Prada and Valentino are among the luxury brands that, in recent years, have appointed regional ambassadors, which they’re leaning into for Lunar New Year. Prada’s campaign this year features singer Cai Xukun, the face of the brand in China since 2019. Valentino’s campaign stars its ambassadors, the actresses Sun Li and Sun Yan. Supermodel Liu Wen continues to star in Tory Burch’s campaigns and collections as the US brand’s longtime ambassador.
“While the concept of Chinese brand ambassadors is not new, they’re now being used on a global stage,” says Gusto Collective’s Reuter. “The Chinese diaspora is very significant around the world.” Chinese celebrities and talent also have vast reach across their local network, helping brands reach a new demographic, adds Kantar’s Dimitropoulos. “Beyond their visual appeal and communication as a spokesperson, they are also active on social media, live streams and other KOL platforms.”
Partnering with Chinese talent comes at a cost, however. Pricing tends to be higher than Western celebrities, and the country’s strict regulations and ongoing crackdown on the entertainment industry means that such partnerships are a risky bet for luxury brands, says Reuter.
Catering to local customers
Some brands and retailers are steering clear of rabbit-themed marketing in favour of celebrating local traditions, while acknowledging the current climate.
Before the pandemic, the majority of luxury spending by mainland Chinese shoppers did not happen at home due to comparatively higher local prices. Instead, the bulk of sales took place in European cities such as Milan and Paris, and more regional Asian cities including Seoul. During Covid, some big brands continued investing in local Chinese infrastructure, opening new flagship stores and hosting large fashion shows to reach consumers unable to go abroad. Hong Kong’s position as a luxury shopping destination was hit after the city maintained some of the world’s strictest border rules. In mainland China, boutiques in second and third tier cities have gained new relevance, particularly in places like Chengdu and Hangzhou. One particular hotspot has been Hainan, which the government has been developing as a duty-free shopping hub.
It’ll take some time before Chinese consumers reengage with the world as international flights remain limited and expensive, says Dimitropoulos. “That hasn’t opened up completely. I think it will take a couple of months for the situation to start to return to previous conditions.” Instead, domestic retail is expected to boom this Lunar New Year. “[The holiday] is like Chinese Christmas so the majority of local consumers will go home and spend time with family,” he says.
Mainland China and Hong Kong-based luxury retail company Lane Crawford is already seeing an uptick in store visitors, according to president Blondie Tsang. “Foot traffic has doubled in the past month and sales are well up on the same time last year,” she says. Mainland Chinese customers have started returning to Hong Kong and are “showing strong interest in the Spring/Summer 2023 fashion arrivals, sales of which are up considerably on the same time last year”.