In today’s celebrity-obsessed age of social media, Eileen Gu is every marketer’s dream. She is a freestyle skiing phenomenon with a multicultural background and a squeaky clean image — and she also happens to look like a runway model. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Gu is smart and speaks fluent Mandarin with a strong Beijing accent.
Premium and luxury brands are already courting her. By now, she’s been featured in campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Victoria’s Secret, and Estée Lauder. But despite her success in the United States, Gu is setting her sight on China.
Following the 2019 announcement that Gu will compete for China at the Winter Olympics, the San Francisco-born teen has become one of the hottest marketing commodities on the Mainland. As per Bloomberg reports, the announcement delighted Gu’s Chinese fans, who flooded her Weibo and Instagram accounts with heart emojis. But Gu’s decision ruffled some feathers in the American skiing community. At the same time, Western media channels wondered if China’s newfound celebrity darling would be able to navigate the controversies attached to this year’s winter Olympics.
Despite hazards, no one can argue against Gu’s marketing potential. She single-handedly brought attention to an obscure winter sport in China and inspired legions of Chinese teens to pursue the activity. This surprising turn worked in Beijing’s favor, as the Chinese authorities found the perfect ambassador for their ambition to popularize domestic winter sports practically overnight.
One thing everyone agrees on is that Gu has a unique marketing appeal. Dr. Mansur Khamitov, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, told Jing Daily that Gu should “be considered a perfect brand ambassador for both American and Chinese brands.” And Bob Dorfman, a sports-marketing analyst and creative director at Pinnacle Advertising in San Francisco, told Bloomberg that “Eileen’s value is through the roof.”
The teen athlete, who many expect to win three gold medals in Beijing, is “shining brightly amid the geopolitical divide in today’s fractured world,” adds Dr. Khamitov. “Eileen exhibits numerous qualities desirable in a brand ambassador. Those include, but are not limited to, perseverance, competence, confidence, dedication, work ethic, talent, strength, thoughtfulness, inclusivity, ambition, and drive.”
These highly desirable traits have made Gu a great brand spokesperson, not only for top brand sponsors like RedBull but also for luxury brands that ink multi-million-dollar sponsorship contracts with celebrities. Sure enough, the financial benefits that come from partnering with luxury labels like Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton are far more substantial than many of the deals negotiated by athletes. It also helps that Gu has a tremendous appeal in China, which has become the most relevant market for luxury brands today.
“Eileen is now i[n] a position to be the Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater, or Shaun White of China, as well as the face of action sports in the world’s biggest country,” explained Mike Hanley, head of school at Wy’East Mountain Academy in Oregon, in an email to the Washington Examiner.
Considering the crackdown on celebrity culture in China, it is not too far of a stretch to see Gu as the “savior” of the celebrity branding trend. Luxury brands that found themselves in hot water because of celebrity scandals can easily avoid future offenses by partnering with Gu.
In fact, Gu has already attracted big sponsors in China. The New York Post claims she has more than 20 endorsement deals, including collaborations with notable names like Bank of China, the People’s Insurance Company of China, Kohler, China Mobile, Mengniu, Luckin’ Coffee, and Cadillac in China. But these endorsement deals don’t come cheap. According to campaignasia.com, a marketing deal with Gu could reach about $2.5 million (15 million yuan).
Undoubtedly, Gu will earn millions if she continues to avoid controversies and win gold medals at the upcoming Olympic games.