Yasmin Moreira is a novela star, but you won’t find her on broadcast television. Before the pandemic, she was working a day job as a senior analyst at a São Paulo advertising agency. Then, in 2020, with hopes of launching her acting career, Moreira quit and began posting videos on TikTok. Over the next two years, she slowly built an audience of 70,000 followers on the app.
That was before she joined Kwai, a short-form video platform owned by Chinese social media giant Kuaishou. Compared to the slow grind of TikTok, building a following on Kwai happened fast and skyrocketed her profile online.
Just two weeks after posting her first video — a fictional soap opera–style production — in early January, Moreira had 120,000 followers. She is now closing in on 600,000, with each of her videos averaging around one million views. In December 2021, she was recruited by a leading Brazilian social media talent agency, and says she makes more today as a full-time Kwai creator than she did at her previous job.
Moreira is one of a growing number of Brazilian creators and users migrating to Kwai. The platform became the third most downloaded app in the country last year, the company told Rest of World, with over 45 million monthly active users. Rest of World spoke with creators, talent agencies, influencer marketing firms, and analysts who say the secret to the company’s success in the country is targeting low-income users, tapping the country’s growing number of social media talent agencies, and executing successful referral campaigns.
Kwai’s growth in Brazil mirrors its rise in China. Kwai’s parent company, Kuaishou, launched its short-form video platform in 2013, reaching lower-income users with featured vlogs of rural farmers, factory workers, and traditional artisans. Like TikTok, much of Kwai’s appeal is its main feed of recommended short-form videos, personalized by Kuaishou’s algorithms. Users can directly follow creators like Moreira in the app and watch and tip them in livestreams.
Unlike its domestic rival ByteDance, Kwai has kept a relatively low profile in the last decade and eluded most international media coverage, as it expanded globally. In his first interview in over four years, Kuaishou founder Su Hua told Bloomberg last fall that the company has rejected an expansion strategy that prioritizes North American users, in part due to TikTok’s dominance in the United States. Instead, he said the company has looked to Indonesia and Brazil. As of last year, Kuiashou has 1 billion users across the domestic and international versions of its platform, according to the company.
In 2019, the company opened its first Latin American offices in São Paulo. Soon after, it launched a series of initiatives to raise its profile in the country, including campaigns around Carnival, corporate philanthropy for low-income communities, and partnership with a department store chain located in the country’s northeast. In 2021, Kwai became an official sponsor of the Brazilian national football team, securing exclusive rights to produce the team’s short-form video content leading into the 2022 World Cup. In a statement to Rest of World, Kwai indicated Brazil is a priority country in its global expansion and that the company wants to generate more content for Brazilian users.
Creators and analysts confirm that part of Kwai’s success in Brazil is its target demographic. “Kwai is used by people who work most of the day in blue-collar jobs: app drivers, bus drivers, food delivery,” said Moreira, who now writes scripts about service industry workers to appeal to this audience.
While TikTok in Brazil focuses on “younger audiences, teenagers, mainly centered in the [richer] southeast region,” Kwai serves a demographic from historically marginalized northeastern states, says Victor Barcellos, a social media researcher at the Institute for Technology and Society, in Rio. For example, J.P. Venancios, a creator from the countryside of Paraíba, now has one of the most followed accounts in Brazil and is one of the faces of the app in a recent marketing campaign.
Felipe Oliva, the co-founder and CEO of Squid, one of Brazil’s largest influencer marketing agencies, told Rest of World that though advertisers often look to reach working-class consumers on broadcast television, he recommends those same brands invest in marketing on Kwai.
Creators and analysts say that in Brazil’s saturated creator economy, Kwai is a fresh opportunity for influencers to make a name for themselves. Markelly Oliveira, a 27-year-old dancer from the state of Minas Gerais, moved to São Paulo in her early 20s, dreaming of celebrity.
Her career was stagnating before she joined Kwai and uploaded her first novela video in December 2021. Now she has over 1 million followers and is signed to the same talent agency as Moreira, Renoir. “I spent my whole life working to be recognized; I joined Kwai and now people recognize me,” she told Rest of World. “Kwai is delivering much better than any other social network.
Kwai’s success is helping fuel Brazil’s social media talent agencies, which often foot the bills for creators, in the hopes of cashing in on a platform’s rapid growth. In return, Kwai has a policy of boosting the posts of creators who produce novelas, via their algorithms. According to Renoir CEO Victor Bellíssimo, the payoff will come through brand sponsorships down the line from companies that are looking to reach working-class consumers through influencer marketing.
Meanwhile, in 2020, Kwai launched a referral and advertising campaign to grow its user base, paying small cash rewards for users who encouraged friends and followers to download the app.
While the potential gains for Kwai and talent agencies in the platform’s rapid growth are relatively clear-cut, the immediate financial benefits for Brazill’s creator talent pool at large is less so. “[In Brazil,] the influence that creators have is huge, but what they earn for that influence is still very little, so creators feel like they’re undervalued,” said Ana Martins, an investor at the venture capital firm Atlantico, which last year surveyed 5,000 Brazilian influencers in the creator economy, including those on Kwai. Roughly 50% of influencers made less than $100 per month from their content, with half of that group making no money at all.
For Kwai creators who are outside the talent management system, hoping to cash in on the platform’s hype, Kwai may offer monetization challenges similar to those on other social platforms, unless it ramps up programs to pay creators directly.
Brazil is just the beginning for Kuaishou in Latin America. The company has now identified the country as a gateway market, and, in the past two years, has launched operations in Mexico, Chile, and Argentina.
“I don’t think they have the strength to compete directly with TikTok. But what they can do, and have been doing already, is exploit the loopholes,” said Barcellos, the social media researcher. “This strategy could continue to make Kwai one of the leading apps in Brazil.”