Why China’s war on celebrities might actually benefit luxury brands

Key points to remember:

  • The ongoing crackdown on celebrity and fan culture has prompted brands to seek ambassadors less likely to attract controversy.
  • Beijing authorities take firmer approach, with National Radio and Television Administration ordering television producers and online platforms to blacklist celebrities with “incorrect policies”, restrict “worship” idols ”and cap wages.
  • The intensity of the crackdown could see more luxury brands turning to subject matter experts, athletes and mature influencers as potentially safer choices than the young male idols (aka “little fresh meat”) who were previously privileged.

Beijing’s large-scale crackdown on tech platforms, celebrity culture, Game, and more shows no signs of ending anytime soon, and the pressure is set to increase in the final months of 2021. As President Xi Jinping pushes the concept of “common prosperity“State media have published an increasing number of comments denouncing the intense”fan cultureAnd celebrity worship.

Yet with the massive influence of today’s stars, editorials in official media are unlikely to quell the fan culture frenzy, and authorities have started to take firmer action. Earlier this month, China’s broadcasting regulator, the National Radio and Television Administration, directed TV companies and online platforms to blacklist celebrities with “incorrect politics”, curb “idol worship” and cap their salaries.

Meanwhile, three years after Fan Bingbing – then one of China’s top A-listers – was involved in a tax scandal, celebrities now find themselves under the microscope of audiovisual and tax authorities, with actress Zheng Shuang recently struck by a fine of $ 46 million for tax evasion. China recently announced its intention to conduct “regular tax inquiries on top performers,” including online influencers and streamers, with “severe penalties for violators,” the SCMP reported.

The new challenges facing leading Chinese celebrities and influencers mean that it is also becoming more difficult for luxury brands to choose a representative for the market. Young idols have long been favored, as their many fans have shown their willingness to buy from the brands they support in support of the stars, fueling their continued success in business terms. But with the ever-present possibility that a star will be canceled for transgressions such as sex scandals (Kris wu, Lucas huang), burning political controversies (Zhang zhehan) or tax irregularities (Zheng Shuang), there is great pressure to find relatively conceited brand ambassadors who can further drive sales.

However, the ongoing crackdown could ultimately be a good thing for luxury brands in China, forcing them to think more creatively about who they want to represent them, rather than just looking for the hottest new celebrity or jumping in. on the latest trends.

Already, a significant amount of marketing innovation has come from the streetwear and sneaker culture, where subject matter experts and enthusiasts are establishing themselves as influential trendsetters who can move products as well. As Jing Daily noted in our recent report Chinese cultural consumers: the future of luxury, a growing number of knowledgeable Chinese consumers have successfully leveraged their expertise by launching their own online stores to resell sought-after sneakers, accompanied by chat pages that invite customers and other sneaker enthusiasts to share their reviews and feedback. ideas.

The community isn’t just limited to the internet, as resellers also host in-person gatherings that attract top influencers from the sneaker world. In 2020, Jing Daily noted how How? ‘Or’ What “Sneaker apps and user-friendly payment systems, Key Opinion Customer (KOC) culture, live streaming and the growing presence of luxury brands in China have only helped [Gen Z sneaker culture] stronger. ”As previously obscure sneakerheads become key influencers, luxury brands could look to this community to promote new lines of sneakers or collections influenced by streetwear.

Generation Z tennis champion Emma Raducanu is fast becoming one of the world’s most marketable sports stars and is already courting luxury houses and labels. Photo: Twitter @EmmaRaducanu

Sports stars are another influential group that more luxury brands can turn to amid the celebrity crackdown. With outdoor and winter sports lines and brand collaborations become a gold mine for luxury brands in China, brands may look more towards top athletes, especially as the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Beijing approach. And with little indication that the central government cares as much about foreign athletes as it does about foreign celebrities, luxury brands may recruit personalities like the tennis phenomenon Emma Raducanu for the next campaigns in China.

The coming year could also see more luxury brands recruiting celebrities and older influencers for campaigns, going against the trend of working with Gen Z, the stars of ‘Flavor of the Month’ Douyin. (or TikTok). As stated in the recent report Transcendent Retail: APAC by Jing Daily and Wunderman Thompson, Chinese baby boomers are starting to make their mark on e-commerce, showing impressive social media prowess.

Boasting millions of fans, “The Fashion Grandmas”, a collective of about two dozen members aged from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, uses the streets of Beijing as a runway. in videos sprinkled with nuggets of wisdom about life and love, delivering pop-up ads and live product sales along the way. And fashion grandmothers are far from the only ones, with “Grandma Wang who wears only high heels” having 16 million Douyin followers, while others like @IAmGrandmaTian and @Woshiniwanglaoye attract fans who transcend age with their down-to-earth humor.

According to a study by Wunderman Thompson, 81% of Chinese over 55 say they are more comfortable with digital technology after COVID, more than any other age group. “China’s mobile Internet industry has made money from all groups: men, women, young people, parents, but not the elderly,” Beijing general manager Bian Changyong told AFP. Dama Technology Company, which manages the social media for Fashion Grandmas. “This could be the last structural opportunity in the industry.”

The reality show “Call Me By Fire” (披荆斩棘 的 哥哥) proved a hit this summer among nostalgic millennials and Generation Z. Image: RP

Some brands have moved faster than others by bringing in older influencers. Last year, the property of Estée Lauder niche perfume The Kilian brand hired 49-year-old actress Ning Jing, the winning contestant of the hit “Sisters Who Make Waves” (乘风破浪 的 姐姐) idol contest as the brand’s first ambassador before her debut in mainland China. More recently, the reality show “Call Me By Fire” (披荆斩棘 的 哥哥), featuring men in their 30s, 40s and even fifties, has become one of China’s most popular reality shows. in the wake of the aforementioned celebrity and fan culture scandals. repression.

What brands can find is that working with more established celebrities in China offers greater peace of mind, given the low likelihood that they will rock the boat and put their cushy lifestyle at risk. As Daily Jing noted, “Although their social followers are smaller than today’s young A-List idols, mature celebrities have proven their reputation through long-term dedication to their craft. In addition, their fans are more loyal, rational and critical than fickle fans of young talent. “

Whichever route they take to choose their brand’s spokesperson or collaborator, luxury brands forced to rethink their marketing strategies in China out of necessity could experience the most lasting success in the market. Rather than focusing on short-term season-to-season success and signing on to the latest star to emerge from hit idol shows or hit dramas, brands that build stronger relationships with them. Subject matter experts, athletes or established celebrities who interest their target audience could avoid getting caught up in embarrassing scandals or crackdowns that they could do without.

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