Take a walk through the shopping districts and subways of Shanghai, and one face stands out. An actor with over 4.6mn Twitter followers, Eddie Peng is plastered all over advertisements: from Adidas to Hugo Boss, from Vivo to the Yili dairy drink, from Shiseido’s male skincare range to Wrigley’s chewing gum, and from Longines watches to Bluemoon anti-bacterial handwash. His ubiquity as a brand ambassador is seemingly endless.
Image credits: Elle.com, kknews.cc, TMall, sohu.com, yili.com, juksy.com, madisonboom.com
Eddie Peng is clearly highly popular. But when the same celebrities are used as ambassadors for just about everything, how can brands convey authenticity or a sense that they are being true to themselves? One way is to eschew this route altogether, something we can see happening amongst smaller,niche skincare companies in the West. Their popularity reflects the easy authenticity of founder-driven brands which sell a tight story around origin, vision and integrity.
One example is Tata Harper, the eponymous founder of a highly successful natural skincare range. When her stepfather was diagnosed with cancer and advised by doctors to lessen his exposure to toxins and synthetic chemicals, she began seeking healthier non-toxic solutions for the whole family. When she struggled to find natural skincare products that delivered the level of efficacy she sought, she started making her own. Today, she runs her skincare and make-up brand from a former dairy farm in the Vermont’s Champlain Valley, and consumers can rest assured that she oversees every aspect of production on-site.
Image credits: www.tataharperskincare.com
Fenty Beauty is another well-known example of a founder brand, but one where the founder was already a celebrity. The singer Rihanna was famously inspired to create a make-up line that championed ‘representation, equality and inclusivity,’ no matter the user’s skin tone, culture or gender.
Image credits: fentybeauty.com
Turning to fashion, we can also see a new approach. More brands are working with celebrities and KOLs (key opinion leaders) on a collaborative basis. Rather than simply using a famous name and face in campaigns, the celebrity is given a voice or point of view that allows the brand to evolve in a particular direction. Leveraging their relationship with the brand on this deeper level allows for a more meaningful form of engagement with consumers.
A good example of this is Beyonce’s Ivy Park x Adidas collaboration, with its focus on size-inclusive, streetwear-inspired athleisurewear. This is not simply engaging Beyonce as a brand ambassador or ‘face of the campaign’. Instead, the collaboration is a process of co-creation and ‘cross-pollination’. Beyonce’s Ivy Park lends street credibility to Adidas, while Adidas’s name reassures customers about the professionalism and performance of the products.
Image credit: ivypark.com
Apple takes yet another approach to using celebrities in an authentic way. The company has no ambassadors in China (or elsewhere), but every year produces a short film for Chinese New Year, made upon its latest iPhone model, and often featuring well-known actors and actresses. Rather than using the celebrities for their star power, the films leverage their skills as storytellers to showcase a deep and genuine understanding of Chinese culture and the Chinese experience.
Image credit: Gadgetmatch.com
What does all this mean for brands who are seeking to maintain a sense of authenticity and integrity? Clear origin stories and personal values narratives are vital. Any celebrity involvement must enhance rather than obscure this vision, with mere star power not considered enough for today’s demanding consumers: passion for change, real involvement in product development, and true creativity are all expected too.