India is a very important market for Chinese consumer electronics and smartphone brands, but ongoing tensions over the disputed Ladakh region in the Himalayas has prompted Indian celebrity management companies to advise them to rethink their marketing plans.

Twenty Indian Army soldiers, including a colonel, were killed in clashes with Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh last week and the incident has sparked off strong nationalist sentiment in India.

According to media management executives contacted by the Economic Times, the current situation means that Chinese brands – and the numerous Indian celebrities who endorse them – run the risk of further stoking the anti-China mood if they go all out to promote their products in the prevailing climate.

Chinese brands have built up an impressive roster of Indian celebrity endorsers, including Bollywood star Aamir Khan (Vivo), Hindi actor Ranbir Kapoor (Oppo), actress and singer Shraddha Kapoor (Realme) and cricketer Virat Kohli (iQoo), to name just a few.

But in the wake of recent developments, the Confederation of All India Traders has already expressed “deep concern” over top Indian celebrities endorsing Chinese brands.

Navkendar Singh, research director at IDC India, said he expected brands to remain silent on the issue and to let it play out, while Tarun Pathak, associate director at Counterpoint Research, said brands will need to be careful and distance themselves.

Prathish Nair, chief brand architect at Transcend Brand Consulting, agreed that Indian brand ambassadors would be likely to want to refrain from getting “caught in the crossfire”, but pointed out that critical sourcing from China is hard to replace and there is no immediate alternative.

There is also the fact that contracts have been signed. “Whatever the sentiment may be, contracts can’t be terminated overnight; there are pre-planned commitments and legal implications,” said Vinita Bangard, managing director of Krossover Entertainment. “But we do expect the advertising to be toned down till the situation eases,” she added.

According to the Economic Times, some Chinese brands intend to respond by emphasising “Made in India” in all their marketing and communications across both mainstream and social media.

Smartphone maker Vivo, for instance, is expected to announce that it is 100% made in India, including components, and will promote this in all its campaigns.

Sourced from Economic Times; additional content by WARC staff