Why Chinese Companies Hire Celebrities as Executives

TFBoys (加油男孩 or The Fighting Boys), an immensely popular teenage Chinese boy band with a member who broke the Guinness world record for “the most reposted Weibo”, was just hired by Yixia, the company behind Weibo’s live streaming provider Yizhibo and China’s top video blogging app Miaopai. The news was confirmed (in Chinese) by CEO Han Kun on his Weibo account.

Lin Gengxin has officially joined the online streaming website iQIYI.

Starting around 2015, China has seen a new wave of celebrities joining companies as executives. A look at their titles, however, reveals that their “positions” are merely nominal: Jay Chou as Chief Travel Planning Officer of tour operator Tuniu (NASDAQ: TOUR) and Chief Surprise Officer of Vipshop (NYSE: VIPS); Fan Bingbing as Chief Experience Officer of live streaming app Huajiao; and most recently Lin Gengxin (Kenny Lin) as Chief Update Officer of online video platform iQIYI to make sure the platform uploads anime episodes on time.

The trend of celebrity joining companies as executives comes as a response to circumvent the newly amended China Advertising Law (in Chinese) effective from September 2015. The law, with the aim to strengthen consumer protection, has led to stricter rules over celebrity endorsement and how health related commercials can be done. Under the law, where there are false claims in an advertisement, the celebrity endorser can be held liable and banned from appearing in advertisements in the next three years.

“This is, in fact, a way to endorse a brand by being hired by the company,” says Wang Xian (in Chinese), a marketing manager at 51job. “It’s a trick to evade the strictest advertising regulation over companies and celebrities.” According to Xinhua News, the number of illegal celebrity endorsements went down by 84.29% (in Chinese) a year after the new law was enacted.

This is not the first time that the mop-topped, sweet-voiced boy band has “joined” a tech company. Back in 2016, the 3 teenagers were hired by Qihoo 360 as the Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Fashion Officer, and Chief Dream Officer.


— A version of this article originally appeared on TechNode.