From Matt Damon to Paris Hilton, celebs are branding luxury properties

Global celebrities are lending their star power to luxury residences around the world

From Manila to Mainland China, some of the region’s biggest property developers have been tapping the magic of famous celebrities to help market their latest products.

Collaborations between famous personalities and brands to promote products is of course nothing new, but celebrity involvement in the real estate market has become a noticeable trend in recent years.

“It’s an effective advertising tool,” says global property tycoon and billionaire Donald Trump. “These people are recognisable and that is valuable. It also personalises the product.”

Marketing and selling real estate is never an easy task. Similarly, purchasing a high-end property is no small matter even for the moneyed, so it probably helps when a project has a familiar name that potential consumers can relate to before they make that purchase.

“Celebrity endorsers, nowadays, fulfil a function very similar to that in the past,” notes Michael Prieler, associate professor in the School of Communication at Hallym University in South Korea, who has done extensive research on media content and social phenomena across Asia and the United States.

“First of all, they attract attention, and secondly, they have a certain image that products want to benefit from. In other words, a likeable celebrity who has the image of a luxury lifestyle might be used for an advertisement for luxury homes in the hope that his or her image transfers to the product,” he explains. “In the age of social media, however, celebrities are ever more present, which makes them even more important and effective.”

But what makes a celebrity qualified to endorse a real estate product? After all, fame and name recall alone is not a sure-fire recipe to successfully market a product.

“It’s personalising a product or a place. The top qualities [of an endorser] would be to embody what the product promises,” according to Trump. “In my case, we are a luxury brand and I have a lifestyle that indicates affluence and quality. It’s a good match and it works. I’ve been very successful with branding and making the brand clear as well as specific is important to consider. A brand ambassador is representing the brand and must be aware of that at all times.”

Trump himself is currently endorsing several properties in Asia, although he is not actually a stakeholder. These include the Trump Towers in Manila, Philippines and Pune, India, and a luxury residential development in the United Arab Emirates, DAMAC Properties’ Trump Golf International Dubai, which is set to open in late 2015.

Branded developments, on average, get higher premiums than non-branded properties. According to an analysis by property advisory firm Knight Frank, such properties are priced 31 percent higher than non-branded counterparts.

There are other developers that have entered into licensing agreements with established names like Trump, but others have opted for a different approach.

“The nature of endorsements vary depending on a developer’s requirements,” according to Henry Barrameda, public relations manager for projects at one of the leading luxury developers in the Philippines, Century Properties, which partnered with American socialite Paris Hilton for its Paris Beach Club project inside the Century City master development in Makati.

“Some tap celebrities as spokespersons so they are asked to go the rounds of social media and mainstream media, while others are merely faces to represent the brand,” he says. “There are also others who take on a more entrenched role in the development, such as Ms Hilton with the Azure Urban Resorts Residences. She was actively involved in the Paris Beach Club’s design. In this way, she has a relatively deeper stake in the development.”

Hilton agrees: “I travelled all around the world. I’ve been to the most incredible places—Ibiza, South of France, Fiji—so I basically took all my favourite aspects out of all those different locations and put it all in the Paris Beach Club.”

Elsewhere in the region, Kuala Lumpur developer Alpine Return Sdn Bhd had taken a different approach. The 50:50 joint venture company, which is backed by Symphony Life Berhad (previously known as Bolton Berhad) and United Malayan Land Berhad (UM Land) has selected world-renowned designer Jimmy Choo as brand ambassador for its upscale, mixed-use Star Development project in the Malaysian capital. It did not license the celebrity’s name during the designing stage; instead, Choo was asked to look at the under-construction property, and this, supposedly, convinced him to endorse it.

“Jimmy Choo came by to view the property model; we extended an invitation to him to be Star Development’s ambassador and very kindly, he obliged,” says Alan Koh, chief operating officer at Alpine Return. “It was not easy to find the right person to be our ambassador, but it all fell into place quite naturally.”

The 65-year-old Malaysian-born designer, who is now based in the United Kingdom, is an “excellent example of a celebrity endorsement,” according to Professor Prieler. “He is not only a famous celebrity, he also symbolises other characteristics: he is trustworthy; he has an expertise—after all, he is a famous designer, so he should know if a luxury home is well-made—and he is highly respected. Even people who have achieved a lot in their own lives still respect him for his unique success abroad. And last but not least, he resembles some members of the target audience, especially the older ones.”

In certain markets, such as Japan, luxury products like luxury residences are usually endorsed by older male celebrities, who give a certain amount of integrity.

“Age certainly plays a role, especially depending on the target group of the advertisements,” Professor Prieler says. “Older celebrities are more credible in promoting luxury products and can also be admired by younger as well as older people, while some younger celebrities have credibility issues with older consumers.”

In Greater China, one of the biggest real estate markets today, older male endorsers also tend to be more common. “There are specific images in the endorsers that are sought that are gender-specific. For men, it tends to be suave, mature men in their 40s and 50s, like Jiang Wen, a director, and actors like Chen Daoming and Hong Kong star Tony Leung,” says Jessica Lu, an analyst at China Market Research Group (CMR).

Leung, for instance, was hired by the Shimao Group to promote its deluxe apartment complex called the Shimao Riviera Garden, which was also marketed to US buyers.

“For women, the image tends to be someone who is successful on the one hand but on the other is also known for having a kind, virtuous image,” says Lu. “In both cases, though, it’s necessary that the endorser has a reputation for having a loving family.”

Trump Towers Manila, Century City

“Developers have used celebrities to promote their properties for some time now, but the main difference lately has been in how they have used stars,” adds Lu. “Ten to twenty years ago, when having celebrity endorsers was newer, only one or maybe two properties in a single city were endorsed, which made those developments stand out more. It was a clear signal of the prestige of a residence, and you saw effective use of slogans like ‘Be a neighbour of Jet Li’, for example.”

High-end developments in China’s Tier 1 cities like Shanghai and Beijing are usually endorsed by world-famous names, such as crossover Chinese stars Jackie Chan and Zhang Ziyi, as well as top Hollywood actors like Matt Damon or Leonardo DiCaprio. In comparison, Lu notes that Tier 2 cities generally use regional stars for endorsement deals.

A different case has been observed in some parts of Southeast Asia. In a recent study conducted in the Philippines, it was found that while a similar numbers of male and female celebrities put their names to properties around the region, luxury homes in the Philippines tend to be represented by big-name females.

“Perhaps we can say it is because both genders generally respond positively to females,” says Century Property’s Barrameda.

Azure Urban Resorts Residences

Within two months of the announcement of Hilton’s involvement with Azure, property consultancy firm Colliers International data showed that sales of the surrounding residential properties in Century City grew by 10 percent, demonstrating the huge appeal of celebrity endorsers in the country.

In fact, 74 percent of property buyers in the Philippines are most likely to invest in a celebrity-affiliated development, based on a recent report by Nielsen Global Luxury Brands. Meanwhile, in other parts of Southeast Asia, celebrities who gained fame via television programmes had been tapped to attract a wide audience.

In the early 2000s, Nigel Cornick, former chief executive officer of Thai luxury developer Raimon Land PCL, teamed up with the Orchestra Group to produce the mini-television reality series called Superstar as part of the promotion for The Lofts Yennakart luxury condominium project in Bangkok. The show, which crowned actor Akara “Gof” Amarttayakul as the winner (he was given a two-bedroom unit at the development as a prize), was widely successful. But Cornick, who is now at the helm of Kingdom Property, says that these days he would only consider hiring star endorsers if the project is genuinely in need of it.

“I was the first person who started it in 2007 when I sponsored the Superstar reality television series,” he says. “It’s all a question of the product: how you market it, how you package it. Whenever I need superstars, trust me, I can find them. But it’s got to make sense. I would have brand ambassadors relative to customers who might buy the product.”

The Veo, Kuala Lumpur

Seemingly taking a page from Cornick’s strategy, Malaysia’s Sime Darby Properties sponsored its own reality series in late 2012 called The Apartment: Style Edition, where eight couples from the Asia-Pacific region were tasked to create stylish living spaces at The Veo luxury condominiums in Desa Melawati. The show was a hit with audiences, and the winning couple, Phillipe Estiot and Iva Agüero, known as ‘Team Dali’, was awarded their own residential unit.

“Many celebrities project the image of having a different and special life, which agencies try to transfer to the image of the product [that they’re promoting], and so that increases the value of the product,” according to Professor Prieler.

“If there is a match between the celebrity and the product, such as real estate, celebrities can be an excellent way to advertise that product.”


A snapshot at some of the world’s best-known celebrities with ties to real estate

Paris Hilton

The heiress of the iconic Hilton brand went to Manila in 2012 to closely work with local master developer Century Properties in the design and conceptualisation of the Azure Urban Resort Residences.

“I really love the concept of Azure because I thought of how cool it is in the middle of the city to have a man-made beach that is so beautiful and breathtaking. If I lived in the Philippines, I would definitely live in Azure,” she announced in early 2014 at the inauguration of the multi-level Paris Beach Club, “This is probably the one project I’m most proud about because real estate is something that runs in my blood.”

Donald Trump

Trump’s empire includes luxury developments, television shows and beauty pageants. When asked if he would consider hiring one of the contestants in the reality television show The Celebrity Apprentice to endorse his real estate ventures, he said, “There are many who have great talent but the Trump brand doesn’t need any endorsement outside of our name and family. The Trump brand is instantly recognisable worldwide.”

Trump, through The Trump Organization, licenses his name to several luxury real estate products worldwide wherein he doesn’t own a stake, but in which he believes. Examples of these are the Trump Golf International Dubai, which is owned and developed by DAMAC Properties, and Trump Tower Manila, the luxury apartments from Century Properties.

Sarah Jessica Parker

The main star and executive producer of the hit HBO series Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker was the muse of SM Aura Premier, the first luxury shopping complex inside Bonifacio Global City from the Philippines largest mall developer, SM Prime Holdings. Reminiscent of her television character Carrie Bradshaw’s love for shopping and designer brands, Parker was the face of the mall’s ‘Love to Shop’ campaign and she cut the ribbon of The SM Store when it was inaugurated in May 2013.

The Hollywood star also graced several billboards and commercials to promote the project. “It’s probably the last 10 to 12 years of my association with fashion, my rather public proclamation about my affection with fashion, and the idea of this store, and everything that it offers and the beauty and fantasy inside the doors—the enormous, incredible shoe department,” the then 47-year-old Parker told media.

Anne Curtis

Named by TIME Magazine as one of the smartest celebrities on Twitter, actress, television personality and model Anne Curtis used to be the face of SM Residences, one of the biggest condominium developers in her home country the Philippines. During her stint as brand ambassador, her endorsement slogans carried the tagline, ‘Live like a star’. Curtis’ involvement helped popularise the brand across all segments.

Jimmy Choo

Malaysian-born luxury women’s shoes designer Jimmy Choo, who gained global fame in the late 1990s, has been described by media and communications Professor Prieler of Hallym University as the perfect celebrity to endorse the luxury condominium Star Residences in Kuala Lumpur. He can relate to the target buyers, and his name is closely affiliated with luxury products.

During his formal induction as spokesperson for Star Development, he said: “I am honoured to be the ambassador and it is such a privilege to be a partner with Star Development. I am excited to experience the chic lifestyle at Star Development and can hardly wait for it to make its presence felt as an international landmark.”


These current developments across Asia hope to drive global interest with the aid of their celebrity brand ambassadors

Trump Tower Manila


Set to be completed in 2016, the 61-storey luxury apartment tower in Makati is the first-ever development to be endorsed by The Trump Organization in the Philippines. With a development cost of PHP150 million (USD3.35 million) the residential skyscraper has been appealing to the interest—and bank accounts—of local investors, as majority of units have already been sold to affluent Filipino buyers, according to Century City Development Corporation, the developer.

Fame factor: Donald Trump, business tycoon and television personality

The District Em


The revamped and expanded Emporium district, which is set to hold its star-studded inaugural party in March 2015, will comprise the original The Emporium Mall, which specialises in luxury and designer brands, plus the upcoming The EmQuartier and The EmSphere, dubbed the newest world-class commercial and entertainment district in the Kingdom. The owners and operators of the commercial hub, The Emporium Group, vows to make the opening next year to be an ultra-glamorous event to represent the quality of the development, including a special appearance by the celebrated founder of the Virgin Group.

Celebrity push: Sir Richard Branson, British business magnate

Signa Designer Residences, Makati


Under the Robinson’s Luxuria brand, Signa Designer Residences is a tropical-inspired residential tower designed by the famed Royal Pineda architects and the interiors were handled by interior designer Budji Layug and internationally acclaimed industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue. The Makati-based project is the company’s first-ever branded residential development and will be completed in 2017.

Brand ambassador: Maja Salvador, singer and actress

Star Residences, Kuala Lumpur


This three-tower luxury residential project in Kuala Lumpur was launched in November 2013 and is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2019. Featuring Malaysia’s first Star Walk of Fame attraction that stretches some 200 metres and a posh Sky Park, the contemporary urban development aims to lure other local and international celebrities via Choo’s vote of confidence. Last September, the renowned women’s shoe designer promoted the property through various media interviews in Malaysia and Singapore.

Star power: Jimmy Choo, luxury shoe designer

Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis


In September 2013, Dalian Wanda Group, the empire owned and headed by China’s wealthiest man Wang Jianglin, invited several A-list movie stars from all over the world to support the grand opening of the Oriental Movie Metropolis in Qingdao, which will become fully operational by mid-2017. The attendance of the world’s biggest stars represented the vision of Jianglin to make the 376-hectare Qingdao property the next Hollywood, with plans to produce 130 movies per year, including 30 foreign films. Amenities include a permanent underwater stage, a theme park, and 10,000 sqm studio pavilion.

A-list support: Hollywood celebrities, including Nicole Kidman, John Travolta and Leonardo DiCaprio