Update published September 15, 2022
Following the arrest of actor Li Yifeng for soliciting prostitutes, another star has found himself mixed up in drama: Wang Yibo. The 25-year-old actor, who skyrocketed to global fame after appearing in the boys’ love drama The Untamed in 2019, has been subject to online rumors about his involvement in similar illegal activities.
On September 12, Wang’s agency Yuehua Entertainment posted a letter on Weibo refuting all allegations. “The online rumours about Mr. Wang Yibo claiming he is a ‘sex worker,’ ‘soliciting prostitutes’ and being a ‘kept man’’ are defamatory,” it read. “Mr Wang abides by the law and does not know a Mr. Li at all.” The company also filed a police report on September 13 to protect the star’s reputation and urged online platforms to block and delete related content.
On Weibo, the hashtag “Wang Yibo’s team refutes rumors” (#王一博方辟谣#) has gained over 850 million views, with many comments in support of the company taking legal action. Given Yuehua’s quick response, the defamatory statements are unlikely to affect the young celebrity’s upcoming activities and brand endorsements, which include Anta, Chanel, and Peacebird — unlike Li, who lost partnerships with at least 11 labels and was promptly scrubbed off their social media accounts.
These recent incidents underscore China’s determination to cleanse its entertainment industry and make examples of misbehaving celebrities. As more public figures fall from grace, brands must ensure their network of KOLs stays in the clear and take decisive action when things go south.
Published September 12, 2022 by Lisa Nan
High-profile Chinese actor Li Yifeng, who is the face of Prada, Panerai, and Remy Martin, has been arrested by the Beijing police on charges of “soliciting prostitution on multiple occasions.” According to the Weibo post from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, the 35-year-old has admitted to the crime.
In the aftermath of this scandal, a series of international and domestic companies have cut ties with the personality: in total, a dozen brands ended their contract with Li yesterday, including the aforementioned Prada and Panerai, as well as local conglomerate Luk Fook Jewelry.
Concerned by the growing influence of the country’s entertainment industry, Beijing is taking a tough line with stars over any alleged “misbehavior.” Li, with over 60 million followers on Weibo, is the latest in a long line of A-listers to face the fate of being canceled. Back in October 2021, renowned pianist Li Yundi was arrested for visiting sex workers and hasn’t appeared in public since.
China’s expanding scrutiny of its celebrity culture has serious implications for luxury groups’ marketing efforts in the mainland. In recent years, high-end establishments have been heavily depending on homegrown idols to promote their collections. The fan economy here is one of the most active in the world. Stans are willing to buy anything to ensure the commercial success of their favorite celeb.
Last year, haute jewelry house Chaumet announced pop icon Lay Zhang as brand ambassador. At the news, young fans rushed to post their purchase receipts in the comment section and so express their gratitude and support for the label’s choice. It should be noted that Chaumet’s items can cost from a couple of thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars — predominantly out of teenagers’ wallets. Such is the toxic culture that’s formed in fandom circles.
Given the mounting crackdown — which sees no end — the easy play for maisons might now be over. Today, VIP-led campaigns are exposing businesses to bigger PR risks than their actual benefits. For instance, endorsements require a faster reaction time from firms to avoid boycotts from shoppers and the government. Despite the potential losses that derive from the contract breach, organizations must immediately terminate any collaborations with the “misdeed” names.
In light of this, luxury players should start diversifying their strategies and look for alternative ways to capture young consumers’ hearts and pockets.