“We acted fast by leveraging different groups on Weibo and WeChat. We saw that over 10,000 people donated 600,000 yuan within an hour,” recalls the leader of idol Cai Xukun’s fan group to the Chinese newspaper, Nanfang People.
Prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, fan groups have played a unique role in the billion-dollar celebrity and entertainment business in China. They demonstrate their love by defending the idol online, they upvote to raise billboard rankings, and most commonly, buy products the idol endorses. Now, amid the ongoing crisis, many have put their skills into building successful donations like Cai’s fans have done.
But don’t underestimate their power. On We Charity, a WeChat donation service, one-third of the donations came from third-party organizations; however, more than half of that actually came from fan groups donating in the name of their idols. Between January 20 to February 6, 32 fan groups have generated nearly $1.2 million (8,861,000 RMB). And this number is growing daily.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 virus has become a devastating reality to many, sending different companies into full-on emergency mode, from small businesses, luxury groups, and even non-profit organizations. It was only a couple of weeks ago since the public found out about the mishandling of donations by the Red Cross, which was hoarding medical supplies instead of delivering them to hospitals in urgent need. The public was left disappointed and distraught.
How fan groups have handled the crisis has been in stark contrast to supposedly reputable organizations. Based on several interviews with Chinese media, they’ve stated that fan groups have moved like an organized army, operating with efficiency and competence. Since the news of the outbreak at the end of January, they’ve quickly dispersed into different divisions that are in charge of sourcing, purchasing, negotiating, and shipping to ensure timely and meaningful help.
“People are united (in a fan group) because they share the same common interest. Fans trust each other and this helps to run a close-knit community,” explained one fan to the Nanfang People. In other words, the highly-efficient donating fan groups are the result of practicing teamwork over a long period of time, out of the passion for their idol.
Gradually, charity events have turned into heated competitions over whose idol offered more to defeat the virus. With this in mind, the number one celebrity on the R3’s January list (measured by popularity and social influence), Xiao Zhan, generated a larger fan donation amount than most, totaling $241,756 (1,700,000 RMB); Fans of Wang Yibo, number three on the R3 list, donated $170,653 (1,200,000 RMB) to purchase medical equipment like mask, alcohol pads, and protective goggles; fans of the actor, Lixian, number 12 on the list, also donated a large amount of medical equipment.
Meanwhile, hashtag “fangirl donation” has garnered most than 200 million page views, though citizens have started to question various fan groups’ motivates. “People think fan group donations is a pseudo proposition, that we would go as far as donating for the idols, but this is rather narrowed-minded. More importantly, we support the cause (of defeating the virus),” a fangirl named Guozi defended to the Chinese media brand, Sina Finance, in an article titled “Is donation the latest KPI for fan groups?”.
Elsewhere, luxury groups and fashion retailers clearly saw the opportunity of amplifying their message by leveraging star power. Multiple brands under the LVMH group, namely Louis Vuitton and Fenty Beauty, invited celebrities to join the cause. In a Valentine’s Day WeChat post, the inclusive beauty brand Fenty invited three brand ambassadors and spokespersons to send fans heart-warming voice messages. And starting February 19, Louis Vuitton released one celebrity video a day — the first one was kicked off by the brand ambassador Kris Wu advocating for community strength, with comments like “Fighting Wuhan with brand ambassador Kris Wu!” dominated the screen.
In a time of crisis like this, the defeat against the virus calls for community and unity. While timely donations from fan groups are just one aspect of what a power cause can do, brands with equally strong values shouldn’t miss the opportunity to join the movement.