Brands navigate tricky waters with stars

Cyberspace at year end was boiling hot again when the Chinese-American singer-songwriter and actor Wang Leehom was accused by his ex-wife Lee Jinglei of emotional abuse, multiple extramarital affairs and frequent solicitation of sex workers during their eight-year marriage in a long letter on the Internet.

Wang’s public image of a good husband and father collapsed overnight, and one day later the automaker Infiniti announced in a statement that it’s terminating its partnership with Wang. The star, who attended a car endorsement event just one day before his ugly divorce drama was exposed, was the brand’s Chinese ambassador for just two days. Chinese-American pop star and actor Wang Leehom at the West Bund Music Festival in Shanghai in 2014. Automaker Infiniti terminated its partnership with Wang after his misconduct was exposed on the Internet. It’s no exaggeration that the year of 2021 was a seething cauldron of some of the biggest showbiz scandals in the country, and also a busy season for a long list of luxury brands to drop those scandal-mired celebrities and pop stars.

In August, actor Zhang Zhehan, who caused a huge controversy due to his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan, was boycotted by the industry and Chinese people. The 30-year-old, who rocketed to stardom for six months, lost all of his endorsements within four hours, quickly abandoned by the market.

It was just one month after the hangover of super idol Kris Wu’s scandal. Following accusations of rape and sexual misconduct by several women, some of whom were underage, Wu was arrested in July. As the poster boy with one of the most valuable faces in China for some of the world’s biggest luxury brands, he was soon discarded by Bulgari, Porsche and Louis Vuitton.

Actress Zheng Shuang is another notable example, embroiled in scandals since January when her former boyfriend accused her of abandoning their two children born to a surrogate mother in the United States after they broke up. Various brands, including Prada, deserted her.

However, the quick contract terminations with pop stars who committed misdeeds don’t imply these brands are off the hook.

Louis Vuitton was the last among big global brands to announce a halt to its partnership with Wu, and its official Weibo account was flooded with wrathful netizens and their volleys of angry questions. "Why do you invite a rapist as your ambassador?" wrote one Weibo user under the termination post. "Until now? Is it too late?" another asked. Louis Vuitton halted its partnership with Chinese-Canadian pop star Kris Wu in July after he was exposed for committing rape and sexual misconduct. Partnerships between luxury brands and pop stars can be traced back to 2014, when the aftermath of the financial crisis and the anti-corruption crusade on the Chinese mainland brought the country’s luxury industry into "winter" for a short time.

A report by Bain & Company pointed out that in 2014, the scale of China’s luxury market dropped by 1 percent compared with 2013, showing the industry’s first negative growth in the 21st […]

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