The rise of foreign influencers in China: Who will be the next Oli Barrett?

Updated: Apr 7

On 5th June 2019, a father and son duo began a YouTube channel simply called Barrett. The channel is all about China. Lee and Oli, the owners of the channel, would never imagine that their channel will be favoured by large audiences, especially overseas. Before their channel’s first anniversary, Barrett has already gained 100,000 subscribers.

In 2021, their channel has reached over 200,000 subscribers and has become one of the more popular channels among its peers who are creating content about China.

Photo 1: Oli and Lee

Barrett's business success began with sheer luck.

Oli used to be a playful student in college, refusing to be dull and monotonous. Oli’s father Lee, who works in China, invited Oli to stay in China for six months. Even though Oli had no friends in China and knew little about the country, he was impressed by what he experienced in the past 6 months. At the last minute in the Shenzhen Airport, he made a bold and “reckless” decision —— to stay in China and run a YouTube channel with his father. Because of that quick decision, he found his way to approach China and create a successful business.

Like most YouTube influencers, Lee and Oli sometimes work with brands. However, Lee and Oli are the only influencers who are frequently invited by HUAWEI to attend its conferences, summits, and other related big events. Although they are not officially engaged by HUAWEI, it seems HUAWEI has chosen them as preferred promotion ambassadors. At least, they are undoubtfully HUAWEI’s only favorite so far.

After their channel being recognized and promoted by HUAWEI in the early stage of their career, more China brands, especially Tech brands and Expo, are extending the olive branch to Lee and Oli, offering them plenty of opportunities for company visits and factory visits, etc, which enable them to bring more interesting and rich content to the audience, especially to show the western people the real China from their own perspectives.

Photo 2: Cyrus Janssen

Barrett, of course, is not the only successful case.

"Cyrus Janssen" has roughly half the subscribers of Barrett with its original political content. Janssen’s TikTok is less serious and more about daily life, and he has an impressive 380,000 subscriptions with 5,162,000 likes on his videos.

Photo 3: Xiabobo Brian

You might think Barrett and Cyrus Janssen are the top-tier in the category of China content on Youtube, but they are not the peak of the mountain. "Xiabobo Brian", a Chinese food lover from Argentina, creating videos about Chinese food culture, has 1,641,296 followers on Weibo (a Chinese twitter-like channel), and 1,030,000 subscriptions on Bilibili (China’s hottest video platform). "Qingdao xiaoboluo", a Tik Tok influencer from Russian, who once got a chance to play a little role in a Chinese movie named "The Wandering Earth(2019)", has 2,612,000 subscriptions and a total of 44,747,000 thumb-ups.

Photo 4: Qingdao xiaoboluo

In recent years, more and more Chinese brands are eager for high-quality Youtube influencers to collaborate with.

Under the context of globalization, Chinese brands are gradually stepping up their footholds in overseas markets. They are craving for corresponding influencers/ambassadors to help them promote their brands to overseas audiences. Many competitive and ambitious Chinese tech companies (for instance, companies producing 3D printers, Chips, etc) are seeking their niche space and development overseas as the domestic market is divided mainly by giants like Alibaba, Tencent, etc., which restricts their growing space. A popular slogan in China right now is “The Brand Goes Abroad.”

Influencers like Barrett have been on Youtube for some time. Oli and Lee obviously are not the first explorers. Fulingfang, Xiaoma, and Tomas Afu are more close to the first generation of China promoters, who have been rising since 2016.

In terms of video topics, most influencers are choosing to create content about China's politics, cities, attractions, and food. Right now, foreign influencers in China are aligning with China’s soaring technology sector.

Who will be the next Barret?

Time will tell.

(Data accurate as of 1st April, 2021 collected from influencers’ official channels)

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