Italian luxury label Tod’s has caused a stir on Chinese social media after announcing Li Dan, a controversial Chinese stand-up comedian, as one of the brand’s friends. The announcement is coupled with the release of a commercial featuring the dubbed “China’s Father of Stand-up Comedy” in the brand’s trench coat and presenting a men’s handbag which is part of Tod’s 2022 Autumn Winter Collection, T Timeless.
The announcement soon faced conflicting opinions. Whilst Tod’s successfully drew in the public interest, jumping to one of the hot searches on China’s biggest microblogging site on Weibo, most netizens furrowed their brows at the move. This is partly due to Li’s comedic look that is deemed incompatible with Tod’s luxurious image, therefore, failing to represent the products’ characteristics and brand tone of voice.
Adding to the public disapproval is the controversial episode last year where Li was accused of being insulting to women in an advertisement for Beijing-based female lingerie brand Ubras. The comedian was fined 870,000 RMB ($125,014) for the “vulgar” women’s underwear advert following the decision by the local authority. These woes unsurprisingly cast doubt on the collaboration.
However, the decision for engaging with Li also reflects an unprecedented dilemma facing luxury brands in China and their celebrity engagement strategy. For a long time, Tod’s established a brand image that is targeted toward a low-key and introverted consumer, resulting in its partnerships with the Chinese actor and actress, Xiao Zhan and Liu Shishi who also tend to keep a low profile on social media on top of their “outstanding appearance”.
But considering such celebrity endorsements have become commonplace in the Chinese market, these efforts don’t seem to have served their purpose for Tod’s, prompting the need for a different approach to celebrity engagement, and the bold handshake with Li is a result of that.
The scandal doesn’t seem to have reduced the commercial value of the 33-year-old whose titles also include poet and writer, and he has risen to be a domestic cultural figure in the past five years. The comedy talk show Tucao Conference that he wrote and directed became a national sensation, which has also harnessed the hearts of China’s young demographics. In addition, the sharp contrast of his appearance to traditional brand ambassadors turns out to be another eye-catcher, with some saying Li’s presence is “down-to-earth”, which creates a closeness between ordinary consumers and the brand.
Moreover, the collaboration has produced a new Internet buzz word “Shrimp Star”, referring to the parody picture where Li’s face in the original poster was edited out, leaving only the lower body thanks to his tall-built figure. What it suggests is “Don’t look at the face, the rest of the body suits the clothes quite well”, fuelling the online sensation with the phrase and drawing in more than 360 million views on Weibo in just four days following the official announcement.