When the 12-member boyband MIRROR announced its concert in 2021, the fan economy had become a new business model for consumer brands in Hong Kong. The fan economy refers to a model in which revenue is mainly driven by the fans of the celebrities and their endorsements. With the recent boom of K-pop dramas, variety shows and concerts over the past few years, the fan economy has played an increasingly significant role in the entertainment industry. Yet, it has been a while since we have seen Cantopop at the forefront of mainstream entertainment.

With the MIRROR fan economy effect continuing to grow, brands are eager to reach out to their celebrity managers with requests to work with them. The overwhelming response from MIRROR fans to previous partnerships has immediately generated revenue for those brands and collaboration with this popular band is a proven method to grow brand reputation.

In September 2021, Ian Chan, one of the members of the boyband, was invited to be a spokesperson for the luxury beauty brand YSL Beaute. The limited box sets featuring Chan's autograph were sold out quickly after its launch, and many customers can only put down their names on the waiting list. In October, Edan Lui released a song  My Apple Pie  as part of a special brand collaboration with McDonald’s Hong Kong to launch an apple pie dessert with the celebrity imprint on the package. Anson Lo, another member of the band, has been taking over bus shelter billboards outside the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier entrance for months, featuring brands such as Airland, McDonald’s Hong Kong and Samsung. Given the success of these campaigns, the “idol chaser” strategy is expected to continue.

Fan groups do not only follow and support the brands that their celebrities endorse, they are initiating their own marketing campaigns to create billboard posters, stuffed toys or name tags to show support for their idols, creating a grassroots economy as well. As of today, all brands that are associated with MIRROR have gained a positive brand sentiment as well as actual revenue gains. For every brand activation involving their appearance, it is almost guaranteed to have at least 300 fans attending to support their idols. For marketers and PRs, here is the question: Should your brand join the fan economy?

Below are several factors to consider when choosing an idol to drive the “fansumer” effect for brands:

Before reaching out

1. Understand that there is a risk

It is unavoidable that associating your brand with celebrities will carry risks. It is important to do the research to ensure the past history or behaviour of the celebrity is aligned with your brand values. You should review Google search pages, how the celebrity speaks or is represented on his or her social media channels, as well as previous entertainment news interviews.

2. Investigate the interest

A successful celebrity endorsement will add value to your brand, especially when he or she is passionate about your product or services. Therefore, you need to understand the celebrity’s passion points. For example, if you are an automotive brand, do you know if the celebrity knows how to drive and/or are they driving your brand models? If not, is there a chance that he or she is quietly a fan of your brand but just requires an opportunity to express their interest? If you are not able to find the answers needed through desktop research, asking a fan of the celebrity can be incredibly resourceful.

3. Think about social media engagement

Before investing money in your celebrity strategy, you need to ensure your social media handles are ready to stay connected with fans to capture potential followers. It is also an effective way to measure the digital outcomes of the campaign.

After reaching out

1. Don’t forget the unique storytelling

Brands should always connect collaborations with key objectives to create relevance. It is elemental to successfully create storytelling that engages fans and stays true to the brand proposition and values. If the same celebrity has already endorsed similar products in a short period of time, it is time to rethink whether your brand is still able to benefit in the long run.

2. Stay engaged with fans

The fans are the primary target audience. To activate the effects of the fan economy, it is important to stay engaged with impactful tools such as entertainment news channels to release your brand information. If you have products or services to offer, you need to have an organised mechanism such as eCommerce, pop-ups or other channels, to ensure the fan community is able to readily support your brand through purchases when they are engaged. 

The fan economy has undoubtedly added tremendous value for marketers and PRs. Not only has the phenomenon brought new and positive energy to Hong Kong, it also supports the recovery of the city’s retail economy after its suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who implement this strategy wisely have much to gain as long as the public interest holds. 

This piece was written by Holly Chan, associate director, Sinclair. PRHK Viewpoints is an article series contributed by members of PRHK, Hong Kong’s PR & communications association.

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