Olay signs Male Brand Ambassador in China (to get the ladies)


Olay, a global feminine skincare brand, has announced actor Li Yifeng as their latest brand ambassador in China. So why is a female focussed brand using a male celebrity as their face in the local market.

Li Yifeng, a 28 year old actor, who has become famous as an actor on local idol series, is to become Olay’s new brand ambassador in China.   For a brand focussed exclusively on women, choosing a male brand representative may seem quite strange to outside parties.   While Li has great skin, he is by default not an Olay user.

So why have Olay taken this category challenging decision.  Read on.

Olay Li Yifeng

Olay China signed its first male ambassador – does it make sense?

Looking closely at their target consumer group in China – young professional women – Olay’s decision is focussed on the aspirational side of their product.   Good skin can help you connect with your Mr. Right.  So rather than confuse the topic, Olay has cut straight to chase, and used a local male heart-throb to be the brand’s ‘face’ in China.

Li also has a devoted set of female fans that he will undoubtedly bring to the brand.  The fact that Li’s characters in idol dramas is invariably romantic, creates a symbolic link to the brand’s wider promise of romantic fulfilment. Also this arrangement is a recognition of the new more confident feminitiy emerging in China, where it is OK to gaze and admire from a female perspective.

If enough fans  “like” his Olay video, the brand will broadcast it on a big screen in Times Square, New York.

Other female-focussed brands globally have used male celebrities, most notably, Brad Pitt for Chanel No.5.  South Korean actor Lee Minho as the ‘feet’ of Italian feminine shoe brand Suphier.  Also in Japan, Kimura Takuya was the brand ambassador for local lipsticks back in the 1990s.

Does a male brand ambassador make sense for Olay in China?

For Olay, it feels this may not be a smart move.  Primarily, placing a online soap star as your brand image, arguably gives the brand an immature and passive dimension.   Looking at Olay’s future market, professional women in China, they are going to be conscious and admiring of handsome men, but it is difficult to say whether this would strongly inform their purchase decisions.

Rather, at the SMART team, we are seeing an even more confident expression of local femininity, one that even questions traditional romantic roles.  For them is it not ‘looking for Mr.Right’, it is instead ‘Mr.Right should be looking for me’, and even then he might not be good enough.

From this perspective, it feels Olay may have sacrificed a more long-term consideration in terms of how female consumers are changing in China.   A long-term strategy would suggest women will be bored with this type of stereotyping in the long run, so any short-term tactical gains are likely to devalue the brand over time.

Look out for Jerry’s article in Campaign Asia tomorrow, where he argues similarly that China’s middle class, including the Olay target, has an entrenched ‘feminine’ mindset.


About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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