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Celebrities Strike Endorsement Deals in China

Posted by Barry Silverstein on August 26, 2010 01:00 PM

As the Chinese economy evolves, brand marketers there seem to be following in the footsteps of other global brands in applying tried and true techniques, such as using celebrities. What's different, though, is that upstart Chinese brands are importing foreign celebrities to pitch local products to Chinese consumers.

Basketball star Kevin Garnett is just one example of a Western celeb finding fame and fortune in China. As he discusses above, locals now chant "KG" when they spot him in the street — also the brand name of the locally-produced sneakers he's been busy promoting in the off-season.

As we noted yesterday, foreign brands are so prolific in China these days that consumers there are feeling bombarded with marketing messages, and starting to tune out. That means brands, local or foreign, have to get smarter at how they attempt to break through the noise.

One way Chinese brands are trying to differentiate themselves is, in shades of Bill Murray's character in Lost in Translation, using celebrity endorsers from other countries who may bring the brands a much-needed cachet.

For example, Anta, a Chinese maker of athletic shoes, has employed NBA player Luis Scola, Serbian tennis player Jelena Jankovic, and most recently, Boston Celtics star Garnett to market its brand and boost sales at its more than 7,800 stores throughout the country.

Garnett just did a week-long promotional swing through China for the company that includes public appearances in which he teaches young fans basketball basics. Garnett will also appear in television commercials supporting a line of his own "KG" shoes and clothing.

Zheng Jie, Anta's senior vice president, tells the Associated Press that the company wanted Garnett because in China, he is "the definition of a basketball superstar. His image and influence among Chinese young people are very big." (What about Yao Ming?)

Zheng added that Garnett will wear Anta's "KG" shoes during next season's NBA games and will return annually to China during his three-year contract.

Me & City, a relatively new Chinese fashion brand, is using movie star Orlando Bloom and British fashion model Agyness Deyn in advertising. Sports gear maker Li Ning snagged NBA player Baron David and Olympic gold medalist Russian pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva to promote its products. Chery, China's largest domestic automobile manufacturer, has signed Argentine football star and FIFA Player of the Year for 2009 Lionel Messi as an "international ambassador."

Some Chinese brands are raising eyebrows with their celebrity usage; 9you, an online game publisher, recently used Japanese porn star Sora Aoi to China to promote its game, Dungeon & Heroes. Aoi has a following in China despite the fact that her movies are banned in that country.

Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group, tells AP, "A lot of Chinese firms, like Anta, think being a good brand is having a global celebrity. It makes them feel they are more of a premium brand and have a global image."

A study by McKinsey & Co. found that Chinese consumers are "extremely brand conscious," and 45% of consumers surveyed think brands are of better quality if they are well known. Obviously, Chinese brands believe that associating their products with celebrities generates the brand awareness they need to get consumers to take them seriously.

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