The impact of celebrity endorsements when marketing to China

Over the past few years China has experienced a large growth in consumerist culture. In 2012 consumption by Chinese households in urban areas was 10 trillion yuan; by 2022 this is expected to have risen to almost 27 trillion yuan (source: Economist). As more and more brands and products compete for China’s disposable income, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out.

To succeed in the Chinese market you need to have a clear strategy that is thoroughly implemented. Many brands have turned to celebrity endorsements, and China has the third largest percentage of companies using celebrity endorsements in the world (source: Academia). In terms of consumerism, the West has many values that the Chinese aspire to. But do celebrity endorsements work as well in China?

Chinese consumers more likely than Americans to identify with celebrity endorsed products

Endorsements featuring celebrity athletes are highly popular in China. A study that compared the attitudes of Chinese consumers to US consumers in relation to celebrity athlete endorsements found the Chinese consumers were much more likely to desire the products. They were more interested than US consumers in products which were endorsed by celebrity athlete, were more likely to want additional information about endorsed products, and also more likely to desire products endorsed by celebrity athletes (source: Journal of Management and Market Research).

Chinese consumers evaluate celebrity endorsements differently to those in the West

Although they belong to a masculine culture, as do consumers in the West, Chinese shoppers tend to evaluate celebrities based upon their virtues and the way they act, rather than their successes and accolades. Of course, their professional work is important, but one study of Chinese consumers found that they tended to describe the celebrities they admired in different ways to those of the West.

Chinese audiences often assessed celebrities in terms of their moral character. This is often a general assessment rather than in reference to a specific time in which they have demonstrated this. Other characteristics used to describe celebrity endorsers were whether or not they were of rural origin, how well they spoke English, and whether they were cheerful and virtuous. Chinese consumers also admired celebrities who were particularly hard-working (source: China Economic Review).

Celebrity endorsements particularly effective at influencing young demographics interested in sport

Young demographics make up 80% of the sporting market in China, and endorsements by celebrities are particularly effective when influencing young people. This is perhaps why GoPro chose to use popular 27-year-old Liu Yongbang, a professional rock climber, to endorse their Hero4 ‘Session’ model when it launched earlier in 2015. Retailing at 10 times the price of its nearest competitor – the YiCamera, which is backed by Xiaomi, one of China’s leading smartphone manufacturers – the ‘Session’ marketing campaign relied on Liu’s star appeal to justify the much higher price (source: Asia Sponsorship News).

Celebrity endorsements can be a powerful way of connecting with your target market. However, as research has shown, Chinese consumers perceive celebrities differently, and value different personality traits to those in the West. Make sure when you think about who you want to endorse your products you choose someone whose life and attitudes aligns closely with your brand values.

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