What This Gen-Z Celebrity’s Smoking ‘Scandal’ Says about Public Persona in China: R3 May List

The May list of the Jing Daily x R3 Celebrity Index — a monthly ranking of China’s most influential celebrities on the country’s most important social media platforms, from Weibo and WeChat to Toutiao and Baidu — shows the popularity of Cai Xukun, who recently became the Chinese spokesperson of Prada, persisted, while Yang Mi, who was just named as the Chinese spokesperson of Versace, remained in the third position. However, a case that is worth a closer look is Wang Yuan (Roy Wang), an 18-year-old Chinese celebrity, who jumped to the second spot the past month largely due to his “smoking scandal.”

So, who is Wang Yuan and why did his smoking habit evoke such a strong anti-sentiment on Chinese social media? In 2013, Wang first rose to fame at the age of 14 as a member of the teenager boyband TFBoys. The band quickly became a household name in China, attracting a massive amount of mostly female fans.  Today, Wang’s official Weibo account has garnered over 73 million followers. He also has a close working relationship with premium brands like Chopard and L’Oréal.

What sets Wang’s following apart from other Chinese male celebrities’ fans (who typically see their idols as virtual boyfriends) is that the emotional connection between Wang and his fans goes far beyond the romantic feeling. Many people see Wang as their little brother or even son that they want to take care of,  owing to the age difference and Wang’s innocent and youthful look. Therefore, when he was spotted smoking inside of a restaurant when having dinner with friends in Beijing, a great number of his fans were disappointed by this behavior from an adult’s perspective. Some said he set a bad example for teenagers who liked him, and some just could not accept that he smoked. Wang ended up coming out to Weibo to apologize for his behavior.


Chinese celebrities’ public persona and why it matters to luxury brands

What is truly behind Wang’s smoking scandal is a question on the authenticity of Chinese celebrities’ public persona, or renshe (人设) in Chinese pinyin. From a publicly-known “good boy” to a “bad boy”, Wang’s public persona collapsed when he was spotted smoking. That upset some fans who like him for his public persona.

In the past decade, China’s entertainment industry has evolved at a rapid pace and talent managers are increasingly adept in understanding ordinary people’s emotional needs and mentality — thus, creating stars and idols that fit their needs. Consequently, a mismatch of a celebrity’s true personality and his or her public persona will bring inherent risks to luxury brands who work with them. Thorough research to really get to know the celebrity before signing is always needed.


Methodology:

The following ranking of 20 top celebrity influencers in March is calculated using data from Weibo’s Fan Base (calculating Activity, Adorable, and Social Influence Indexes), Toutiao, Baidu, and WeChat.

Weibo assumes the most weight, as it’s the platform where fan engagement can be traced. The Baidu, Toutiao, and Wechat indexes are more based on search behavior. The data from Weibo helps indicate the commercial value for each celebrity, especially for the Adorable index where fans actually use a pay function to express their admiration for a celebrity.

  • Activity Index: The Activity Index counts the number of interactions on Weibo, which is a statistical indicator of interactions (including forwarding, commenting, likes, replying to comments, and comment likes on Weibo) generated by the content posted by the star over the past 30 days (including posts, comments).
  • Adorable Index: This refers to the contribution of fans to the celebrity. Weibo has a mechanism where fans can contribute their admiration to the celebrity by giving virtual flowers which aren’t free. The adorable index is generated from the number of flowers the celebrity receives monthly.
  • Social Influence Index: There’s a large number of users publishing microblogs daily that mention celebrities. These microblogs are read by other users, and the number of readings reflects the recent popularity of a celebrity. In addition, a large number of users search for celebrities on Weibo every day, and the search volume generated also reflects the recent popularity of those celebrities. This data adds up to the social influence index of the celebrity.

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Influencers