What You Need To Know About Celebrity Endorsement in China

Celebrity branding or celebrity endorsement is a popular marketing strategy that exerts celebrities’ popularity and influence to promote a product or service. Celebrity titles in advertising deals vary depending on terms of contract and brands’ different naming conventions, but mostly rooted in the commercial value of each celebrity.

Why are titles important?

Not every brand can (or should) hire big names for their marketing campaigns, and there are not that many celebrities with extensive impact. Depending on marketing objectives at each stage, brands will collaborate with various celebrities with certain influence in their communities as long as they fit the brands’ images and target customers.

Because of the difference in celebrities’ commercial value, different titles are necessary to specify the privilege and responsibility of a celebrity in an advertising deal. The richness of the Chinese language adds confusion to the diversity of titles. Basically, there are 3 elements usually forming a full title:


  • Title
  • Region
  • Product

The difference in each element could significantly classify a celebrity’s value in a specific advertising deal. The higher a celebrity’s commercial value is, the higher his/her title will be. Vice versa, getting good titles with reputed brands can increase a celebrity’s commercial value. The titles granted to a celebrity could be varied depending on the reputation of the brands they’re partnering with. Big brands usually need longer and much harder evaluations before giving out titles. Let’s look at our article elaborating the process of working with celebrities in an advertising deal from the brand perspective.

Title

Spokesperson (代言人)

“Spokesperson” is the highest title in a brand endorsement. A spokesperson is someone who eats, lives, and breathes a brand, someone who represents the brand, speaks the voices of products or services. In other words, a spokesperson is an intangible value that a brand wants to convey to its target customers.

A spokesperson contract is usually long-term with 2 years on average. Besides the highest privileges such as attending the brand’s big campaigns and exclusive events, there are also strict contractual obligations the spokesperson has to follow, notably the prohibition of publicly using competitors’ products in the cooperation period. 

In case one party decides to not renew the contract after the expiration time, the celebrity is not allowed to sign with any competitor in the same product segment/ industry for the next 6 to 18 months. This practice gives consumers a time gap to forget the bond between the brand and the celebrity before one of them moving on.

Zhou Xun – Decorté Global Brand Spokesperson (2020)
Credit: ELLE China

Kris Wu – Bvlgari Global Brand Spokesperson (2020)
Credit: Bvlgari China

Some brands have customized titles for their spokespeople. For instance, OPPO calls its spokespeople OPPO Stars (2020).

OPPO STARS FAMILY (from left to right): Zhou Dongyu, Ouyang Nana, Li Yifeng, Wang Junkai. (2020)
Credit to: OPPO China

Ambassador (大使)

An ambassador shares resemblances with a spokesperson, but with a smaller scope of work, focusing on specific purposes and contributing to specific attributes. Ambassador title has many variants, for instance, Promotion Ambassador (推广大使), Image Ambassador (形象大使), etc., with different scopes of work which are defined on the terms of the contract between brands and celebrities.

An ambassador contract is usually similar to that of a spokesperson in terms of contract length and general contract obligations.


Some brands (usually high-end fashion brands) don’t have a Spokesperson (代言人) title. Thus Ambassador (大使) is their highest title, which holds the exact same responsibilities and privileges a spokesperson does.

Zhu Yilong – TOM FORD Fragrance and Makeup Image Ambassador (2020)
Credit: TOMFORDBEAUTY China
Dilireba – Audi RS Image Ambassador (2020)
Credit: Audi China

Friend (挚友)

A Brand Friend is someone with the potential to be given a Spokesperson or Ambassador title, but not as impactful just yet. He/ she is under a “probation” process for further cooperation in the future. Whether a celebrity’ title get upgraded or not depends on how well he/ she performs as Brand Friend.

Friends of LV (from left to right): Ming Xi, Dilireba, Ouyang Nana, Fan Chengcheng (2020)
Credit: LV China

No title (campaign promotion)

These celebrities mostly appear in brand advertisements to support creating buzzes in certain campaigns without tight connections and obligations with brands. Their contracts usually last 6 to 12 months. And the contract values fluctuate depending on the scope of work and the scale of campaigns.

From left to right: Jiang Zhenyu, Hu Yitian, Zhou Jieqiong, Ding Yuxi, Zhao Lusi, Lin Yanjun joined Gucci‘s #IAppleYou Campaign during Qixi Festival (2020)
Credit: Gucci China

Region

In recent years, more Chinese stars have proved their influence outside the boundaries of China. Therefore, brands are more generous in giving global and regional titles to Chinese celebrities with the purpose of diversifying their images and cultural values to attract more Asian shopping lovers.

Region rank from biggest to smallest impact:

  1. Global (全球)
  2. APAC / Asia-Pacific (亚太区)
  3. The Greater China (大中华区) includes Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan
  4. Mainland China (中国区)

If a full title does not specify the region, it usually implies Mainland China.

Swiss luxury jewelry brand Chopard chose Zhang Ziyi, one of the most well-known Chinese stars worldwide, as its Global Brand Ambassador (2020) – A/N: Ambassador is Chopard’s highest title
Credit: Chopard China
Roy Wang is chosen as Chopard Brand Ambassador which implies his endorsement in Mainland China (2020)
Credit: Chopard China
Calvin Klein has announced Liu Yuxin as their APAC Brand Ambassador.  She earned the same title with Make Up For Ever (2020)
Credit: Make Up For Ever China & Calvin Klein China

Product

It’s not always feasible for a celebrity to endorse a whole brand, especially for brands with multiple products and product lines that have different price segments to serve different target customers. Therefore, it’s essential for brands to choose suitable celebrities for different lines or products.

Product rank from the biggest to the smallest scope:

  1. Brand: a whole brand with all products from various types and lines
  2. Product line: a group of products under one brand that includes all specified products functioning in a similar manner, targeting the same customer groups, and having a similar price range
  3. Product: a specific product

Cai Xukun and Liu Haoran both represented Vivo S7 Series (Vivo’s mid-range product line) but they joined different campaigns and advertisements. (2020)
Credit: Vivo China

It’s getting more complicated when considering FMCG corporate groups with multiple brands such as P&G, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, etc. If each brand only sells a specific product, it’s both correct the celebrity is considered endorsing a specific product or a whole brand.

From left to right: Wang Yibo for Minute Maid, Wang Junkai for Chunyue, Li Xian for Pepsi (2020)

Conclusion

This article is just a glimpse of endorsement and its connection with Chinese celebrities. Although titles contribute significantly to strengthening celebrities’ commercial values, it’s not everything. Behind the spotlight, the resources and benefits they receive from brands are more important. It shows how much brands appreciate their celebrity partners as well as how much value the partners contribute to the success of brands in terms of sales and image building.

Therefore, besides titles, we should also pay more attention to how celebrities are capable of contributing to the campaign, how they build impact and grow along with the brand. At the end of the day, the question is still “Do they achieve marketing goals and business goals together?”


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