Does Honor of Kings look down upon homegrown brands?

One of China’s biggest video games, Honor of Kings, has made its first collaboration of the year of the tiger with Erke (a sportswear brand) and the news has thrilled both its gamers and fans of this “generous” national brand. However, the excitement soon turned into a disappointment for the sportswear manufacturer, due to the “arrogance” shown by its partner and its slack-off in the promotion.

Erke won the nation’s heart after making a low-key donation worth 50 million RMB ($7.7 million) to help the flood-devasted cities in Henan province last July, which was regarded as an act of “a real patriot”. Local stores of Erke across the country saw shelves swiped out following the donation, as “touched” consumers went on “irrational” buying to support the brand once believed to be at the edge of collapse. This movement sparked a change in fortunes for the brand and showed that ethical awareness and charitable donations can go a long way for brands within the Chinese market.

Since this episode, Erke has become more in the public sight, with netizens suggesting a collaboration with the hit game IP (Intellectual Property) Honor of Kings. This looked especially fruitful considering the continuous waves brought out by collaborations between the most sought-after game and other brands. Whether it’s to cater to the demands of its players, or an attempt to leverage the reputation of this “patriotic” brand, Honor of Kings shook hands with Erke ahead of the Chinese New Year, showing the growing influence from consumers on brands’ decisions. However, that’s when the drama began.

Erke kicked off the promotion for the New Year edition on 10 January. After waiting for three days, the brand woke up to a post from Honor of Kings on Weibo on 14 January, indicating Erke got the date for the official announcement wrong. The brand soon responded to the post awkwardly, saying “our social media team was rather too excited about the collaboration and posted before the official date”.

Following this, Erke has been constantly updating people on the collaboration in the following days whilst the game publisher seems to be less bothered. Honor of Kings only dropped another post regarding Erke’s new chunky sneakers on 19 January, which has soon been swamped by updates on its newly released game skins. As a result, the sports brand might not be able to leverage the game’s popularity as much as expected due to the reluctance of marketing at Honor of Kings. This has naturally fallen sour, with any business partnership reliant on trust and active promotion from both sides.

While some Internet users are less affected by the drama, others have shown sympathy to Erke and urged Honor of Kings to be more proactive in its marketing efforts. Some have even criticised the game maker’s “double standard”, referring to its attitude seen during the collaboration with Burberry (a British luxury brand) last year, when Honor of Kings had shown more enthusiasm for the tie-up. Although the collaboration soon fell off due to the luxury label’s stance on Xinjiang,

Such different attitudes towards brand collaborations have naturally left the audience pondering Honor of Kings’ sincerity in dealing with the homegrown brand. In the meantime, lessons should also be learned by brands, especially those lesser-known, as to how to execute collaborations effectively when it comes to leveraging partners that enjoy much larger popularity than themselves.

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