Industry Interview: How the Social Media Crackdown in China Will Affect Luxury Brands

    In the wake of the crackdown on social media accounts in China, we interviewed an industry insider to understand if luxury brands should be concerned.
    Chinese celebrity Angelababy, a brand ambassador for luxury brands (here pictured as the brand ambassador and partner for a Chinese app company as it was launched on the Hong Kong stock exchange).
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    On June 8, the Chinese government shuttered 60 accounts on some of the biggest social media platforms, including WeChat and Sina Weibo, among others, for publishing celebrity news and gossip because they undermined socialist values. Beijing’s Cyberspace Administration ordered internet companies including Tencent and Baidu to “take effective measures to contain the glorification of scandals and the private lives of celebrities, the sensationalization of their conspicuous consumption and low taste.”

    The entertainment accounts that were closed included both self-run blogs and major ones like Harper’s Bazaar, which is owned by Trends Media Group (a Chinese company established by Hearst), and For Him Magazine (a Chinese company established by British Bauer Media).

    In the wake of the crackdown, many luxury brands have been wondering if their official accounts might be affected, if at all, and how they should respond to the recent events.

    In an effort to give some insight into this murky subject, we communicated with a senior associate of a global PR agency with offices in Beijing, that works with the top luxury brands. She spoke with us over the WeChat messaging service on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from the Chinese government.

    The associate shared her perspective on some of the issues that have arisen around this topic. These opinions are her own.

    What does this news mean for luxury brands?#

    This issue doesn't really have a direct impact on luxury brands, but I have luxury brand clients who inquired research from us regarding this issue. Even though they are not the direct victim, there has been a lot of speculation on what this government policy could mean for the future of luxury brands.

    Should brands looking to hire controversial celebrities as brand ambassador’s be concerned?#

    One popular speculation related to the Harper’s Bazaar shut-down is that the government is cracking down on the chaotic entertainment industry, and brands who are looking [to hire] controversial celebrities to boost their sales are under close watch.

    What does the loss of entertainment social media accounts mean for luxury brands?#

    Brands usually refer to those types of accounts to assess the public sentiment for a potential brand ambassador. Ideally, they want someone who is free of gossip and has a positive and healthy image. Even after the crackdown, my client would consult Harper’s Bazaar for profiles of the current popular celebrities. Brands usually look for celebrities who didn’t become famous over gossip, or are highly focused on their acting, or are part of the new patriotic generation.

    How do KOL accounts compare to the accounts of more established fashion magazines in the research of brand ambassadors?#

    The entertainment accounts funded by fashion magazines serve as a legitimate channel for researching brand ambassadors (compared to the WeChat accounts of bloggers and KOLs) and it gives brands first-hand information about the persona of any potential brand ambassador regardless of whether or not the account was shut down.

    What does an established brand get from hiring a person with a controversial background as a brand ambassador?#

    I don’t think brands actually know the reputation of their brand ambassador, they just know their staggering followers and box office numbers. There is always risk involved when selecting a new face for the brand.

    However, we do sometimes conduct a basic risk assessment for clients before the hire. For example, we will take into account different factors like fan loyalty, past work portfolio, brand ambassador loyalty and political correctness. All those are necessary to avoid brand ambassador pitfalls.

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