China Consumer

Makeup marketers man up

Why young male celebrities are so sought after by cosmetics giants


Xiao: the new face of Estee Lauder

Back in 1996, Japanese beauty giant Kanebo broke with tradition by choosing Kimura Takuya, a pop singer, to appear in a lipstick campaign. In the TV commercial, the long-haired singer was shown applying the lipstick himself. His fans went crazy about the campaign, even stealing the advertising posters from subway stations. Thanks to Kimura, more than 3 million of the lipsticks were sold over two months, a record for the firm.

There’s been a similar feel to another campaign in China this year where two of the stars from the TV series The Untamed have been tapped to endorse beauty brands in deals that would have usually gone to female celebrities.

Xiao Zhan, 28, who was already representing Olay, is now employed as the brand ambassador of Estee Lauder.

Meanwhile, Wang Yibo, 22, already a global brand ambassador for Shu Uemura, added skincare brand Origins to his list of endorsement deals.

Another pop idol Li Xian, 28 – a hot commodity after appearing in the TV series Go Go Squid! – recently became a spokesperson for Estee Lauder’s cosmetics and skincare business. Singer-model Kris Wu, too, was named the first Asia-wide brand ambassador for Lancôme, joining the ranks of international stars Lily Collins, Zendaya and Taylor Hill.

These male pop icons are not the first to endorse beauty products. In 2015, heartthrob Yang Yang debuted in ads for Guerlain lipsticks in China. Two years later, Maybelline, owned by L’Oreal, chose Hong Kong actor-singer William Chan as a face for its own lipstick range.

Nonetheless, male celebrities are playing an increasingly important role in the marketing of beauty products in China, says Jing Daily. In fact, one research report claims that 23 – mostly foreign – beauty brands have signed 25 Chinese male celebrities on sponsorship deals this year, with the majority born after the mid-1990s.

The brands want to reach a younger demographic, and these stars have large and loyal social media followings that make them especially attractive to marketers (Wang has over 27.5 million followers on Weibo; Xiao has almost 18 million; for more on these influencers see our Top 30 Celebrity KOL list at

“The beauty industry hiring male celebrities to endorse their products is mainly because they are looking at the huge fan base behind them. Moreover, hiring a male star generates more talking points and buzz,” says China Industry and Commerce News. “Statistics are also supportive of the strategy. After hiring Cai Xukun to endorse Yoseido masks (see WiC391), sales hit Rmb2 million in one afternoon. Some went so far to say that Cai has singlehandedly saved a brand.”

In a testament to their commanding reach, two million people went online to get their hands on 16,000 tickets for Xiao and Wang’s two-day concert in Nanjing recently. According to the 21CN Business Herald, tickets with a face value of Rmb1,980 are fetching an incredible Rmb150,000 ($21,174) from touts. The duo’s popularity isn’t specific to China – tickets to a meet-and-greet in Thailand also sold out, with scalpers charging huge premiums.

The use of male stars for beauty endorsements comes amid a broader questioning of traditional gender boundaries in fashion and beauty across China – the country’s most famous beauty influencer, Li Jiaqi, is male, for instance (see WiC448).

Others admit to feeling uncomfortable and question whether the high profile of the male celebrities could be encouraging more men to wear makeup.

“According to the country’s advertisement laws, celebrities who are paid to be spokespeople for products have to try the product before they represent it. But personally speaking, I think it is bad influence on young people’s perceptions when it comes to seeing male stars endorsing beauty products. Even if it is legal, I do not believe they should be promoted,” Song Zhihao, a member of a market watchdog in Shandong province, told China Industry and Commerce News.

Still, with the trend showing no sign of slowing, it probably won’t be long before male stars stray into the promotion of other traditionally more female-oriented products. In fact, back in 2012 South Korean actor So Ji-sub was chosen as the spokesman for a bra made by lingerie brand Vivien. Taiwanese actor Chen Bo-Lin, entertainer Show Lo and singer Yoga Lin have all appeared in advertisements for sanitary napkins as well…

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