Western brands have found another way to break into the Chinese market: they are using the most influential Chinese stars to endorse their products. Labels as diverse as McDonald’s and Hugo Boss have benefited from the trend. Chinese celebrities also benefit from doing endorsements as their star power rises with the association.
“In the China market the brands are very powerful, the volume and the budgets are huge, so what the brands can do is actually catapult celebs even further in their careers. Whereas in the West, if you are advertising products, you are thought to be a bit of a sellout,” said Michael MacRitchie, a founding partner at MGI Entertainment.
MacRitchie’s company calls itself a “cultural bridge” that helps bring together celebrities from the East with brands from the West. One key point that marketers looking to cross cultures have discovered: the biggest star is not necessarily the best star for business.
“Look at Jackie Chan for example — he is one of China’s biggest celebrities but he endorses way too many brands and I think he’s becoming like a joke now. On Sina Weibo people dislike him, making him a bad choice [as a brand ambassador in the China market],” explained Emma Li, a research analyst at think tank L2. She elaborated that while actress Yao Chen may be perceived as influential on Weibo because she has 33 million followers, she has only mentioned her beauty brand – Biotherm – four times on the social networking site. While celebrity is important, dedication to a brand may be even more so.
“A lot of the Asian stars have been over endorsed and I think the brands are now waking up to that. If you work with someone who is on the way up, you’re getting much better value than you are throwing millions of dollars at someone who already has 15 sponsorships deals,” said MacRitchie.
One celebrity endorsement that has sent shockwaves through the masses is actor Chow Yun Fat, who has become both the first celebrity and the first Asian to spearhead a Hugo Boss campaign anywhere. Because of his reputation as “China’s George Clooney,” Gerrit Ruetzel, president and CEO of Hugo Boss Asia Pacific was able to persuade brand officials of the viability of the matching.
It turns out that Chow’s cool vibe is the perfect match for Hugo Boss’s image – another important factor in choosing the right endorsers. After Chow took the runway for a Hugo Boss fashion show in Beijing last May, shoppers rushed to stores and clamored for the clothes he wore. A celebrity’s power to shape a brand’s image is almost unbeatable. As a result, MacRitchie believes the strategy will “be very strong for awhile.”
photo credit: hugo boss