Last month, there were less than half as many celebrity marketing events in China as a year ago according to a report from Shiqu. The events were undoubtedly impacted by the extended tough lockdowns hitting Shanghai and other cities at present. Shanghai hosts a disproportionate number of celebrity events, and Shenzhen, which was locked down last month, is also a primary destination on the events map.
The downward trend of spending on celebrities, however, spans deeper than the lockdowns. Brands are opting to spend their budgets on alternatives to celebrities. Co-branded marketing events in March grew 91% on a year ago, new product marketing rose 58% and sports marketing rocketed 660%, helped by the success of the Winter Games.
Celebrity endorsers can help break through the clutter, building awareness and adding credibility for brands and their products. Yet, there can be smarter and more creative ways to get the same effect with better ROI than the sky-high fees for stars. In these days of spot lockdowns, it can also be a lot easier to adapt or move a co-branded marketing event to another city than a celebrity event. Celebrity events typically require a lot more logistics, not discounting the fact that the celeb may too be stuck in their apartment wondering where the next bottle of water is coming from.
Chinese consumers are always seeking something new and novel, and just slapping more videos and photos of another celeb with your products doesn’t quite tick the novel box any more. China has the highest rates of brand engagements of celebrity endorsements globally, with the large majority of commercials headlined by someone famous.
Arguably the biggest driver away from celebrity marketing is the much higher risk factor than 12-months ago. We got our first taste back in 2018 when A-lister and serial brand endorser Fan Bingbing ‘disappeared’ due to tax evasion. Although she returned that year with a grovelling confession, online interest in Fan has dropped to well under 10% of what it was in her peak years.
Since Fan Bingbing’s fall from grace, Beijing has stepped up its efforts to ensure that celebs pull back on their misdemeanours and align better with what Beijing thinks cultural influencers should look like. This has seen a crackdown on extravagant displays of wealth and idol-obsessed groups. “Effeminate men” who are now banned on TV, increasingly disappearing from social accounts and are unable to be used in commercial advertising in regions such as Shanghai. These new controls haven’t boded well for a large share of the celebs who have endorsed brands in China in recent years.
Due diligence can assist with assessing risk profiles when evaluating potential ambassadors, but no process is going to be 100% accurate. At China Skinny, we typically overlay consumer trends with Beijing policies and directives in determining the types of celebrities who pose the lowest risk for brands for both wasted budget and reputational risks. Almost five years ago, we spotted some clear signs that Beijing wasn’t happy with what they considered “effeminate” men. The government is even making noises about the seemingly low risk virtual idol endorsements. Athlete ambassadorship soared last year, largely driven by Beijing’s push for more sports engagement and participation which accelerated with the Winter Olympics.
Regardless of engaging the right mould of ambassador or endorser, brands would be wise to invest their marketing budgets less one-dimensionally as we’ve noted before. Funnelling budget to more strategic and creative initiatives may not give you such a quick hit of sales, but a less transactional focus done well will build a more sustainable future for your brand in China.
Contact China Skinny to learn how we can we can assist with a more multi-dimensional marketing strategy for China.
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