What Happened: Chinese Canadian pop star Kris Wu has been embroiled in a scandal over the weekend that rocked Chinese social media. His alleged girlfriend Du Meizhu has accused him of infidelity and seducing underage girls. Du claimed several young female victims were sexually exploited by Wu, including herself.
On July 19, Wu and his studio released separate statements refuting the claims, stating that they are taking legal action for defamation. This incident sparked off a cyberwar against one of China’s most valuable faces, but netizen sentiments are polarized. A few fans expressed their alignment with Wu, convinced that the accusation was slander. But the majority of citizens suggested Wu should quit entertainment and face legal sanctions.
So far, Wu’s collaboration with Chinese brands, such as Tencent Video, C-beauty brand KANS, and the mobile game Honor of Kings, have all been terminated. Lancôme disclosed that its contract with the idol had been due in June in response to the backlash. However, this claim caused outrage online, triggering a netizen boycott of the brand for not taking a clear stance via an official announcement that clarified its terminated collaboration with the celebrity.
The Jing Take: While Chinese brands are being proactive, international brands are taking a wait-and-see approach towards this incident. As a notable exception, Louis Vuitton concealed all Wu-related posts on its Weibo page and posted a statement, saying, “Louis Vuitton takes the recent accusations concerning Mr. Kris Wu very seriously and as such suspends its collaboration with the artist until the investigation is concluded.” However, Bvlgari and L’Oréal Men Expert, which also appointed Wu as its brand ambassador, have yet to release any official announcements.
China’s unique idol culture, with its many pitfalls, is nothing new to luxury players. The business value of celebrity endorsements is indisputable, especially when it comes to China’s hardcore fan bases, who are willing to nurture their idols’ careers. But more importantly, fan groups usually see themselves as accountable contributors by pledging loyalty and actively buying or promoting the products and brands endorsed by their idols.
On the flip side, this loyalty and attachment create risks for brands that leverage idol economies. In Kris Wu’s case, netizen sentiment tended to be negative and aggressive, given the multiple allegations from different young women. However, there is no conclusive evidence yet. Although the luxury houses involved with his brand sponsorships seem to be betting on a favorable turn, netizens will not wait long for a clarified statement.
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.