Why Influencer Austin Li got Personal Branding Crisis in China

Austin Li is the top influencer and live streamer with 76 million followers on Taobao in China. Also named ‘Lipstick King’, he’s the star influencer who managed to try 380 lipstick shades in a single live streaming and got Guerlain lipstick sold out in 1 day. After a first bad buzz with a tank cake last year, ‘Lipstick King’ made his great return. But he ended up in a new viral bad buzz losing over 630,000 followers in a few hours.

What was said during that live streaming shows how a personal branding crisis can occur fast in China.

Let’s see what happened.

The Inappropriate Remarks of ‘Lipstick King’

The debate over price rise perception in beauty brands among Chinese consumers reached another level when Austin Li told a viewer to reflect on whether she has been “working hard enough” to afford this $11 product.

What Happened During the Chinese Live Streaming

During a Taobao live streaming, a viewer complained about Florasis’ eye pencil.

The viewer of the live said that the Chinese beauty brand Florasis had an $11 eye pencil that was good but too expensive for consumers compared to the products available on the market. Austin Li immediately defended Florasis.

austin li beauty cosmetics live streaming

He said the product price hadn’t increased for years and he told the viewer to wonder why she feels that way about the price. If she can’t afford a $11 eye pencil it may be because she was not “working hard enough” to “make her salary raise” and should go reflect on herself.

Consumers reacted en masse as they felt this comment was mocking low-income people.

After the incident, the Chinese senior journalist Hu Xijin wrote: “No matter what, respecting workers on low incomes and truly empathizing with them is a value that individuals with relatively successful careers must always sincerely abide by.”

A Viral Bad Buzz of 1 Billion Views

The next day, Austin Li cried and apologized publicly during a live session saying he made “inappropriate remarks”.

According to the media Jing Daily, Austin Li said: “I made inappropriate remarks. I’ve been reflecting on my conduct today … How disappointed I would be if I were the girl commenting. I was a makeup counter salesman, and I know everyone’s job is hard. I’m sorry that what I said didn’t meet your expectations.”

austin li crisis

The hashtag related to his apologies reached 1 billion views on Weibo.

But what is done is done. Chinese netizens mocked his apologies saying that “Double 11 is around the corner” and that he probably doesn’t want to cut off such a good opportunity to “make more money”.

What to Learn: Reverse Group Takeaways

For public figures, being visible is a roller coaster of emotions. You can become the most successful influencer of all time and turn into a disrespectful individual in a minute. And this is what we can learn from this:

  1. A personal branding is a living brand. Even the top influencers in China can suffer from a bad buzz. After Viya was canceled for tax evasion, Austin Li jumped to first place. But he already fell because of the tank cake last year and did it all over again. A personal branding is a living brand and will live with what you say, what you do, and what you support. Even a Chinese individual in China can lose his/her appeal over a comment.
  2. The engagement with the community is more important than the number of followers. He was a star influencer because he could sell tons of beauty products in a few minutes. He had over 76 million followers on Taobao and he lost almost 1 million in a few hours. Whether you are a brand or an influencer yourself, your connection with your community will have much more value than any sum of followers.
  3. A crisis management strategy is a joker card you must keep. Many people are often surprised how Austin Li suffered from several bad buzzes and always managed to make a comeback. He’s a Chinese phoenix. And he’s secret recipe is that he has a large team working with him, including a PR crisis management team. Whether you are a brand or an individual, having such capabilities at hand can make you survive the roller coaster.

Importance of Consumer Listening in China

If you should retain only one thing, it’s to listen to your community.


If you’re a brand, your consumers have the right to speak up their minds about your products. And they may teach you something that could push your business a thousand miles more. And if you’re an individual, you must know what your community likes, fears, and looks for. The Chinese younger generations are talking about the “EMO” and “involution” every day. And putting the blame on them for “not working hard enough” was set to fail.

And the key remains the same: get to know your local consumers.

Contact us for your personal branding in China.

4 thoughts on “Why Influencer Austin Li got Personal Branding Crisis in China”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top