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Jun
2015

Trust in celebrity?

We have spoken in past issues of Luxury Insights China about trust and the general lack of it in Chinese culture. This critical challenge has been a key driver for luxury brands to be seen regularly in the media, and to use the medium as a stamp of approval. The use of a celebrity face as an additional mark of trust has been widely used across many sectors from milk and alcohol to cars and watches for a number of years.

With luxury sales declining as a result of the economic crisis in Europe, and the Chinese becoming the world’s largest luxury consumer group, more international brands have developed a focus on the Asian market, and more brands particularly in luxury fashion have also appointed ambassadors as a means to connect with new consumers, particularly those in tier two and three cities.

Stores in tier one cities have in many cases have become a window on the brand as many consumers in these locations are international travellers and will buy product elsewhere in the world. These individuals too are less likely to be influenced by celebrity and brand ambassadors because they have greater market knowledge. This is not to say that a brand ambassador has no impact on them because it does, but it’s the icing on the cake and not the cake itself. Less people from T2 and T3 cities travel overseas, and many will travel to T1 cities as their shopping treat, so the mark of trust of an ambassador is important and also a means to get closer to the consumer.

Signing a domestic celebrity as a luxury brand ambassador in China is normally a win-win situation. On the one hand, high-profile luxury brands identify suitable candidates to better expand and promote their name in the market. On the other, the star will not only make money but also wins special recognition particularly in the fashion sector, which is good for their career.

The selection of a brand ambassador is not dissimilar in China to elsewhere in the world. Take a female actress for example; she must be highly popular and have a large number of fans fitting the consumer demographic of the luxury brand. In addition, she must be recognised as ‘international’ and have attended international events and awards that are recoded in the Chinese media. Looks are naturally important as is fashion taste, and she should have a similar temperament and perceived values to that of the brand. Obviously positive regular news about the person is important, and a small amount of negative news acceptable. Being seen supporting charities and public welfare is becoming relevant because more consumers now care and associate themselves with these issues.

In October 2011, after a number of years of cooperation with Chanel, the Chinese movie star Zhou Xun officially became Chanel ambassador. Karl Lagerfeld had invited her to France a number of times to attend the Chanel fashion shows and commented that she looked like a combination of a young Coco Chanel and Zizi Jean maire.

Earlier this year, Longchamp signed the Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan as their ambassador. In China she would be regarded as the pretty girl next door.

On 21st April Gucci appointed movie star Li Bingbing their ambassador for the Asia Pacific region. Li Bingbing is highly regarded and recognised in China and elsewhere in the world featuring in the Hollywood film ‘The Resident Evil 5′.

On 18th May, Hugo Boss announced that the male Hong Kongnese movie star Chow Yun-fat would become its first Asia-Pacific brand ambassador.

Coach officially announced in September that it would appoint the singer, film director and actor, Lee-Hom Wang as the brand ambassador for men’s accessory products in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. In early December, LV appointed the famous female star Fan Bingbing as ambassador for the “Epi Alma” collection in China. This new collection features only a simple single logo on its understated design. Fan Bingbing is very popular both within China and internationally, and has now become a fashion icon.

The trend of using Chinese celebrity brand ambassadors to influence Chinese consumers has in recent months resulted in a significant level of discussion amongst consumers and the media in terms of its merits. Some consider that the use of a Chinese ambassador reduces the mystique and international positioning of luxury brands that will have a negative influence on high-end consumers. While others believe that as long as the Chinese ambassadors are chosen in accordance with the positioning and values of luxury brands, they are happy to see some Chinese faces in the advertisements.

Summary

Appointing a Chinese brand ambassador is by no means new to the Chinese luxury sector, watch and car brands have done so for the past few years, but the adoption of the practice within the fashion and accessory sector has begun to take off in 2012. Those appointed to these roles with all but a few exceptions, appear to be driven purely by the money and the enhanced public status they gain. Even Fan Bingbing was the face of low cost fashion brand Moonbasa that is favoured by students and those in T3, 4 and 5 cities until recently, so her move to LV is a major step up that perhaps confirms that Chinese celebrities will work for anyone who pays them no matter how they see themselves.

On the same theme, this choice of Fan Bingbing by LV is probably to try to reconnect with the more experienced luxury consumers in T1 cities who have been spending their money elsewhere in the past year because they want understated product, and not what the masses also have. The question is whether the use of this one celebrity will also bring a financial benefit with the less experienced buyers in T2 and T3 cities, and even if this was part of the LV plan?

If you are thinking about building a brand in China, you need to remember the word Celebri-T.
T is for trust, the most important value you need to consider.


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