K-Pop Star’s No-Show Riles Fans at China Car Show

Roro Cao got up at 5 a.m. to make her way to the Beijing auto show to catch a glimpse of her favorite South Korean actor Kim Soo Hyun, who was recruited by Hyundai Motor Co. to help it boost sales in China.

Except Kim, who played the lead role of a stranded alien in “My Love from the Star,” the most-watched drama ever on China’s online video contents provider iQIYI.com, didn’t show up. The Beijing public security bureau notified Hyundai to cancel the appearance for security reasons, the company said.

That didn’t sit well with the hundreds of Kim’s fans who had gathered at Hall W2 behind the barricades surrounding the Hyundai stand, with some yelling at the organizers after learning of Kim’s no-show at around the time of his scheduled appearance. Many had paid money to get into the exhibition, which was supposed to be open only to accredited media yesterday.

“I’m so disappointed,” Cao, 26, said after the announcement at the jam-packed hall. “Who would come to see Hyundai cars if he wasn’t coming?”

Automakers are increasingly targeting celebrity endorsements to help sell cars in China, the world’s largest auto market, amid the surging popularity of foreign pop entertainment -- particularly Korean. At previous auto shows, carmakers often just employed scantily clad models to attract attention before the government clamped down on the practice.

Celebrity Absence

For those who stuck around, Kim later made a brief appearance at the Hyundai booth, according to Beijing Hyundai’s weibo social-media account.

Kim is used by at least 30 companies in South Korea and China, including Samsung Electronics Co., and Coca-Cola Co. as a model, his agency Keyeast said in an e-mail.

“For the younger consumer base in China, they’re a really critical cohort so I can see as a marketer why some brands are using celebrities,” said Jim Farley, chief marketing officer at Ford Motor Co. “For us, for where we are in our evolution, the most important thing is that people know directly from the company how we’re different. A celebrity isn’t the right role because it could distract from that.”

Before its press conference this morning, Toyota Motor Corp. showed a video of Beyonce talking about her career as her song “Lights Out” blared over the speakers. The singer stars in a commercial for Toyota’s “Get Going” campaign to attract a younger demographic.

Even without TV stars and scantily clad models, China’s auto shows are well-attended events.

Hundreds of members of the public, some with toddlers and strollers in tow, crowded the halls at the exhibition center on media day. Some entered on exhibitor passes, while others pay touts stationed outside the hall to bring them in.

Zhang Shu, a Beijing resident, went on media day with her nine-year-old daughter, something which she immediately regretted.

“I thought since it’s media day there’ll be fewer people,” she said, as she fought to squeeze her way out of the hall. “Look how crazy it is. Stupid me.”

— With assistance by Tian Ying, Craig Trudell, and Rose Kim

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