to get articles and more to your inbox
News & insights
Fan economy in China has always been very influential, a key reason why brands have pumped massive sums to collaborate with popular idols.
But brands are getting savvy, instead of paying massive amounts for celebrities to promote their products to their fans, they are instead going straight to the fans; sponsoring them to back their favourite celebrities. While they are engaging the same target audience but they’re just approaching it from the bottom up rather than the top down.
The Strength of Chinese Fan Groups
It is obvious that there are more and more idols emerging in China, and it often feels like they come out of nowhere and become insanely popular overnight. Maybe they have featured in a TV series and then, all of a sudden, they’re all over Weibo’s hot topic ranking. This “overnight success” is in large part due to China’s massive network of incredibly organised and active fan groups, and their leaders called Zhanjie.
The term Zhanjie originated from South Korea and refers to fan group leaders who manage these platforms connecting fans and their idols. The job of a Zhanjie is to know their idols’ schedule as much as possible and arrange group members to show up en masse any time the idol appears in public, such as at the airport, press events, concerts, or any place they are able to find out about.
They will take photos of the idols, color correct them to look great, then post them on social media to increase the idol’s exposure. They also organise fans to support idols online, whether that’s liking and reposting a video on social media or voting for their idols to improve their ranking in online leaderboards.
Brand Sponsored Leaderboard Platforms
Alongside the rise of Zhanjie, there are obviously some commercial opportunities for brands to leverage on. Zhanjie and their group members want to create more exposure for their idols, but they don’t have the financial resources to make this happen. At the same time, brands want to generate awareness for their products, but they don’t want to pay massive budgets to work directly with celebrities. In this situation, a third party is emerging.
For example, there is a Mini Program called Guojiang Aidou Bang, which ranks the most popular celebrities. Fans are encouraged to help their idols rank higher by voting, and in order to gain more votes, fans need to finish tasks assigned by the platform, including posting about the celebrity on Weibo, watching videos, participating in challenges on Douyin and sharing with friends on social media to encourage them to vote.
Fans are driven to help their celebrity win contests because, if they do, the platform will promote the celebrity publicly, paying for the celebrity’s image to appear on large screens in shopping areas around China, as well as running ads featuring the celebrity on various social media platforms.
And it doesn’t stop there. Last year after fans helped him win a major contest, Guojiang Aidou Bang plastered the image of the young crosstalk comedian Zhang Yunlei across multiple screens in New York City’s Times Square for a week, which became a hot topic all over Chinese social media, as netizens marveled at the strength of Zhang’s fans.
But fans didn’t pay for the Times Square campaign, and neither did Guojiang Aidou Bang — brands did.
All of the contests on the platform are sponsored by brands, and as a byproduct, generating loyalty among fans who recognize that these brands are helping them to drive the popularity of their favourite idols.
Movie Theatres Courting Fan Groups
Chinese movie theatres have also begun courting fan groups to drive up ticket sales. A couple of months ago when the movie Better Days starring the popular Jackson Yi, a member of TFBoys, opened, theatres enticed his fan groups by decorating the theatre to be movie-themed and creating popcorn boxes and Coke bottles with Yi’s image on them.
A theatre even changed all of its room’s names to Qianxi’s song titles and gave fans free posters and souvenir movie tickets. And moves like this work. His fan groups alone sold out 4,563 movie showings, contributing over RMB 10m ( US$1.4m) in box-office ticket sales.
While sponsoring contests and creating branded souvenirs may not be appropriate for all brands—it is surely something some brands can ride on—particularly since the vast majority of luxury brands partner with Chinese celebrities and are seeking to leverage the fan economy.
It’s a new approach that is flipping the old model on its head and a smart way for brands to build a rapport with fans and support them to do what they love — instead of simply pushing products on them.