Love ‘em or hate ‘em, brands can’t afford to lose their idol ambassadors.
Despite a turbulent few months of scandals—from Louis Vuitton dropping Kris Wu after his #MeToo allegations, to Lanvin scrubbing posts of Word of Honor’s star Zhang Zhehan over a selfie gone wrong—celebrity partnerships are still key to creating buzz in China.
As such, some of the hottest brand crossovers in August put fresh faces at the forefront. To celebrate the Qixi Festival, one of China’s many Valentine’s Days, Prada turned to Chinese music artist Cai Xukun to create a one-off Prada soundtrack titled You Know What I Want plus an interactive challenge on Douyin. Meanwhile, the Battle Royale game PUBG tapped K-pop group Blackpink to create limited-edition virtual merchandise, including branded helmets, building decals, and contraband coupons.
But Chinese consumers aren’t just looking for any collaboration. According to Mintel research, 87% of Chinese females believe that foreign brands need to incorporate Chinese elements into their products when targeting their market.
Perhaps that’s why the most exciting collab to come out of China this month is Estée Lauder’s tie-up with the Shanghai-based designer duo SHUSHU/TONG. Not only does the beauty giant feed off of young China’s appetite for special collections—netizens even called it the perfect Qixi gift—but it also plays into the national pride trend. In fact, the local brand is known for its loyal fanbase called SHUSHU/TONG girls, who can be seen sporting the brand’s ruffles, bows, and girlie aesthetics on social media and in the streets.
Yet even with SHUSHU/TONG’s own popularity, it is still an idol that is drawing the most attention to the drop. Luo Yizhou, from the newly formed boyband IXFORM, garnered more than double the amount of discussions on Weibo for Estée Lauder than hashtag without his name.
Although the 21-year-old star is without controversy (so far), the circumstances around his debut are less ideal. Luo Yizhou gained fame from the iQIYI show Youth With You 3, which saw its finale cancelled after hardcore fans purchased milk products in bulk to vote for their favorite contestants and then dumped out the drink contents in sewers. Following this news, Chinese authorities announced it would curb fans from spending money to vote on reality shows and crack down on fan clubs.
Given Beijing’s increasing scrutiny of the idol industry, why do brands continue to work with these big names? Simply put, these KOLs remain essential for reaching China’s most important consumer segment: the Chinese Cultural Consumer (CCC). According to Jing Daily’s latest report, the habits of CCCs are largely motivated by their understanding of global pop culture and desire to enhance their personal cultural capital.
So, as long as pop culture serves a measure of cool, young Chinese consumers will keep buying. Just don’t get them too crazed over the collabs.