And Finally

Status anxiety

Rolls-Royce’s rare use of social influencers backfires with China buyers

Cullinan w

Television started to became popular in the US and Europe in the 1950s (albeit in black and white). Rolls-Royce avoided TV commercials for years, however, preferring more traditional print ads in glossy magazines, if it advertised at all. The brand didn’t cave in to TV commercials until 2009, in fact, when it launched a campaign to promote the Rolls-Royce Ghost.

It is against this conservative backdrop that the luxury car brand’s unveiling of its first social media advertising in China might be judged.

The commercial, which was posted on the company’s Sina Weibo page in late September, shows celebrity couple Lin Han and Lei Wanying test-driving the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, an SUV, around Xinjiang.

The plan was to showcase the car’s “adventurous spirit” but the footage failed to stir the desired response. Instead the reaction focused more on the suitability of the influencer couple, with complaints that their hiring cheapened the high-end image of the Rolls-Royce brand. Thousands of responses queried why Lin and Lei had been chosen to promote the SUV, including people who claimed to own cars from the fabled brand. “Has Rolls-Royce lost its mind?” asked one netizen. “We are not boycotting influencers. But we have a problem with badly-behaved celebrities,” another said.

Even Wang Sicong, the outspoken son of Wanda property tycoon Wang Jianlin and an owner of several Rolls-Royce cars himself, couldn’t resist taking a dig. “Suddenly, I feel that Rolls-Royce is very low. I will not buy it in future,” he responded disdainfully on his own personal weibo.

At first glance, the husband-and- wife duo might have seemed to be a decent choice as ambassadors for the ultra luxury marque, which is owned by BMW. Lei (who goes by the nickname Wan Wan) is well known within art circles and her husband Lin is an entrepreneur from a wealthy family.

“Just looking at their resumes and titles suggests that these two are a classy, elegant couple: rich, cultured and stylish. They are fully in line with the image of Rolls-Royce,” one commentator claimed.

But it doesn’t take too much digging online to see why others saw their hiring as a mistake. Wan Wan first made headline news in 2004 as a 17 year-old model, when she became involved in an affair with contemporary artist Liu Ye, who was 40 at the time and married. Their relationship broke down several years later. Wan Wan then met her now-husband, beginning the life of “an elegant and charitable socialite”, in one blogger’s phrasing.

However, her social media posts have alienated a wide audience. Despite calling herself an animal lover, she has posted multiple pictures in which she wears exotic furs. “How does a person who loves animals wear fur? Does she know how fur coats are made?” one netizen mocked.

In another faux pas when China was struggling to contain the pandemic in early 2020, the two posted pictures of themselves holidaying in an unnamed location. The caption on a weibo posting teased: “How are you doing? Wish we could send you the island’s beautiful sunshine and good food.” This prompted further fury from netizens, who lambasted the couple as insensitive.

After the latest round of online vitriol, Rolls-Royce quickly withdrew the ad and said it would learn from the feedback as a “responsible brand”. “We will work hard to create a better brand experience,” it promised.

“As the world’s leading luxury car brand, Rolls-Royce should really cherish its brand: it alone can generate a lot of topics on social media and bring enormous ‘traffic’. It doesn’t need to try so hard,” a blogger from the car sector advised.

Rolls-Royce owners in China are getting younger. The average age in 2020 was 39, down from about 47 in 2015, TMT Post reports.

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