In the past, celebrities fearing that they are past their prime have tried to cash in on the remainder of their influence by appearing in infomercials for some unlikely products, like hearing aids or remedies for bone and joint pain.
In China, too, many stars have forayed into product endorsement on e-commerce livestreaming platforms, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that their careers are on the wane. Far from it, in fact: livestreaming is a lucrative spot at the moment, where mainstream products like cosmetics are being sold in vast quantities. But as some stars have learned the hard way, not everyone strikes gold first time. Last week actress Zheng Shuang made her first appearance on an e-commerce livestream on Kuaishou, a short video platform, and quickly became the trending news on weibo – although not for the reason she would have hoped.
Accompanied by two other livestreamers Mao Meimei and DJ Zijin, the starlet was primed to pitch 30 products on her debut. But Zheng didn’t seem to understand her job as she began to find fault with her surroundings, complaining about everything from the fashion style of her two co-hosts to the goods she had been asked to endorse.
At one point, while her co-hosts were explaining the details of one of the products on offer, Zheng sat back and took out her phone, even letting out a yawn. In other moments she queried claims from an advertiser that a facemask’s pricing was “unbelievable”, as well as turning down her co-hosts’ request she sample some of the food items she was trying to sell.
The situation turned more surreal when she refused to introduce a lipstick for which she was actually a brand ambassador, before the mood darkened further when she asked her co-hosts to leave the room.
“I feel really uncomfortable,” she explained after they departed from the camera shot. “I think after this livestream I’m not going to have another livestream, unless I can have my own style… It’s not going to be about sales. What does that have anything to do with me?”
The surprising scenes quickly became a high trending topic online, with incredulity that Zheng didn’t seem to feel any commitment to the advertisers who had paid to appear on the livestream. She was also lambasted for disrespecting her two co-hosts.
Zheng later defended herself, saying that she wanted to be true to herself and that she couldn’t just sit back and say nothing about things that she didn’t approve of. She added that she had wanted to share products that she likes personally during the livestream but had not anticipated that she would be asked to sell a continuous stream of goods to her fans.
Some fans appreciated her honesty. “Her intention is to share the things she loves on the livestream, not to force people to buy!” one wrote on weibo.
“Reminding her fans to shop sensibly is an expression of affection,” another agreed.
DJ Zijin, one of the co-hosts, wasn’t impressed: “Zheng Shuang knows that this was a commercial livestream because she took money from advertisers for all the listings. There were 30 promotional products. You need to accurately describe them in the allotted time otherwise Zheng may lose money for breach of contract,” he warned.
Zheng was reported to have earned around Rmb16 million ($2.31 million) for the session, which excludes commissions from the sale of the products on the livestream.
Such was the social media stir around her performance, perhaps there should have been more speculation as to whether it was deliberately staged. But the actress is known for speaking her mind. Zheng began her career when she was just 17, appearing in the 2009 idol drama Meteor Shower. Since then she has appeared as the lead in various TV series and built a loyal fanbase. However, the actress, now 29, has also established a reputation for her ‘diva behaviour’, including walking off set. “I am the kind of person who is not particularly motivated. I will say, ‘I don’t want to film anymore’. If I’m tired, I don’t want to shoot anymore,” she admitted on the Tencent TV show Go Fridge.
While top celebrities making appearances on e-commerce livestreams is no longer a novelty (see WiC494), there are also situations in which the star power clearly reaches its limits. Back in late June, members of the cast of Sisters Riding Waves – the summer’s most popular show – made their e-commerce debut on Douyin, another short video site. At its peak, total views reached 6.2 million but the whole livestream achieved a meagre Rmb4.5 million of sales, disappointing advertisers.
“Finding the Sisters hard to resist, a lot of brands wanted to convert their popularity into sales, but the result was disappointing,” observed TMT Post, a portal. “All the brands stumbled: one diamond product received only two orders.”
Similarly, comedian Xiao Shenyang, who has over 17 million followers on Sina Weibo, sold just 20 bottles of a baijiu liquor in one of his recent appearances (of which 16 were later returned).
The latest debacle shows that e-commerce platforms will need to think twice before hiring celebrities with no prior experience of livestreaming or little obvious inclination of breaking a sweat to make sales. “After the explosive growth in the industry, we should expect more regulations and adjustments in e-commerce livestreaming. There will be requirements of professionalism for livestreamers. Li Jiaqi and Viya [two of the most successful stars] have a professional team behind them to set standards for product selections… But for a lot of these celebrities, these appearances are just side-gigs. For these people, livestreaming is just to promote themselves,” remarked Yangtze Evening News.
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