The role of brand ambassadors is becoming increasingly important in China. These people are employed by a company to promote its products and are specifically chosen as they are seen to embody the brand, its values and aesthetic. Their role is to leverage their status in order to strengthen the company and influence customer purchasing.
China with its huge number of celebrities from TV, movies and music, and its huge market for luxury spending, has a vast pond for international brands who wish to strengthen their sales in China, but more importantly relate more with Chinese consumers.
In China, where any self-expression, not just through dress choice, was supressed for so many years, the explosion of fashion opportunities is now so big for Chinese consumers. However, relating to Western brands who advertise using Western models may be difficult. So using Chinese faces, moreover Chinese celebrities can be very effective.
Now that luxury fashion is well established in China, brands are feeling the need to diversify and look for new ways of advertising. Luxury fashion consumers in China are now just as trend and brand savvy as any other customers and are not just looking for a handbag with the biggest brand logo on it.
The huge use of social networking sites, such as Sina Weibo, means that everyday consumers and members of the public are able to follow exactly what their favourite stars are doing, and more importantly for the fashion brands, exactly what they are wearing.
However this relationship also works two ways. Due to the power and advertising budgets of the large international brands they are able to boost the status of their ambassadors, aiding them in their careers. This is unlike the somewhat negative view of celebrity endorsements in the West, where celebrities are sometimes criticised for cashing in.
For brands such as Louis Vuitton brand ambassadors represent a new way to gain attention in a market which may have become over saturated with LV emblazoned logo bags. For example a new collection of logo-free pieces exclusive to the Chinese market were recently promoted by the brand’s China ambassador Fan Bingbing.
The actress Fan Bingbing may currently be the most successful brand ambassador in China. Not only is she an ambassador for Louis Vuitton but she is also a face of L’Oreal, Chopard and Moët & Chandon. According to a report by Chinese online retail site Taobao (China’s equivalent to ebay), which calculated the searched names that brought in the most revenue and the total sales revenue of every brand using a celebrity ambassador, the actress has now generated US$74million in e-commerce revenue.
Why has she become such a successful brand ambassador? Not only is she a successful actress in China Fan Bingbing is also well known for her bold fashion choices, first gaining international attention when she attended the Cannes film festival in 2010 in a custom “Chinese” style dress by Laurence Hsu. Her international career is also growing, having recently appeared in Iron Man 3.
Closely following Fan Bingbing is singer and actress Zhou Xun. Having also recently garnered international recognition appearing in the 2013 film Cloud Atlas, Zhou first managed to charm Chanel head designer Karl Lagerfeld when she sang for him at Chanel’s Haute Couture presentation in Shanghai in 2009. The actress was appointed Chanel’s brand ambassador in 2011. She was also previously the face of Lancel bags in China. Karl Lagerfeld described her as ‘a synthesis of the young Coco Chanel and famous ballet dancer Zizi Jeanmaire. She is very stylish and modern, and she has a lot of personality.’ (South China Morning Post)
Last year Li Bingbing was signed by Gucci to be its Asian ambassador. The Chinese actress has been so successful for the brand that she has now been made a global ambassador and represents several Gucci lines – fashion, watches, jewelry, eyewear and handbags (Blouin Artinfro). This may be somewhat surprising, due to her being relatively unknown in the West, and even Gucci's creative director Frida Giannini has commented that Li Bingbing has a unique role within the company.
However not only are celebrities being used as brand ambassadors in China. Sina Weibo has spawned some users who have a huge amount of influence in the Chinese fashion world. Weibo’s top users, known as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), have become incredibly successful in their own right.
Peter Xu is a Weibo style blogger who has 1.3 million followers. Xu has turned his fame from his blog into a career. He is now a writer for several fashion magazines in China and has had collaborations with Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton. Xu’s enormous Weibo fan base perhaps makes him one of the most influential fashion ambassadors in China. Another Weibo blogger with over a million followers is Han Huohuo. His loud dress sense resonates with young Chinese who are looking to stand out from the crowd.