What do the NBA, L’Oreal, Prada, Samsung and Nike have in common? They are a handful of the many brands whose endorsements by boy band idols have been a key pillar in their Chinese marketing strategies. These young celebs with immaculate hair and makeup have been among the most expensive, and most effective, brand ambassadors in the market.
Yet those endorsements may start to get a lot cheaper, and their reach a lot smaller, following Beijing’s recent banning of ‘sissy boys’ from TV, and last month’s wholesale removal of their idol fan clubs from the Internet.
Similarly, numerous brands who are doing collaborations with computer games such as Uniqlo’s League of Legends collection and Hershey’s King of Glory chocolates may see their returns diminish as the government has banned gaming for under-18s except for three one-hour windows on Friday-Sunday evenings.
The writing has been on the wall for some time. In 2017, over half of youngsters in some cities flunked their physical exams when trying to join the army. Officials lamented kids for playing too many computer games as one of the main reasons for the high failure rates. In 2018, referring to boy band idols, state media declared “these sissies promote an unhealthy and unnatural culture which has a not-to-underestimate negative impact on the youth. The sissy culture, driven by consumption, challenges the public order and worships a decadent lifestyle.” As we’ve seen recently, those in Beijing are men of action, acting upon many of their grumbles from previous years. The initial crackdown on tech giants has shown that they really mean business this time.
It’s best not to look at this suppression of China’s celebrities and gaming in isolation. It is part of a broader purge of influences shaping popular culture that don’t align with national strategic goals and public interests. There will be a lot of areas that are impacted as a result.
Are young Chinese men all going to ditch their gaming devices, skincare regimes and platform shoes to watch patriotic war films and play tackle sports? Probably not, but removing their presence from popular channels will reduce awareness among the mainstream and decrease devotion in time. Nevertheless, the new rules may also create an air of underground exclusiveness with younger tribes who are almost inspired when BJ bans something on mainstream media. This has happened with ‘vices’ like tattoos. Boy bands may not have the same aura of underground cool, but some fans will remain committed for the meantime.
Regardless of how devoted boy-band fans are, many of the tried and true strategies for brands in China will change as a result of the new initiatives. Successful brands do well in China because they have constantly adapted to ever-changing consumer preferences and regulations.
With the closing of one door, new opportunities for marketers will open with others. This includes new tribes moulded from the outcome of the regulations. It means improved links between China’s digital platforms as part of the antitrust initiatives. Since 2013, WeChat accounts and Tmall stores have been unable to be linked, but this type of connection is opening up again presenting new, interesting opportunities. As ever, contact China Skinny to learn how we can assist your brand to best adapt to China’s ever changing rules and trends.
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