Beijing Cracks Down on Fan Culture. Will Brands Pay the Price?

What Happened: Notorious for taking their love to the extreme, Chinese fans are now trying to tame their overzealous behavior. Recently, more than 200 fan clubs of names like Cai Xukun, Jackson Wang, and Ouyang Nana released initial proposals to protect the long-term sustainability of China’s idol industry. These included calls to “maintain a boundary between real life and online platforms,” respect celebrity privacy, promote “rational speech,” and end cyberbullying. 

This comes in response to Beijing’s crackdown on obsessive fan culture last week, after it was discovered that viewers of iQiyi’s hit variety show Youth With You 3 were buying crates of milk products just to get QR codes to vote for their favorite contestants and then dumping the contents. In addition to monitoring online activity, Chinese authorities announced that they would prohibit reality programs from setting up systems where fans can vote by spending money.

The Jing Take: Fan groups are known for their fierce loyalty and lavish spending, from launching campaigns to boost their idol’s social media ranking to buying multiple copies of their albums. In fact, the show Chuang 2021 on rival platform Tencent saw fan donations to contestants exceed $6.16 million during the season finale alone. As China’s fan economy is largely driven by young women in first-tier cities, fan groups are not only important for brands to increase product sales and online engagement, but also speak to an increasingly vital consumer base. 

So, at first glance, these regulations seem like bad news for brands banking on crazed consumer spending. Yet, they may actually be a blessing in disguise, because when fan behavior goes awry it’s often brands that feel the heat. With iQiyi’s scandal, for example, the bottled milk manufacturer was forced to apologize for causing an “undesirable social impact.” Prior to this, an internet cyber war sparked by actor Xiao Zhan’s fans led to a boycott against the brands associated with him, including Estée Lauder, Piaget, and Cartier.

How much power these fan clubs have to rein in rabid fans, however, is questionable. Come next year, when iQIYI and Tencent start releasing their latest lineup of celebrity hopefuls, we’ll see whether fans can stay “rational” when served the next pretty face.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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