You don’t need a brand ambassador to reap the rewards of influencers. In China, TFBoys’ wholesome act has become a cultural and marketing juggernaut, though not always via official partnerships.

In 2017, the TFBoys clocked in at #17 on the Forbes China Celebrity List (they are also, coincidentally, mostly 17 years old). In the last year, the group has been more often marketed as individuals, further increasing their earning potential. While China’s idolization of male stars, or “young fresh meat”, certainly contributes to the TFBoys’ popularity, their growing fame is also a reflection of China’s post-95 generation and younger consumers. Each of the TFBoys members—Wang Junkai, Wang Yuan, and Yi Yangqianxi—has over 50 million followers on Weibo.

Luxury brands are posting pictures of the TFBoys dressed in their clothes or attending their events, looking to draft off their popularity and tap into their Weibo fan base. In fact, 41% of luxury brands tracked in Gartner L2’s report on influencers mention at least one of the TFBoys in their Weibo posts, accounting for 28% of all engagement generated by posts that mention a celebrity. While official ambassador posts often gain the most engagement, accruing several simple mentions of a non-ambassador celebrity can also garner plenty. For example, more than half of Dior’s engagement on its Weibo posts feature non-ambassador celebrities, including both Wang Yuan and Yi Yangqianxi.

For brands and celebrities alike, non-ambassador partnerships can serve as a happy medium. Celebrities gain exposure. Brands gain engagement. Neither takes the risk or investment of an official partnership. Luxury brands looking for a quick lift on social and celebrities at the start of their careers might both consider this method before committing to one another.

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