With Kris Wu & Other Idols Tainted, what’s the next Chinese luxury strategy?


Key points to remember:

  • Recent scandals have tarnished the image of some of the most famous brand ambassadors, redirecting a backlash to luxury brands.

  • In a celebrity-obsessed country, young people and teens need new idols and role models to follow.

  • Brands could entertain their fans through interactive experiences.

Until recently, key opinion leaders (KOLs) and idols were powerful marketing tools in China. But recent scandals have tarnished the image of some of the most famous brand ambassadors, redirecting a backlash to luxury brands. Instead of building brand equity and increasing brand awareness through KOL marketing, brands began to lose value and market share in China. As such, marketers want to know what are the best luxury marketing strategies for the Chinese market in the future.

Select the safest idol route

The South China Morning Post points out how, in recent years, the fanatical celebrity culture in China has become reckless. Many celebrities have had to grapple with unwanted attention and obsessive intrusive fan behavior despite the government’s best efforts to curb celebrity worship and mad fan behavior. Recent policies to reduce this behavior on social media have yielded positive results. But in a celebrity-obsessed country, young people and teens will need new idols and role models to follow.

Instead of pop idols and social media celebrities, we expect Beijing to create party-approved celebrity images that maintain crisp images. These celebrities will use their voices to champion China’s goals and “party-endorsed” social causes instead of shamelessly promoting their lavish lifestyles or bizarre behaviors.

Take, for example, the astonishing US Open winner Emma Raducanu. The British teenager has taken China by storm with her mastery of Mandarin and her pride in her Chinese heritage. And his humble nature and immense talent have already caught the attention of Chinese state media.

“This half-Chinese smiling girl once said with pride that it was the Chinese style of inner faith that gave her confidence,” Xinhua said. And the World time quoted a user from Sina Weibo who mentioned that Raducanu’s success “may make many young Chinese tennis players insist on their dreams.”

Emma Raducanu recently opened a Weibo account to tell her Chinese fans that she hopes to play in China next year. Photo: Twitter @EmmaRaducanu

“I am also from Shenyang and I am proud of Emma’s performance at the US Open,” Cui, mother of three, told the World time. “I want my daughter to learn tennis to stay healthy, and Emma’s story will be a good example for her.

Diving superstar and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Quan Hongchan could also become a party-endorsed celebrity. The newly-formed 14-year-old star stole hearts with her practical and modest nature – not to mention how she dedicated her performance to her ailing mother.

Considering that the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games are fast approaching and the government is promoting sports and exercise, the selection of famous party-endorsed athletes is a smart strategic decision.

Additionally, brands should not underestimate the power of athlete sponsors in China. Globally, successful partnerships between luxury brands and athletes have proven to be very effective. The latest collaboration between Dior and Paris Saint-Germain football club is expected to be a hugely successful deal, given the arrival of top football star Lionel Messi to the France squad. On the other hand, Dolce & Gabbana is famous in Italy for its partnership with the Italian national football team. And in the United States, Ralph Lauren has been widely associated with Team USA.

Crackdown on celebrity culture isn’t unique to China

The crackdown on celebrity culture isn’t unique to China, so brands shouldn’t read it too much. During Trump’s presidency, conservative politicians fought liberal pop culture by discrediting Hollywood celebrities. Sometimes their attempts worked. But in other cases, they have turned against them. Yet during those turbulent years, the Conservatives have built new idols within their own ranks.

The rapid rise of Lara Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Kayleigh McEnany, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Hope Hicks shows how, even in the United States, a ruling party can turn longtime collaborators into celebrities overnight.

Brands Can Entertain Chinese and American Fans With Experiential Retailing

English economist and author Noreena Hertz wrote in “The Lonely Century: How to restore human connection in a collapsing world”That loneliness pushes people to the right. Likewise, shy and lonely teens turn to the internet for entertainment. Therefore, brands should connect with these ‘lonely’ demographics, entertaining them with engaging brand experiences.

Instead of maintaining loyalty to idols, luxury houses should seize the opportunity to encourage brand loyalty. This way, luxury brands can build healthy and unique relationships with their audiences instead of relying on unstable third parties or celebrities.

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