In China, celebrity endorsement can make or break a brand, and now Prada is finally stepping into the country’s influencer market.

Last week, as part of their Fall/Winter 2019 menswear collection showcase, Prada debuted a new campaign, Human Code, featuring the Chinese singer, dancer, and rapper Cai Xukun. This is big news for Kun’s millions of fans, who are always at the ready to support their favorite star with their spending power, but it represents a big leap for the Italian fashion house, which rarely attaches its name to a celebrity, let alone a controversial Chinese one.

Prada has started to aggressively expand in China, both through exposure and sales channels. Nearly a week after announcing the Kun campaign, the brand hosted its very first Spring/Summer 2020 Menswear fashion show in Shanghai, while also launching on Chinese e-commerce platforms JD.com and Secoo. On June 10, Prada’s share price opened up 6% on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to 23.65 Hong Kong dollars, with a market value of over 60.4 billion.

Kun first rose to fame after appearing on the reality show Idol Producer and then become a member of boy band Nine Percent. He had multiple No.1 hits on the Chinese music charts, and with over 24.6 million followers on Weibo, he’s become the latest heartthrob among Chinese youth. Kun was recently crowned as the most buzzed-about star on social media in our April and May celebrity index, largely due to his online disputes (including an accusation that he bought fake followers) and his ongoing legal battle against the Chinese video company Bilibili, that stems from the artist demanding the site remove a video of him playing basketball. Kun isn’t a “bad boy” per se, but he finds himself in the news often.

Instead of granting Kun the title of spokesperson in China, Prada is emphasizing that he’s just one of many in their campaign line-up, keeping his role limited to the context of this campaign. Prada created a one-and-a-half minute video for the campaign that features Kun and was created by contemporary Chinese artist Cao Fei, who is known for making art that comments on the abrupt changes in Chinese society today.

The video smartly examines the state of the “idol culture” that’s currently sweeping through China. The story is set in a so-called “Post-Anthropocene” era in the future where Kun, a visitor, sets foot in a “Museum of Mankind” and is puzzled by a man-made man that looks exactly like himself. It’s meant to provoke viewers into wondering ‘who is the real or original Kun?’ “In the future, this is an ethical question regarding the idea of man-made humans,” said Fei in the statement. “Like clones, it will result in a conflict between the species.” The video also seems to also hint at Kun’s dual identity — the idol Kun from the point of view of his fans versus the regular human Kun — demanding viewers to consider what version of their idol they’re getting. The campaign itself doesn’t bashing — or praise — idol culture, because either would risk turning off Chinese consumers.

So far, fans’ online comments are overwhelmingly positive, and the campaign, which debuted on Weibo, has been forwarded by more than 1 million people, many of who even shared a picture of their purchase receipt as a show of support. Even some of the toughest fashion critics in China liked the Prada campaign, with most referring to Kun as the latest Prada spokesperson. Among the posts that generated more than 10K pageviews on WeChat, Chrison作势 recognized Prada’s effort to stay relevant with the current generation by including more diverse male stars in China (and around the world) like Kun. Another critic named Byfresh loved Prada’s philosophical approach towards the appointment of Kun and its campaign, and his perspective seemed to reach readers. One reacted positively, saying, “I want to become an Intellectual wearing Prada.”

“It used to be this one-way relationship between fans and idol, you can only write to them, or attend meet-ups,” the artist Fei added about fan culture in China, “but the internet really makes it a two-way street…an important part of idol’s success has to do with their fans.” This is something that brands — even ones with reputations like Prada’s — now understand, and it’s why these idols are clearly the best way to market to their legions of fans.





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