AP’s very first, and ultra popular, brand ambassador in China named Lu Han has publicly dropped support for the brand. The reason for their short lived partnership has nothing to do with Lu Han’s dissatisfaction with AP’s latest watch releases. No, the public falling out with Audemars Piguet is related to past comments made by AP’s CEO François-Henry Bennahmias. In these comments which were part of a larger interview he referred to Taiwan as an “ultra-modern, high-tech country”.
Lu Han is one of China’s most popular superstars and according to Forbes at one point he was its second highest paid celebrity. With millions of loyal followers, he is naturally also an influencer and a highly popular brand ambassador for brands such as Cartier, Boucheron, Gucci, Star Wars and until recently – Audemars Piguet. As Mr Bennahmias’ comments concerning Taiwan resurfaced, Lu Han’s team had asked Mr Bennahmias for an apology ‘or else’.
An apology in fact did follow swiftly with Audemars Piguet stating: “We deeply apologise for the recent wrong statement. Audemars Piguet always adheres to the one-China position and firmly safeguards China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity”. The below is the translated excerpt from AP’s Weibo page, the original is posted in Chinese:
Not satisfied with the domestic-only issued apology, Lu Han’s studio issued a statement confirming it is dropping support for Audemars Piguet: “Therefore, Lu Han decided to end cooperation with the brand from Sunday. The national interest takes precedence over everything else. Lu Han and his studio resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
This case sounds very similar to a recent situation with American Wrestler-Turned-Actor John Cena. The actor described Taiwan as a country in a promotion clip for the latest Fast and Furious film in which he stars opposite Vin Diesel. Not taking any chances, he apologized profusely for his remark afterwards.
With the Swiss Watch industry betting the farm on China for future growth and putting most (if not all) their marketing eggs in the dreaded ‘influencer’ strategy, this case will surely have gotten the attention of all the top brass in the luxury (watch) industry.
The Dragon Bites Back