How consumers interact and respond to celebrities pitching branded products in China is very different than the way consumers in the U.S. do, but a new study takes a look at how brands are using popular Chinese celebrities as influencers to reach potential customers.
The study, released by business intelligence firm L2, entitled “China: Celebrity Influencers,” takes a look at Chinese celebrities' impact on the beauty and luxury sectors when brands use them to pitch products and also offers some interesting insights for a few trends that might make their way stateside soon.
“Celebrities are playing a greater role in influencing consumption behavior of the pop culture-conscious and tech-savvy middle-class Chinese consumer,” according to the study. “Brands across categories (international and local, emerging and mature) are collaborating with celebrities to increase brand awareness and cultivate brand preference. When a celebrity posts about a brand on their Weibo page, the post engagement can be up to 6,000 times that of the brand, and the post can reach a fanbase 1,800 times greater than the brand has.”
But Danielle Bailey, a research lead at L2 who worked on the study, cautioned that brands need to understand that it will be costly to get Chinese celebrities to endorse their products and that not every Chinese celebrity is going to lead to the successful endorsement of a product.
“These Chinese celebrities don’t come cheap, and when we are advising brands, we’re telling them not to look at followers,” Bailey said. “Understanding how much engagement they can generate is a better metric.”
In one example of this situation, when Omo, a Chinese laundry detergent brand, used the celebrity Yao Chen to promote its recycling program on the Chinese social media site Weibo, the brand probably expected better results, seeing as how Chen had about 79 million Weibo followers, but her post generated only 6,323 interactions.
When Tide used its brand ambassadors, celebrities Xue Zhiqian and Zhang Yixing, to similarly endorse its products on Weibo, the posts resulted in interactions of about 550,000 per post, even though Zhiqian had only 13 million Weibo followers and Yixing had about 14 million.
“Certain celebrities speak to certain audiences better,” Bailey said, adding that Omo’s failure compared to Tide’s success was probably because “they didn’t leverage the celebrity on the right platform, they didn’t post as frequently as they needed to or they didn’t make the celebrity post.”
Or, Bailey noted, it could also mean that the celebrity being used as a brand ambassador just isn’t as popular anymore.
It’s also much more common for a Chinese celebrity to endorse several products at once, sometimes even among the same products or categories, according to Bailey.
“Celebrities in China will typically represent multiple brands,” Bailey said. “A celebrity in China will have relationships with 10 to 20 brands. That’s not uncommon. Sometimes, even within the same category.”
Brands will also use popular young male celebrities in China to pitch things like beauty products or toothpaste.
“It’s also very different in China in the way that men, and specifically young men, are used,” Bailey said. “Young men are used to sell things to middle-aged women.”
A new word in Mandarin, translated as “young fresh meat,” has been coined to describe these “young, good-looking male celebrities who have become arbiters of taste and inspiration for Chinese millennials.”
Livestreaming is also a much more popular way to market products in China when compared to the U.S., Bailey noted. China had more than 200 million users on livestreaming mobile apps in 2015, and brands and retailers in China quickly recognized its popularity and began using celebrity brand ambassadors to market products on livestreaming platforms, where featured products can be purchased directly from the streaming video.
Maybelline used the Meipai livestreaming platform for good results recently when it had the Chinese brand ambassador Angelababy host a two-hour live broadcast promoting the brand’s lipsticks, which resulted in about 10,000 lipsticks sold for about $220,000 in total sales during those two hours.
“I’m sure people are taking notes with the success that celebrities have had over there with that live platform, and we’ll start to see that here soon, too,” Bailey said.