The sensationalist drug arrests of Jackie Chan’s son and famous actor Ko Chen-Tung in Beijing earlier this month have scared top global brands away from lucrative endorsement deals in China and may cause companies to rethink their celebrity brand ambassador strategies, according to Chinese media.
On August 14, the martial arts star’s son Jaycee Chan, who is working as an actor and musician, was arrested in China’s capital along with Tiny Times star Ko Chen-Tung (also known as Kai Ko) for marijuana consumption and possession. While marijuana laws may be loosening in countries such as the United States, the offense is much more serious in a 420-unfriendly country like China. If convicted, both could face up to several years of imprisonment—or even execution. Although there has been no conviction yet, both stars’ reputations in the country have already been hit hard, leading to the loss of multi-million-dollar endorsements.
According to iFeng, Ko Chen-Tung has been the China-region spokesperson for numerous brands including Adidas, Nivea, Yishion, Johnson & Johnson contact lenses, Stride gum, KFC, and Chevrolet. The Chevrolet Trax, which was just released in April, is Ko’s most recent and widely promoted endorsement deal, for which he starred in mini-movies and marketing videos alongside Tiny Times co-star Amber Kuo. After the arrest, the brand has edited out some of Ko’s parts in the videos on its official Chinese website. In addition, all besides two mini-movie clips on Chevrolet’s Weibo account have been blocked. According to the report, the brand is rumored to have canceled the endorsement with Ko for the sake of brand image and sales.
The report also states that KFC is currently using Korean star Kim Woo-bin as its spokesperson, and has ended endorsement with Ko.
China’s strict censorship means that this incident could also have a major effect on the film industry. A popular heartthrob in China, Ko has four new movies coming up: A Choo, Monster Hunt, Volleyball Sweetheart, and the anticipated Tiny Times IV, but Chinese media reports that they could now be banned in the country.
According to researcher Zhu Danpeng from the Chinese Academy of Food Business, companies in China first realized the potential of spokespeople damaging brand reputation in 2008 in the wake of a photo scandal involving Hong Kong actor Edison Chen. Zhu believes companies will be even more careful in choosing a brand ambassador from now on, and for a lower risk, there might start to be a trend of companies collaborating with bands, groups, or television shows instead of individuals.