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China’s fan economy

China’s fan economy

Tuesday, 18 June 2019
By Shining Zhu
Shining Zhu

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4 min read

As the most digital-oriented luxury market in the world, China is a whole other story for fine watch brands. Young consumers get most of their information from social platforms such as Weibo or WeChat, making it hard for brands to reach them directly. This has produced the so-called “fan economy”.

There was a time when being a fan meant going to a concert, watching your idol’s new movie or buying their latest CD. Not any more, or at least not in China’s “new idol era”. Now fans are going to far greater lengths to show their devotion. One of the biggest stars in China today is boyband rapper Fan Chengcheng (also famous as the brother of actress Fan Bingbing). Recently, around 80,000 of his followers each paid RMB 60 (around USD 8.70) to view a photo he published on Weibo, making the rapper RMB 4.8 million (about USD 695,000) richer overnight.

FAN Chengcheng
FAN Chengcheng

As income in China rises, so do standards of living and spending. Chinese fans can now support their idols in more expensive ways, which includes buying the luxury products they endorse. For many brands, this is the easiest means of promoting sales or raising awareness among young Chinese consumers, the vast majority of whom are new to the luxury market – the question being, how to pick the right idol or celebrity to represent the brand?

Trust in figures

The logical answer is to pick a personality whose image fits brand positioning, as Piaget did with Hu Ge. The 37-year-old actor has a reputation for being a gentleman and has won numerous acting awards. Alternatively, a brand might deliberately choose someone with a very different image to its own. China’s Paneristi were taken aback when the brand partnered with Wallace Huo, given the actor’s gentler, softer personality compared with the very masculine, adventurous image of the Italian brand. The same thing happened when Audemars Piguet named singer Lu Han as its ambassador. The baby-faced 29-year-old is quite a departure for the brand once represented by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Most Chinese celebrities are faking their online popularity.

Image aside, brands make their decision based on hard numbers. For example, Angelababy’s massive online following – 7 million people on Instagram and 98 million on Weibo – has clearly helped grow awareness for TAG Heuer in China. Similarly, 29-year-old pop star Kris Wu has made the Bulgari name known to his 45 million followers on Weibo. But how reliable are these figures? Last year, Wu was accused of using fake bots to bump Ariana Grande off the top of the iTunes chart in the U.S.

The wiser way

It’s widely accepted that most Chinese celebrities are faking their online popularity, and while brands are aware of the matter, there’s little they can do about it. In fact brands’ China-based staff are inclined to let the matter slide because they need good figures to show headquarters. One way round the problem would be to pair with an older celebrity whose longstanding career and reputation make up for their smaller following on social media. Tudor’s brand ambassador Jay Chou is a case in point. The 40-year-old singer and actor has won four World Music Awards as best-selling Chinese artist and starred in the Hollywood movie, The Green Hornet. Then there is Zenith brand ambassador Eason Chan. An album by the 45-year-old singer and actor was nominated by Time Magazine as one of “Five Asian Albums Worth Buying”.

Eason CHAN, Zenith ambassador
Eason CHAN, Zenith ambassador

None of this alters the fact that young idols are extraordinarily popular in China, with an influence that makes them strong candidates for watch brands. In a bold move, Chopard chose Roy Wang as its ambassador. As a member of the hugely popular boyband TFBoys, and one of Time Magazine’s “30 Most Influential Teens of 2017”, the 19-year-old may seem like a surprising match for the brand – or not, knowing that his fanbase includes moms and sisters who are receptive to Chopard’s jewelry and, through this, its watches. These female audiences are central to celebrity endorsement strategies.

Roy WANG, Chopard ambassador
Roy WANG, Chopard ambassador

Celebrities are one of the most important marketing tools in China today. For fine watch brands, they are more about building brand awareness than directly driving sales. It all comes down to making the right choice.

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