By XUAN GUANGGAO
LONDON (China Daily Show) – Athlete Liu Xiang shocked markets – and fans – today by announcing his retirement from advertising “effective immediately.”
One of China’s best-loved product spokesmen, Liu was in the sixth round of preliminary negotiations for a multi-party agreement with Coca-Cola, Li Ning and Air China yesterday, when he dramatically failed to clinch a profit-percentage revenue for overseas sales.
“He failed at the first contractual hurdle,” said Hu Jinjin, a close friend who did not wish to be named.
Liu had originally expected royalties from a signature shoe and apparel range, expected to earn him millions of yuan over the next four years.
Unfortunately, analysts say, Liu tripped over his long-time Achilles’ heel – an exclusivity agreement with Nutrilite that had blighted endorsements at the previous Games in Beijing – forcing lawyers to try to limp over the dotted line with artistic leeway over sneaker design and a lifetime ban on working with Yum! foods.
Unable to agree final terms, however, Liu tearfully announced his withdrawal from future advertising this afternoon to an audience of millions of mistrustful Weibo users.
The messy deal marks an end to one of the most distinguished careers in commercial sponsorship that China has ever seen.
Liu became an overnight sensation in 2004, after signing a then-record agreement with Adidas sportswear, before going on to feature in over 32,000 advertisements.
But his star began to wane in 2008, when, under intense pressure, Liu underperformed while securing fresh contracts with Omega timepieces, ultimately to sign an agreement after representatives pointed out conflicts over existing deals with Yili dairies, Erke sneakers and the Shanghai World Expo.
Speaking beneath a poster of Mama’s Pickled Bamboo Derivative bearing his image, Liu told a gathering of industry executives that he was “heartbroken” at the missed opportunity to secure more lucrative advertising.
“It’s been wonderful to have the support and love of legions of consumers and brands the world over,” Liu told media. “I’d like to say to all my fans – Nike, Yili, Nutrilite, Visa, China Post, Baisha, Aokang, Shanshan, Cadillac, Tsingtao, the Bank of Communications – thank you for everything and our contracts are binding.”
Chinese netizens were divided in reaction, with many vowing to continue drinking Coca Cola and using their Visa credit cards, despite Liu’s disappointing stock performance this quarter.
But others said they would now shy away from consuming any further beef product bearing Liu’s image.
“To be honest, if you put Liu Xiang’s image on a naked, oiled Megan Fox, I’d still think twice about getting involved,” wrote netizen ‘ShaSha BiBi,’ in a microblog post reshared thousands of times.
Diehard fans have meanwhile been paying tribute online to one of China’s best-loved brand ambassadors.
“Liu can look back on a glittering career of product placements,” said popular blogger Xiao Jiji. “Now perhaps he will have the time to finally pursue his athletic hobbies.”
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