Brands frequently partner with celebrities to amplify their voice in the U.S. and Western Europe, but the celebrity expansion effect is on steroids in China. While a global celebrity like Kendall Jenner can be expected to multiply engagement with a brand’s Instagram post by a factor of 60, China’s local stars (most of whom are unknown in the U.S.) can generate 6,000x more engagement for a brand with a single Weibo post. These local stars have access to a fanbase 1,800x larger than the brands they promote, and their influential role in the consumption behavior of China’s tech-savvy middle class is increasing.
Looking at of this celebrity potential from the outside, it may be tempting to think getting Chinese consumers on board with your product is as easy as partnering with someone local who has a large social media following. However, L2’s study on Celebrity Influencers in China finds navigating the sponsorship world of China is more complicated than in the U.S. or Europe. Here are four pitfalls to avoid when looking for a local celebrity to partner with in China.
Limiting the search to one gender: Whereas in the U.S. and Europe where females dominate advertisements in cosmetics, beauty products, personal care and household items, China’s young male stars play a key role in determining the products females buy, from consumer electronics to BB cream cushion compacts. Illustrating that point, five of the top CPG posts on Sina Weibo featured young male actors and singers Lu Han, Zhang Yixing, Yang Yang, Zue Zhiqian.
Being unaware of a celebrity’s political leanings: Not all publicity is good publicity in China, as a celebrity can move people to avoid a brand just as fast as convincing them to buy it. An example of celebrity sponsorship gone awry was Lancôme’s relationship with Hong Kong artist Denise Ho, a prominent figure in the pro-Democracy Occupy movement. Lancôme had advertised a brand-sponsored mini-concert featuring the star, which is later canceled to avoid backlash from the Chinese government. The incident created an uproar, with calls to boycott of all products in the L’Oréal portfolio and replace them with Estée Lauder products – which led to a spike in searches for the brand. While Ho did not explicitly demand a boycott, she expressed her discontent with Lancôme’s actions. “There are values you need to protect whether you’re an artist, a public figure, or a brand,” she said. “I don’t think we want a society where we live in fear for supporting these values.”
Lancôme also had to close all of its Hong Kong stores for a day as protestors carrying yellow umbrellas (a symbol of Hong Kong’s democracy movement) gathered outside its store in Times Square, Causeway Bay.
Sponsoring a celeb with many other sponsors: Mega-celebrities in China often advocate on behalf of more than one brand. While this practice seems harmless at first glance, L2 data suggests additional sponsorships come at a cost to existing brands. As evident in the graph below, the impact of a celebrity is reduced when she/he mentions multiple brands on social media.
Controlling celebrity messages and post content: On China’s social media channels, good looks is not the only factor that drives fans to interact with a celebrity’s social media posts. Each celebrity’s personality and ability to generate engaging content matters. For example, Tide ambassador Xue Zhiqian has 13 million followers – significantly less than OMO ambassador Yao Chen’s 79 million. However, Zhiqian generated more than 550,000 interactions in his post about Tide while Chen’s posted generated only 6,323.
Instead of simply gushing about Tide, Zhiqian wrote a comedic piece that started with him accumulating 40 dirty socks on a business trip and ended with a product endorsement. Since his dad couldn’t be there to wash them, he created his own way of washing socks with his feet – which was great before it led to blisters. He posted photos of the experience and plugged Tide at the end of the post, encouraging families to dance around bubbles stirred in the wash. Zhiqian is known for his funny posts on Weibo, his success illustrates the benefits of giving ambassadors the freedom to market products in a way that seems authentic.