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Africa Weekly\Cover Story

Tapping the power of glitter, stardust

By Sun Yuanqing | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2017-07-07 08:50

When the Chinese model and actress Yang Ying - better known to tens of millions as Angelababy - was named the new ambassador for a top fashion brand recently, it unleashed a torrent of debate about her suitability for the role.

While some hailed Christian Dior's appointment as a smart move, others said the brand was dragging down its upmarket image. Yang failed to appear in Dior's recent 2018 spring/summer resort collection runway show in California, and there was speculation that her absence and the swirl of negative comment after her appointment as ambassador were not entirely unrelated.

Dior is just the latest among luxury fashion houses, after the likes of Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and Tiffany, to engage the services of young film stars in an effort to reach out to younger consumers. Some use these stars as their "faces", and others appear in runways shows.

Tapping the power of glitter, stardust

Clockwise from top left: Lu Han, Yang Ying, Yang Mi, Chen Xuedong and Li Yifeng. Luxury houses engage the services of young film stars in an effort to reach out to younger consumers. Photos Provided to China Daily

It is a trend that extends well beyond China's borders, with no better example being the ubiquitous media-space hogging Kardashian family in the United States, who seem to be known simply for being well-known rather than for any other praiseworthy professional feat.

Such celebrities have tens of thousands of fans and followers, so they are natural choices as marketing magnets for the brands they are endorsing.

Last year, the singer and actor Lu Han was made the face of Cartier's Juste un Clou, a collection that celebrates "assertiveness, free spirit and affirmation of individual styles".

Within 24 hours of a campaign video featuring Lu appearing online, it was said to have drawn in 100 million pairs of eyes through Weibo, the Chinese Twitter-like service.

Instead of simply choosing celebrities, Cartier China says it prefers to take a more organic approach.

"We don't just select celebrities," says Renaud Litre, CEO of Cartier China. "We prefer to get to know personalities, talented artists and establish longtime friendships with them."

Long before Cartier and Lu consummated their relationship, Lu had spoken favorably about the brand on social media, and that was the genesis of the formal partnership, Litre says.

"Lu Han transcends generations. He is passionate about what he does; he surpasses himself; and he is confident in what he is. He is the perfect match with the Juste un Clou spirit."

"As a luxury maison, we expected the association to be surprising and questioning.... How free-minded are you?" Litre asks.

For most brands, such partnerships are approached cautiously and start with a specific collection to gauge public opinion.

The actress Yang Mi, who made her name in TV dramas and later in movies and fashion, was chosen as ambassador for Piaget's Possession collection, and this year she was made the face of the US brand Estee Lauder.

"We wanted someone who could express different personalities and mood through these five colors (of the collection)," says Marguerite Sam, managing director at Piaget China.

"Yang Mi for us is someone fully accomplished in the way that she's a beautiful lady, a fashion icon, an actress, a mother and a businesswoman. She has a strong and charming personality, representing different facets of these new pieces."

Since the fans of young celebrities such as Yang are usually young themselves, they have limited spending power, but the brands are looking further than the current situation.

"We hope to draw on her influence to disseminate the message and the concept of this collection to more people. That message is that it is not just a piece of jewelry, but also a companion to an independent woman. Turn and the world is yours. With the wonderful colors of this collection, a woman can boldly express her character and her emotions. Once more and more people get to know us, I think it will become a fashion accessory."

While most brands tread very carefully as they develop their partnerships with celebrities, others are more willing to go out on a limb.

Tapping the power of glitter, stardust

The award-winning actress Shu Qi is the female figurehead and voice of the Italian jewelry brand Bulgari, and the singer and actor Kris Wu is the male counterpart.

Rather than directly targeting sales, the brand looks at it in what it regards as a more sustainable way.

"We chose him because his personality and style fit our brand," says Farrel Yi, communications manager of Bulgari China, "so we can have our conversation with the young generation.

"As a luxury brand, we are always expanding our customer base and trying to get consumers to know us better. We didn't choose Kris because we expect him to directly boost sales. That would be unfair to him and unhealthy for the brand. After all, it's luxury we're dealing with here, not snacks."

Yi says that as Bulgari went about selecting a man, Wu stood out because of his strong personality, his international background, his artistic talent and his ambition.

"In addition, as the world's second-largest economy, China should have its own international face," Yi says.

The brand started using him for public occasions when he returned to China from South Korea, where he was a member of the former K-pop group Exo.

When Wu went to Switzerland for the watch and jewelry show Baselworld this year, his activities were streamed live on the internet, allowing fans using smartphones to keep up with what he was doing. It was estimated that more than 50 million viewers watched live.

Wu is also the face for the British luxury brand Burberry in China and walked down the runway for the brand as a guest during London Fashion Week last year.

Still, some collaborations can be too bold for luxury consumers.

The Swiss watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre chose to work with Papi Jiang, a video blogger who built her name on self-made comedy skits, on a video campaign aimed at young people.

At the center of the campaign, drawn up by the advertising firm Fred & Farid, was the Reverso model, one of the brand's more affordable models.

In the video, restricted to the brand's WeChat account, Jiang, wearing a Reverso watch, talked about her rise to fame and what she thought about it.

No sooner had the campaign begun than tongues began wagging, with many questioning the compatibility between a Swiss watch and an internet personality who had made her name through dry wit that often crosses into sarcasm.

The Italian fashion brand Dolce& Gabbana invited the Chinese actor Chen Xuedong and the fashion blogger Gogoboi to walk down the runway in its fashion show in Milan last year, along with other international internet influencers and A-listers, and the decision to use people who are not professional models raised eyebrows in many circles.

In choosing personalities to market products, cosmetic brands tend to have more room to maneuver than their counterparts in the world of jewelry and watches, because the latter tend to be a lot more expensive. The cosmetics companies also work closely with e-commerce sites to directly transform fans into customers.

When the actor Yang Yang was picked as the spokesman for the French cosmetic brand Guerlain, his admirers instantly started buying the products he was speaking for.

( China Daily Africa Weekly 07/07/2017 page1)

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