Brands avoid celebrity marketing in China

What happened: China’s “traffic stars” may be disappearing. According to a recent report by Shiqu Insight Engine, celebrity marketing events in March 2022 fell 50.9% compared to the same period last year. Conversely, co-branded marketing and new product marketing jumped 91.3% and 57.6%, respectively, while sports marketing jumped 6.6 times.

The Jing plug: “Traffic stars,” a Chinese term for KOLs that drive high digital traffic, have helped brands achieve explosive growth for their new products. While a drop in celebrity events can be partly attributed to the ongoing pandemic – with Shanghai still in lockdown and Shenzhen just recovering – it’s more indicative of the changing tides in China’s entertainment industry. From last year’s Kris Wu sexual assault scandal to more recent tax evasion cases from live streamer Viya and actor Deng Lun, brands that don’t respond quickly enough to their ambassadors’ misbehavior find themselves also caught in the crossfire.

Fortunately, there are other options. As the Winter Olympics proved, sports stars can be just as effective in marketing. Take Anta and Tiffany & Co., who signed freestyle skier Eileen Gu early and scored big when she won gold in February; sales of the red Anta ski suit that Gu wore during the competition increased 20 times on while his Tiffany rings and bracelets were trending on Chinese social media. Similarly, Prada racked up more than 46 million views on Douyin for its Spring/Summer 2022 collection after creating a video campaign centered on four Chinese Olympic athletes.

Prada enlisted female athletes Yang Shuyu (left) and Gong Lijiao (right) to promote its Spring/Summer 2022 collection. Photo: Weibo de Prada

Co-branded drops are also a safer alternative, although brands are not immune to backlash from internet users if they make a misstep. Ultimately, global players who want to fuel long-term growth in China rather than one-time sales should look beyond the traffic stars — and focus on building their reach instead of just borrowing it. As the saying goes, the brightest stars burn the fastest. And brands don’t want to be there when the going gets tough.

The Jing Plug reports on high-profile news and features our editorial team’s analysis of key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product declines and mergers to heated debates popping up on Chinese social media.

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