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'Appy Ever After: With this Smartphone Accessory I Thee Wed…

With post-1990 born mainlanders now of marriageable age, their ceremonies are smartphone-run, drone-photographed, celebrated in 3D-printed miniatures and shared online through personalised sand painting histories of their courtships.

Photo: Sand painting videos: A courtship captured and shared online.
Sand painting videos: A courtship captured and shared online.
Photo: Sand painting videos: A courtship captured and shared online.
Sand painting videos: A courtship captured and shared online.

Given the post-1990 generation's penchant for creativity, it is no surprise that both of these elements are high on their agenda when they come to making their wedding plans. Inevitably, then, this has triggered substantial growth in the number of innovative wedding products and services currently being introduced across the mainland. With the bespoke and the novel clearly a priority for engaged couples, smartphone wedding apps, drone photography and 3D printed novelties are now regular features of the mainland matrimonial process.

Much of this innovation is being driven by the growth in the celebrity culture across China, with young couples keen to emulate the novel approach taken to matrimony by many music and TV stars. A prime example here is the trend set by Wang Feng, the rock vocalist, when he used drone technology to propose to his movie star partner, Zhang Ziyi. Similarly, when Chen Xiao turned to 3D printing technology to ask actress Michelle Chen to marry him, it was not long before a number of young mainlanders adopted his technique for their own betrothals.

Overall, the range of new wedding products and services on the market is immense. Potential brides and grooms now have the option of enhancing their big day with 3D printing, drone aerial photography, holographic projection, creative video production, personalised wedding gifts and themed wedding planning.

It is understandable that many companies now want to make inroads into this hugely lucrative sector. According to the China Wedding Industry Development Report, the total spend on mainland weddings exceeded Rmb480.2 billion in 2015. The research also analysed four individual components of the matrimonial process – planning, photography, clothing and celebrational banquets.

The report showed that Chinese couples typically spend an average of Rmb76,141 on their wedding. Some 80% of mainland couples are also said to attend between 30 to 60 meetings related to the preparations for the big day.

Hi Tech Nuptials

Photo: Mini-matrimony: A 3D-printed bride.
Mini-matrimony: A 3D-printed bride.
Photo: Mini-matrimony: A 3D-printed bride.
Mini-matrimony: A 3D-printed bride.

Taking the notion of novelty to the extreme, one recent 3D-printed wedding in Zhejiang became a huge internet hit. The event saw the use of 3D printing to create all of the decorations for the wedding venue, including artificial flowers, wedding candies, rings and even a life-size replica of the bride.

The popularity of the 3D printing process can be highlighted by a quick search on Taobao, the mainland's largest e-commerce platform. In total, the portal is home to 5,701 virtual 3D printing providers. The monthly sales volume of the highest ranking 3D printing services supplier is Rmb441,000, with sales for the majority of such providers exceeding Rmb300,000. By 2020, its anticipated that the global 3D printing sector will be worth in excess of Rmb200 billion.

The cost of 3D printing, however, is by no means cheap. According to one 3D modelling and design specialist, the most expensive part of the process is the modelling and design component. In particular, an extremely high degree of precision is required when creating a 3D model of any individual. A present, the design fee for rendering a 3D 10cm figure is somewhere between Rmb2,000 and Rmb5,000.

The design fee for other projects varies depending on the degree of complexity involved. The design fee for a lipstick, for example, is around Rmb500, while a heart-shaped candy can be delivered for Rmb100.

Measurement and design, though, are not the only costly elements of the 3D printing process. At present, 3D output services are typically charged on a 'by weight' basis. In the case of PLA plastic, the average fee is around Rmb1 per gram. This would see a 3D print-out of the figure referenced above costing somewhere in the region of Rmb300-500.

Away from lure of 3D, another innovation also rapidly gaining popularity is drone photography, a resource that allows an aerial view to be shot of the whole wedding. Cai, a recent groom, used an Rmb6,000 drone to film his entire outdoor garden wedding from beginning to end. Extremely happy with the result, he believes that the use of an aerial photography-enable drone enabled him to capture the ceremony from a unique perspective, while the process was also extremely simple to manage.

Photo: Groom at the top: Aerial drone photography.
Groom at the top: Aerial drone photography.
Photo: Groom at the top: Aerial drone photography.
Groom at the top: Aerial drone photography.

According to Long, a mainland wedding planner, his company now offers drone photography as one of its standard options for brides and grooms. Similarly, Zhou, a Sales Executive with a Beijing electronics retailer, says the number of drone-related inquiries he handles has never been higher, with around about five such units sold every day.

Typically, the high street price for a drone is between Rmb3,000 to Rmb9,000. Online, there are now at least 8,000 mainland vendors, with several specialist outlets offering bespoke drones said to be uniquely suited to wedding photography. In terms of marketing, a number of these sites major on celebrity endorsements, claiming, for instance, to offer exactly the same model used by Wang Feng.

Personalisation

Overall, many wedding-related products and services, including event planning and the provision of gifts, are now taking an increasingly personalised and customised approach. In one example of this, Long said many couples now opt for themed weddings.

If, for instance, both the bride and groom are football fans, they might opt to theme their wedding in a style that celebrates the sport. This could see all of the decorations – from the reception table to the wedding hall – featuring elements derived from football. In this case, even the relatives and friends attending the ceremony would be expected to adopt footballing attire.

Photo: Smartphone-facilitated wedding planning.
Smartphone-facilitated wedding planning.
Photo: Smartphone-facilitated wedding planning.
Smartphone-facilitated wedding planning.

Other popular themes on the mainland include Hello Kitty, The Legend of Miyue, jungle style and a piano motif. In each case, all of the related products and services would be custom-designed in line with the overall theme.

The production of creative videos is another area where clear business opportunities are emerging. One recent bride, Zhang, ordered a custom-made sand painting video online, later describing the finished product as "stunning".

During her first online consultation with the production company, she and her fiancée outlined the story of their courtship, supplying a number of photographs that charted the course of their relationship. After just three days, she received the finished video, which used sand paintings to recreate many of the landmarks of their courtship. The video was then played at the couple's wedding and shared online, attracting a substantial number of "likes".

Such online video providers have proved popular for a number of reasons. As well as their low production costs, there is no need for the couple to travel and meet the video producers, while the finished product is highly personalised. A number of conventional video production houses also offer similarly creative bespoke services for weddings.

Apart from sand painting – the most popular creative approach at the moment – hand-drawn animated videos are also very much in demand. Here the options include animated movie stars offering their best wishes to the newlyweds, cute animated Korean characters, and hand-drawn messages thanking the parents of the bride and groom.

Aside from the considerable attention to detail paid on the part of the happy couple, many relatives and friends also put in a huge effort when it comes to preparing personalised wedding gifts. One post-1990s generation white-collar worker, for instance, took to Taobao to order a pair of clay figurines for a friend who was getting married. Based on her friend's wedding photography, the figurines of the couple looked wholly realistic, despite coming with a price tag of just Rmb300-500. Among the other custom-made art works available are wood carvings, sand paintings, coloured pencil sketches and puzzles.

DIY wedding gifts are also proving popular. This has seen weeding guests create homemade porcelain tableware, as well as cookie moulds featuring hand-drawn cartoon representations of the bride and groom. Red wine bottles and glasses engraved with the couple's names are another widely-adopted alternative.

Wedding Apps

Photo: We invite WeChat-style.
We invite WeChat-style.
Photo: We invite WeChat-style.
We invite WeChat-style.

Latterly, electronic messages have become the most popular form of wedding invitation. Unlike traditional paper cards, e-wedding invitations can be sent out by simply clicking on a mobile device, while guests can use the same process to reply. The bride- and groom-to-be are then kept constantly up-to-date with regard to the number of attendees, while being freed from the hassle of delivering individual invitation cards to each and every guest. Overall, this represents a considerable saving in terms of both time and paper.

A number of dedicates smartphone apps are now available that streamline the production of e-wedding invitation cards. Unsurprisingly, an increasing number of such apps are downloaded every day.

There are now at least 10 dedicated wedding apps – most notably daoxila and hunliji – that offer a one-stop service for planning the big days. These apps allow the capabilities and prices of different suppliers to be instantly compared. They also offer the facility to place direct orders for a range of wedding services, including wedding cars, hotels, wedding planning, photography, honeymoon travel, emceeing and make-up artists.

Many of these come with built-in wedding assistant functions. These allow for easy wedding day budget management, while also charting the progress of the arrangements for the big day. Several of them also offer more advanced facilities, such as a WeChat wall for guests to sign in, advice as to the most auspicious wedding dates and the ability to keep track of the amount of monetary gifts received. As with zhihu, the mainland's largest online Q&A forum, a number of these wedding apps are also home to consultative communities specialising in wedding-related issues. These allow users to share their wedding preparation tips and preparation status in real time.

Liu Yin, Special Correspondent, Beijing

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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