"Sharpness is a state of mind," said Chow Yun-Fat (Master Li Mubai) in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. But sharpness might also might be a perfectly fitted Hugo Boss suit, like the one Chow is now sporting as the first ever Asian face of the brand.
Chinese consumers may still be trying to "find" Leonardo DiCaprio and his Oppo handset, but more and more, brands looking to reach the Chinese consumer — especially luxury ones — are opting for local celebrity.
From Campaign Asia-Pacific: "Chow will appear in an advertising campaign presenting a number of both formal and casual looks from the BOSS Selection Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, which is the high-end men's collection targeting the 40-something year-old consumers."
In May, on his birthday no less, Chow hit the catwalk in Beijing for a Hugo Boss show (in 3D!):
With the race on to sop up all of the luxury market money sloshing around China, it's a great move by Hugo Boss. Laden with gravitas, Chow is China's George Clooney, a former baby-faced heartthrob who has matured into a dapper, respected gentleman of cinema.
Not only an icon for his double-pistol early action movies (A Better Tomorrow, The Killer), Chow has maintained a respected presence in films such as Let the Bullets Fly. As they say, women want him, men want to be him. So Chow will be the face of Hugo Boss in Asia through 2013.
The Boss campaign will be the communications backbone of an ambitious plan to expand into China, including 60 new stores (totaling 146) in the next three years. The Wall Street Journal reported that Boss hopes "to boost revenue from Asia to 20% of the label's global sales by 2015 from 15% last year."
Campaign points to a few of the other luxury brands that have picked up Asian faces for the China market, including Takeshi Kaneshiro for Armani and Zhou Xun for Chanel.
Foreign celebrities still make popular brand spokespeople in China. The faces of NBA stars Kobe Bryant (Sprite) and Shaquille O'Neal (Harbin Beer) are common sights, for instance.
Luxury fashion brands are tailoring their spokesmodels to look like the target customer. Just as Chow hit the runway (like a Boss), handbag maker Longchamp announced that actress Gao Yuanyuan had become its first China ambassador.
Just a decade ago a Chinese celebrity endorsement (even for the China market) was a rarity. Today, there is tennis star Li Na for Nike, actress/singer Karen Mok for Cadillac and (Los Angeles-born, Taiwan proud) NBA phenomenon Jeremy "Linsanity" Lin for Volvo. Hong Kong-born actress Maggie Cheung is the Asian face of Olay and UNICEF, while pop star Jay Chou is China brand ambassador for Motorola.
In fact, endorsements by Chinese celebrities have gone overboard in cases, leading to overlapping shilling and confusion. The China Daily reported last year that "40 percent of advertisements geared toward youths feature at least one celebrity." The ubiquitous Jackie Chan's sheer number of endorsements led the L.A. Times to quip, "If Jackie Chan says it's good — well, get a second opinion."
This makes Chow a smart choice for Hugo Boss. Though the actor has dabbled with endorsements (sometimes with questionable results), he remains dignified, selective and unique.
On the subject, for those interested in celebrity endorsements in China, including the disadvantages and advantages — there are some — of overexposure, the late 2011 paper "Assessing Celebrity Endorsement Effects in China" is a good in-depth read (PDF). Another recent white paper argues that, in social media-mad China these days, "Anyone Can Be Your Brand Ambassador."
Even so, homegrown stars will find their value soaring with local and foreign brands wooing China's consumers. Just don't ask Jackie Chan to endorse your brand if you want to stand out.