Meet the Chinese Olympians Taking Luxury by Storm

For weeks, Weibo’s Hot Search has been taken over by topics around Beijing 2022 and Olympians. The hashtag #GuEileenReceivesGoldMedal has reached 3.5 billion views on the platform. Meanwhile, Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu’s hashtag has garnered 6.1 billion readers. Needless to say, Olympic stars are currently the traffic-driver of the moment. 

Given their popularity, brands have been casting new ambassadors from the gold medallists. Freestyle skier Eileen Gu is currently endorsing 23 labels, up 16 from the previous year. Adrian Peh, General Manager of Fashion & Beauty at Gusto Luxe explains that this is because “Olympic athletes are a tangible symbol of China’s national image.” With rising national pride, especially among younger generations, collaborations with Chinese Olympians can strengthen a brand’s positioning in China.

Additionally, the latest high-profile scandals have made celebrities and KOLs a riskier option for Maisons, while youthful and inspiring Olympic athletes are proving to be a much safer bet at the moment. “They are deeply loved by China’s Gen Zers and feed into this larger discussion around winter sports, that is closely related to the grand narrative of China’s rise,” notes Kim Leitzes, MD of APAC, at Launchmetrics. Chen Liang, the managing partner at éClair agrees: “both government and official media will report positive aspects of the athletes. Chances that a PR crisis occurs are significantly reduced for brands.”

However, Chen also reminds of a potential downside. Celebrities can ensure continued visibility and popularity through their appearance on shows, films, and other means, “but it is much harder for sports stars to maintain long-term exposure besides Olympic Games. And they have limitations too, people tend to bundle them with sports-related topics.” Therefore, athletes are unlikely to threaten local influencers’ positioning; however, having a good balance of the two may present a win-win scenario for brands.

In fact, with the growth of luxury sports and athleisure wear, many luxury brands have been releasing new product lines and capsule collections dedicated to activewear. For instance, MIU MIU recently unveiled its new “workout collection.” As such, “collaborating with an Olympic athlete would be the perfect choice to represent this category,” affirms Peh. 

In light of this, Jing Daily analyzes 4 Chinese athletes that are worth luxury brands’ attention.

Eileen Gu 谷爱凌

Photo: Gu Ailing’s Weibo

Sports & Professions: Freestyle Skier, Model

Achievements Beijing 2022: Women’s Freeski Big Air gold medal, Women’s Freeski Slopestyle silver medal, Women’s Freeski Halfpipe gold medal

About Eileen Gu: The 18-year-old freestyle skiing gold medallist, born in San Francisco, switched her nationality to China in 2019 to represent the home nation of her mother at the Winter Olympics. Her stellar performance at the Games not only charmed China but also much of the world. Given this, the female Olympian is now courted by both local and global brands to have her endorsing their product lines. According to market research firm CBNData, Gu’s 2021 earnings are estimated to be over $31.4 million, putting her among the world’s top-earning female athletes. 

Endorsements: 23 endorsements (up from 16 in 2021), ranging from luxury to cars, communication, and other consumer goods. Names include Tiffany & Co., IWC, and Victoria’s Secret.

Social Following: 5.2 Million followers on Weibo and 1.7 Million followers on Xiaohongshu. One of her top-performing posts has received nearly two million likes so far. 

Netizens Reaction: Local netizens are calling the freeski prodigy “Genius girl,” expressing their admiration for her astonishing achievements at such a young age. On Weibo, Gu has countless related hashtags, of which #GuEileenReceivesGoldMedal has received the most views hitting 3.5 billion. The teen’s impressive background as a student at Stanford and her model appearance are further attractions for locals.

Expert Analysis: “According to our personality test and data we’ve found out that sports stars don’t perfectly match with luxury houses’ identity. But this is not the case of Gu. Her well-off background and model appearance make her an ideal candidate for maisons. Yet, the downside is to have too many endorsements. That will dilute her image,” affirms Bridget Wu, Manager of Market Science Practice at Kantar.

The Bottom line: The young Olympian is receiving great attention from local netizens. However, not all the endorsed brands are receiving the same amount of exposure. Instead, there is an evident polarization effect. Brands related to winter sports and consumer goods, namely Anta, Luckin Coffee, Genki Forest, and Tiffany have successfully been bundled with the athlete image. However, other labels, like Victoria’s Secret, have been mentioned significantly less. Therefore, how to best leverage a phenomenal star is a lesson companies still need to learn.

Su Yiming 苏翊鸣

Photo: Su Yiming’s Weibo

Sports & Professions: Snowboard, Child Actor

Achievements Beijing 2022: Men’s Snowboard Big Air gold medal, Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle silver medal

About Su Yiming: The 18-year-old former child actor, Su Yiming, is now China’s teen star. After winning a gold medal for China in the Snowboard Big Air event, and later silver for Snowboard Slopestyle (at only 17), the Olympic athlete has seen himself shoot to fame in China and beyond. The halo of “the youngest champion of the Chinese Winter Olympics” has seriously increased Su Yiming’s commercial value.

Endorsements: The brands that have reached cooperation with Su Yiming cover fields such as food, lifestyle, fashion, and beauty, namely skincare brand SkinCeuticals, watchmaker Casio, sports label Oakley, stylish beverage producer Genki Forest, fast-food chain KFC, and so on.

Recommended ReadingSu Yiming Is the Rebel That Luxury NeedsBy Adina-Laura Achim

Social Following: 1.7 Million followers on Weibo. One of his top-performing posts has received nearly 265,000 likes thus far. 

Netizens Reaction: On February 18, when Su Yiming celebrated his eighteenth birthday, netizens rushed online to send their birthday wishes to the young sports star. The hashtag #SuYimingtodayturns18 has already reached 250 million views. Lately, Su also topped Weibo’s hottest personality rankings surpassing even Eileen Gu.

Expert Analysis: Leiztes believes sports athletes can help brands to build positive connections with local consumers. “Su Yiming, as well as his fellow Olympians, speaks to his strengths and demonstrates both a cultural confidence and inspirational spirit, acting as a positive voice for brand activations.”

The Bottom line: So far, Su Yiming is not endorsing any luxury brands. Yet, some beauty brands, as in the case of SkinCeuticals, are already experimenting with these new rising stars, hoping it will replicate other male idols’ success. However, not every company can have its name bundled with the young prodigy. According to a report from China Business News, Su Yiming’s agent revealed in an interview that: “Now I’m rejecting [for Su Yiming] over one hundred endorsements a day.” Clearly, just as it is for other celebrities, IP protection is very important for athletes.

Wu Dajing 武大靖

Photo: Wu Dajing’s Weibo

Sports: Short Track Speed Skater

Achievements in Beijing 2022: Short Track Speed Skating Mixed Team Relay gold medal

About Wu Dajing: The 27-year-old Wu Dajing enjoys high visibility in China. Beijing 2022 was the third Olympics Wu has participated in. In the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, he won China’s only gold medal. Since then, he has been seen as a national hero. Although this time, the athlete wasn’t able to defend his title in the 500m event, he said it didn’t matter: “I’m taking every race like my last one.” These words have further won him people’s favor.

Endorsements: Companies and brands that have announced endorsements with star skater Wu Dajing include consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble, fast-food chain KFC, Zuoyebang online learning resources app, and many other winter sports-related labels.

Social Following: 10.4 Million followers on Weibo. One of his top-performing posts has so far received nearly 265,000 likes.

Netizens Reaction: Despite his popularity, Wu Dajing has a relatively low number of endorsements. Online netizens are showing their support towards the Olympic athlete and calling on brands to collaborate with the sports star. This could be an opportunity for businesses to gain consumers’ goodwill. 

Expert Analysis: Wu Dajing has won over the hearts of the Chinese people, having beat the odds, and demonstrating hard work is the key to success,” says Leitzes. Despite his success, he’s remained humble and states that the more popular he becomes, the more he’ll focus on improving himself. “This is a mindset that is highly applauded by the Chinese, especially the younger generation. Given his humble background and rise in popularity, he makes the perfect Voice for the future generation of China,” she continues.

The Bottom line: When Procter & Gamble announced him as their Olympic Ambassador, actor Ren Jialun, who is also the parent company’s brand ambassador (Olay) posted his congratulations online, saying “@WuDajing you made it.” The post generated online debate and the hashtag #RenJialunsaidtoWuDajingyoumade has garnered over 140 million views, with the actor’s post receiving one million reposts and comments, and two million likes. Using celebrity traffic to boost the exposure of the sports athletes’ endorsement looks like a highly successful tactic.

Chen Hongyi 陈虹伊

Photo: Chen Hongyi’s Weibo

Sports: Figure Skater

Achievements: 2020 Cup of China Champion, three-time national medallist

About Chen Hongyi: 19-year-old Chen Hongyi didn’t participate in the Beijing’s 2022 Winter Games. However, she has been included here given the popularity she enjoys among Chinese netizens. Her high national profile is believed to secure her a spotlight in future competitions. As such, she is an ideal candidate for brands that wish to recruit ambassadors in advance.

Endorsements: None to date. 

Social Following: 294k followers on Weibo and 147k followers on Xiaohongshu. One of her top-performing posts has received nearly 39,000 likes so far. 

Netizens Reaction: Nicknamed “fairy on ICE” by local netizens, Chen is one of China’s favored figure skaters. However, for the Winter Olympic Games, Zhu Yi (another figure skater) was revealed to be taking part in the Olympics instead of her. The issue generated a massive online controversy. Believing Chen to be more qualified for Beijing 2022, netizens turned against Zhu. However, these online discussions have only caused Chen’s star to rise further: the hashtag #chenhongyiunfortunatelymissesBeijingWinterOlympics has already amassed 40 million views.

Expert Analysis: Chen Hongyi has built a solid image among local netizens. “While Chen Hongyi, known as China’s ‘figure skating goddess,’ may not be competing this year in the Olympics, she is beloved and shows strong support for her peers, which has been praised by Chinese netizens,” says Leitzes.

The Bottom line: While most brands are trying to secure endorsements from top Olympians, those which look to tell a different and more genuine story may stand out and win consumers’ sympathy. “The Chinese Generation Z are brave in pursuing their dreams and willing to explore, so when trying to gain their trust and affection, brands should lean in on creating a deep, authentic, cultural connection,” adds Leitzes.