which in the West has collaborated with celebrities ranging from Mariah Carey to Rihanna to Rupaul, taking this step in Vietnam was inevitable.

Be Your Own Queen, the summer 2020 campaign that Vero designed for MAC, was the Canadian cosmetics company’s first time engaging an influencer in Vietnam. Here’s how it all went down, courtesy of Pham Hoai Anh, the Vero account executive who managed the campaign.

Pham Hoai Anh:

When MAC came to us, they had already been in talks about a collaboration with the pop star and actress Hoang Thuy Linh – known for her bold and outspoken image that defies conventional ideas of Vietnamese femininity – but they were in need of a concept. Our breakthrough came from an unusual place: the translation of “matte” – the lipstick texture MAC is known for – to the Vietnamese “lì,” a homonym of the word for “stubborn and brave”. From there, we came up with the concept of “Be Your Own Queen,” leveraging Hoang Thuy Linh’s image to position MAC the choice of bold, brave, and fearless who can choose multiple ways to boldly express their identities.

It helped our cause that Hoang Thuy Linh’s highly successful comeback album “HOANG” – released in late 2019 – was built around songs that portray women from different eras of Vietnamese history trying to find freedom and happiness in the face of restrictive cultural norms. The singer has stated that she wants to use her music to empower women to transcend social prejudice, which is part of the reason for her popularity among the target audience of 18 to 35-year-old women. Hoang Thuy Linh soon became deeply involved in the preparation of the campaign, personally choosing four lipstick colors (all of which were previously available – this was branding, not a product launch) to fit the different personalities she wanted to express. These became the “looks” – consisting of lipstick, matching liquid lip color, and a powder foundation suited for Vietnamese skin tones – which MAC collected into sets with limited edition packaging, a tote bag, and a card signed by Hoang Thuy Linh herself.

For the key visuals for those looks, Vero created a campaign icon that’s a combination of a crown (to represent a queen, naturally) and four different seasonal flowers, while Hoang Thuy Linh’s team

conducted seasonally-themed photo shoots whose color schemes and combination of modern and traditional Vietnamese women’s style reflect the aesthetics for Hoang Thuy Linh’s elaborate music videos for several songs from “Hoang”.

Before the launch, we published two videos teasing the M.A.C x HTL collaboration on social media accounts owned by both. Then on August 14th, we officially announced the collaboration by spreading the key visuals of HTL wearing the four collections across MAC’s social media, their mall kiosks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and in the press release we sent to local lifestyle and entertainment media.

We also sent the look bundles to 10 local micro-influencers to unbox and review. Bringing in micro-influencers was meant to reflect the core concept that all women can find the confidence to be the queen of their own lives – they don’t have to be celebrities to be bold, brave, and fearless. Some of their Instagram and Facebook posts went on to receive thousands of likes.

At the same time, we posted how-to content on MAC’s social media and used number-guessing minigames with prize giveaways (including the “looks”) to increase engagement from their followers.

We can’t know yet what impact the Be Your Own Queen campaign has had on sales of MAC products in Vietnam. But beyond metrics, I think the collaboration with Hoang Thuy Linh was highly successful because she was a perfect fit for MAC’s identity, messaging, and aesthetic. Thanks to her presence and the creative execution, the collaboration created serious social media buzz and solidified MAC as a brand that makes a genuine effort to engage with its Vietnamese customers and promote a strong and unconventional concept of women’s empowerment. It’s certainly helped them to stand out among the crowded field of foreign cosmetics brands, and it set a benchmark for others in that market space to follow – or be left behind.