A Chinese large-scale boycott of South Korea’s Lotte Group (乐天集团) is in full swing since the retail giant agreed to provide land to the controversial THAAD (萨德) anti-missile system on Monday.
The American THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) system will be placed on grounds that are part of a golf course owned by the Lotte Group in Seongju.
Chinese state media have responded with anger to the deal, as THAAD is perceived as a threat to China’s security. The deployment of the missile system comes at a time of growing nuclear threat from Pyongyang.
The Lotte conglomerate engages in diverse industries in China, including candy manufacturing, entertainment, beverages, and more. In China, Lotte has more than 80 ‘Lotte Mart’ (乐天玛特) supermarkets.
The brand Lotte (乐天) has been a top trending topic on Chinese social media over the past week. Its Chinese site was hacked one day after it signed the deal for the placement of the defense system on its land.
WEILONG’S ‘PATRIOTIC’ HOT STICKS
“I will never eat spicy snacks by any other brand than Weilong”
On Wednesday, Chinese food product brand Weilong (@卫龙食品), that produces ‘hot stick’ (辣条) snacks, announced on its Weibo account that it would no longer supply its products to Lotte supermarkets nationwide, and that it would cancel any future cooperations.
As a consequence, shelves ran empty of Weilong products at Lotte supermarkets; the pictures were shared thousands of times on Weibo, where netizens praised Weilong’s patriotism.
Other brands followed and showed their support on Weibo by replying on the Weilong announcement. Taodo snacks (@淘豆) replied to Weilong that it had also taken all Lotte products out of its website.
For Weilong, the boycott turned out to be a smart marketing strategy, as the brand is now greatly gaining in popularity because of it. Many netizens state they will buy and eat Weilong hot sticks today as a patriotic act to show their support of the boycott.
“I will never eat spicy snacks by any other brand than Weilong,” (“以后辣条 我只吃卫龙”) many netizens say.
Commenters describe the Weilong brand as “loyal”, “genuine”, and declare Weilong’s “hot sticks” as the “national hot snack” or the “nation-loving hot sticks” (爱国辣条).
“Is this still a rational way to show your patriotism?”
The majority of Weibo netizens fully support the boycott campaign, saying: “China strikes back! Fully boycott Lotte!”
They swear not to buy any more Lotte products, and some people post pictures of their broken Lotte customer cards.
There are also people who have taken their protest to the streets, such as in Yancheng in Jiangsu, where they call for a boycott of Lotte supermarkets.
But some netizens also question the boycott. “Is this still a rational way to show your patriotism?”, one Weibo user asks.
“Do you all even understand what THAAD (萨德) actually is?”, another person wonders.
Other people also ask why the Lotte Group is targeted instead of American companies. “Why don’t we boycott General Motors or Ford? Isn’t THAAD American?”, they say.
But for Chinese companies, following the Lotte boycott campaign seems like the right choice to improve their brand image. Electronics brand Pisen writes: “Brother Weilong has set the right example for us. As another national business, Pisen salutes you!” (“卫龙兄弟，好样的。同为民族企业，品胜为你点个大赞”).
In the meantime, Chinese official newspaper People’s Daily has also praised Weilong for boycotting Lotte. A post dedicated to the event on Weibo has now been shared over 19000 times.
The heightened popularity of Weilong snacks is likely to continue for some time to come. “Of course I will choose to eat Weilong Hot Sticks!”, many people say. Snacking away has never felt more noble.
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China’s XR Development 101: How Chinese Tech Giants are Navigating Towards the Metaverse
Chinese tech giants are massively investing in virtual reality and in the technologies that are building up the Chinese metaverse.
2021 is the year in which the concept of ‘metaverse’ has blossomed. In March of last year, the hugely successful online multiplayer game and game creation system Roblox went public with a market value of over $41 billion at the time, earning its reputation as the world’s first metaverse IPO.
Following the release of the 2021 sci-fi comedy Free Guy – which is set in a fictional metaverse-like video game, – and Facebook’s rebranding to ‘Meta’ last fall, ‘metaverse’ became one of the hottest buzzwords on the internet.
The term metaverse is actually decades old. In the 1981 novel True Names, the American computer scientist Vernor Steffen Vinge already envisioned a virtual world that could be accessed through a brain-computer interface, and the term ‘metaverse’ was first mentioned in the 1992 Snow Crash science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson.
Now, 5G, AI, VR, Blockchain, 3D modeling, and other new technologies converged on the concept of the metaverse industry are seeing an explosive growth in China.
At the recent 20th Party Congress, it became clear once again that the digital economy is key in China’s long-term strategies, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping promoting digitalization as one of the new “engines” of future growth.
About Metaverse (元宇宙) in China
In Chinese, ‘metaverse’ is referred to as yuányǔzhòu (元宇宙), which is a literal translation of ‘meta-verse’ – meaning ‘transcending universe’ (超越宇宙). Chinese tech sources also describe the year 2021 as “the metaverse year” (元宇宙元年).
Metaverse is a collective, shared virtual realm that can interact with the real world and where people can interact with each other and the spaces around them. There is not just one single metaverse – there can be many digital living spaces referred to as the ‘metaverse.’
Metaverse is a fluid concept or virtual experience that is still developing and due to the differences in cyber regulations, digital ecosystems, and strict control on online information flows, the Chinese metaverse will unquestionably be very different from the metaverse spheres that companies such as Facebook are working on.
The metaverse is made possible through a wide range of technologies including AI, IoT, Blockchain, Interaction Technology, computer games, and network computing. XR is key to the rise of the metaverse. XR, or Extended Reality, is an umbrella term for a range of immersive technologies including VR (Virtual Reality 虚拟现实), AR (Augmented Reality 增强现实), and MR (Mixed Reality 混合现实). A 2020 Deloitte report suggests that the global XR market consists of mainly VR technologies (48% of market share), followed by AR (34%) and MR (18%).
In December of 2020, Tencent’s CEO Ma Huateng (马化腾) announced the concept of the “All-real Internet” (全真互联网) in a special internal publication regarding the company’s growth and major changes. Ma proposed that the deep integration of the virtual and real world, the “All-real Internet,” is the future opportunity to focus on as the next stage of the (mobile) internet. Although there are some subtle differences, Ma’s idea of the “All-real Internet” overlaps with the concept of the metaverse.
The metaverse, XR, and related technologies are not just a hot issue for Chinese tech companies, they are also an important theme for Chinese authorities. The 20th Party Congress was by no means the first time for China’s leadership to stress the country’s focus on the latest digital innovations. In October 2021, President Xi Jinping also spoke about evolving China’s digital economy during the 19th CPC Central Committee. He asserted that one of the focal points within the development strategy of China’s digital economy is the further integration of digital technologies and real-world economies.
This idea was further clarified in the outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the State Council at the end of 2021, which listed VR and AR as one of the seven key industries of China’s digital economy along with cloud computing, IoT, AI, and others.
Subsequently, many local governments incorporated metaverse (“元宇宙”) and related relevant terms into their respective 14th Five-Year Plans. For example, Shanghai authorities stated it will focus on the further developments of industries related to quantum computing, 3rd-gen semiconductors, 6G communications, and metaverse.
Here, we will provide an overview of XR industry development in present-day China, going over the key players Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT) along with the younger Chinese tech giant ByteDance. We provide an overview of what they are investing in, what their respective strategies are when it comes to XR, and give examples of the kind of initiatives that they have already launched. To limit the scope of this article, we have left out Netease, Huawei, Bilibili, and some other relevant Chinese players for now (we might still make a part two later on!).
Key Players and Strategies
As one of the leading artificial intelligence (AI) and internet companies in the world, Baidu specializes in internet and AI-related products and services. Baidu is mostly known as China’s number one search engine, but its ambitions go far beyond that. “We want to be like Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the metaverse,” Ma Jie (马杰), vice president at Baidu, recently said.
The company has taken a special interest in building the infrastructure to support metaverse-related projects, deviating from the strategies that focus more on the XR-related content development and distribution that you see at Tencent or Bytedance.
◼︎ iQiyi (爱奇艺), one of China’s top media streaming platforms (sometimes also referred to as the ‘Chinese Netflix’), released its all-in-one virtual reality headset ‘Adventure Dream’ in December 2021 powered by Snapdragon XR2. Baidu owns 53% of iQiyi and holds more than 90% of its shareholder voting rights.
Research & Development
◼︎ Baidu launched the ‘Baidu VR Browser’ on July 15, 2016, becoming China’s first browser powered by webVR technology.
◼︎ In 2017, Baidu launched ‘Baidu VR’ platform, which is now offering a wide range of VR-related software and hardware products and services, including the Baidu VR Headset, VR Creation Center, AI app, and XiRang (希壤), which is referred to as China’s “first metaverse platform.”
◼︎ In 2018, Baidu VR and UXin Limited, a Chinese online used car marketplace, jointly developed VR 360° interior panoramas that put viewers in the driver’s seat to see how interior details come together and to better understand the details of each vehicle such as scratches, wheels and engine models.
◼︎ Baidu’s ‘Meta Ziwu’ (元宇宙誌屋Meta ZiWU), a virtual space within XiRang, hosts various fashion shows for international brands. In August of 2022, Italian luxury fashion house Prada livestreamed its Fall 2022 collection within the interactive realms of ‘Meta Ziwu,’ and so did Dior, the French fashion house which has also launched its first-ever metaverse exhibition “On the Road” (在路上) via Meta Ziwu.
◼︎ In late 2021, Baidu launched its metaverse project XiRang (希壤, ‘the land of hope’) as “the first Chinese-made metaverse product.” In December, Baidu held ‘Baidu Create 2021′, a three-day annual developers’ conference in a virtual world generated by the XiRang platform, hosting 100,000 people on one set of servers at the same time. Baidu’s Vice President Ma Jie, also Head of the Metaverse XiRang project, shared that the main goal behind this project is to lay the infrastructure of the metaverse by providing developers and content creators with the tools to build their metaverse projects.
Chinese architect Ma Yansong (马岩松), founder of MAD architects, also works together with Meta Ziwu as a virtual architect.
Founded in 1999, Alibaba is one of the world’s largest e-commerce and cloud computing companies in Asia Pacific. Its massive success in e-commerce also established Alibaba’s leading position in artificial intelligence and other key technologies that have supported e-commerce, as well as in the future of metaverse.
As one of the biggest venture capital firms and investment corporations in the world, Alibaba struck several deals with prominent XR companies including Magic Leap and Nreal to gain footing in the Extended Reality industry.
Within the field of XR, Alibaba primarily focuses on two aspects: underlying technology solutions (e.g. cloud computing) and XR application in its own core business model (e-commerce).
◼︎ In February 2016 and October 2017, Alibaba led the investment rounds in Magic Leap, an augmented reality firm headquartered in Florida.
◼︎ In March of this year, Alibaba led a $60 million investment round of Beijing-based augmented reality glasses maker Nreal. Nreal, founded in 2017, has since launched two AR glasses for the Chinese market: Nreal X for developers and content creators and Nreal Air for regular consumers. Nreal Air glasses have been released in Japan and the UK in February and May of this year. In addition to AR glasses, Nreal also cooperated with iQiyi, China Mobile Migu, Weilai, and Kuaishou to develop AR content.
Research & Development
◼︎ In March 2016, Alibaba announced its own VR research lab, GM LAB ( ‘GnomeMagic’ Lab), which aims to power its e-commerce platform and other subsidiary businesses such as the VR content production for its film and music platforms.
◼︎ Alibaba registered several metaverse-related trademarks, including “Ali Metaverse.”
◼︎ In 2021, Alibaba’s DAMO Academy, a global research program in cutting-edge technologies, launched ‘X Lab’ that focuses on research in key areas related to the metaverse industry, including quantum computing, XR, and xG Technology. Tan Ping (谭平), the former Head of XR Lab, shared several of their ongoing projects at the time. One example he mentioned is the virtual character Xiaomo (小莫), who is very versatile and can, among other things, convert textual information into sign language to enable smoother communication for the hearing impaired.
‘X Lab’ is also experimenting with making history come alive through virtual initiatives. Recently, Alibaba’s cloud gaming platform Yuanjing made it possible for visitors at their Alibaba Cloud’s Apsara conference to virtually visit the Xi’an Museum and check out its artifacts via mobile phone or laptop, or to have an immersive experience of the Tang dynasty’s imperial palace complex, powered by automatic 3D space creation and visual localization technology.
◼︎ In November 2016, Alibaba launched the Mobile BUY+ feature in Taobao mobile apps in light of its annual Single’s Day Global Shopping Festival. With VR headsets and the app, China-based Taobao shoppers could experience shopping in-store at Target, Macy’s, or Costco in the US and other malls located in countries such as Japan and Australia.
◼︎ As Alibaba constantly keeps innovating its e-commerce landscape, its research institute DAMO Academy, in collaboration with its licensing platform Alifish, rolled out an XR-powered marketplace on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms Tmall and Taobao for its November 2022 Single’s Day festival that allows consumers to visit virtual shopping streets and shop for merchandise as their own customizable avatars.
◼︎ In 2021, Alibaba led a $20 million Series A financing round of DGene, a virtual reality and immersive entertainment developer. Among others, DGene creates digital influencers or can even recreate historical figures based on its AI-driven technologies.
◼︎ For the Olympic Winter Olympics in 2022, Alibaba launched Dong Dong, a digital persona developed by Damo Academy using cloud-based digital technologies. Dong Dong was able to engage with fans and online viewers through livestreams, respond to questions in real time, and she even hosted online talkshows.
As a multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate with the highest-grossing revenue in the world, Tencent has the financial resources to gain an upper hand in technological innovation through acquisition and investment. In 2021 alone, Tencent made a total of 76 investments in Gaming, accounting for 25.2% of Tencent’s total investment throughout the year – a 9.3% increase compared to 2020. Tencent is now the biggest gaming company in the world.
Tencent also ramped up the company’s total headcount working in R&D department by 41%, accounting for 68% of its total workforce in 2021.
Although XR is used to create immersive experiences in different industries including healthcare, manufacturing, or education, its primary fields are still gaming and social – which just so happen to be Tencent’s main focus areas. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Tencent, as the country’s Gaming & Social giant, has made XR part of its core business.
◼︎ In 2012, Tencent made an investment in Epic Games, the owner of Unreal Engine which powers well-known video games such as Fortnite, purchasing approximately 40% of the total Epic capital, making it the second largest shareholder. Epic Games’ major businesses span across RT3D game engine (Unreal), in-house developed games (Fortnite), and platform games. This investment is one of the reasons why Tencent conquered a leading position in the metaverse realm when it comes to games.
◼︎ As early as 2014, Tencent already tapped into the VR market by investing in social VR platform AltspaceVR, which was later acquired by Microsoft in 2017.
◼︎ In May 2019, Tencent and Roblox announced a joint venture in which Tencent holds a 49% controlling stake.
◼︎ In September of 2021, Tencent became the new investor behind Beijing-based VR game developer Vanimals (威魔纪元), known for its flagship games Undying and Eternity Warriors VR.
◼︎ In November 2021, Tencent joined the $82M Series D fundraising of Ultraleap, the world leader in mid-air haptics and 3D hand tracking. Ultraleap’s hand-tracking platform has been built into multiple platforms including Qualcomm’s XR and VR devices.
◼︎ In March 2022, Tencent invested in the Chinese AR glasses manufacturer SUPERHEXA (蜂巢科技) holding 7.3% of its shares.
Research & Development
◼︎ In 2015, Tencent announced its avant-garde VR Project ‘Tencent VR,’ a plan consisting of building its own VR games and releasing Tencent Virtual reality software development kits (VR SDKs) to support other VR game developers.
◼︎ As of September 2021, Tencent applied for registration of nearly 100 trademarks related to the metaverse, including “Tencent Music Metaverse” (腾讯音乐元宇宙).
◼︎ In June 2022, Tencent officially set up its XR department led by its Interactive Entertainment Division (IEG) game developer NExT Studios. During Tencent’s annual gaming conference SPARK 2022, the Head of IEG, Ma Xiaoyi (马晓轶), shared Tencent’s ambitions in charting all segments of the VR industry in the next 5 years, from developer software tools and SDKs to VR hardware, to consumer-facing content.
◼︎ NExT Studios, which is the youngest studio within the Tencent Games family, has partnered with the Shenzhen-based FACEGOOD, a 3D content generation technology company that is focused on building metaverse infrastructure.
◼︎ At ChinaJoy 2019, the largest gaming and digital entertainment exhibition across Asia, Tencent launched its cloud gaming solution on its WeGame client, allowing users to play several games instantly without a download. In December of that year, Tencent Games and global leader AI hardware & software leader Nvidia announced a new partnership to launch the START (云游戏) cloud gaming service for PC and console titles.
◼︎ Following the Sino-American joint venture with Roblox in May 2021, Tencent officially launched the Chinese version of Roblox (罗布乐思) topping the App Store free game list in July of 2021.
◼︎ In November 2021, Tencent led a $25 million Series A funding in the British developer Lockwood Publishing best known for the metaverse app Avakin Life, which allows users to create 3D characters and socialize in the virtual community.
◼︎ During the Lunar New Year in February 2022, Tencent’s instant messaging software QQ launched a new feature called “Super QQ Show” (超级QQ秀), which is an upgrade of its ‘QQ Show’ service that’s been running since 2003. Super QQ Show allows users to create their own 3D avatars and use them in an interactive context. It added AI face recognition and rendering. The platform is an interesting one for brands. Fast-food chain KFC even has its own restaurant in this virtual world.
◼︎ In the summer of 2022, the Tencent-backed app developer company Soulgate Inc., which operates the social networking app Soul, applied to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Tencent is the largest shareholder holding 49.9% of the shares. Soul is a virtual social playground with the mission of “building a ‘Soul’cial Metaverse for young generations” where users can connect with other users through the virtual identity they develop in the app. The majority of its users, nearly 75%, belong to Gen-Z.
◼︎ On New Year’s Eve of 2021, Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) Group launched China’s first virtual social music platform TMELAND, where users can create their own avatars and interact with each other through their “digital identity.” It’s worth mentioning that TMELAND was powered by the ‘Hybrid Edge-Cloud Platform Solution’ developed by XVERSE (元象科技), which was founded by a former Tencent executive committed to building a one-stop shop for 3D content development.
Recently, Coca-Cola partnered up with TMELAND to open a new metaverse zone, accessible via the TMELAND mini-programme on WeChat.
Known as “the world’s most valuable startup,” the Bytedance success story started with the algorithm-powered Toutiao (头条 ‘Headlines’) in 2012, a news and content platform that personalizes content for each user based on their own preferences. The Bytedance app TikTok (Douyin in China) conquered the world as one of most successful Chinese apps internationally.
Bytedance is a social networking leader, but is also focused on its in-house development in VR/AR. By 2021, Bytedance had completed at least 76 investment events, more than the previous two years combined.
From ByteDance’s activities in the XR industry, the company seems to have its strategy primarily focused on hardware, content development, and distribution across gaming, social networking, and entertainment industries.
◼︎ As early as 2018, Toutiao (Bytedance’s core product) acquired VSCENE (维境视讯) a Beijing-based solution provider for VR Live streaming.
◼︎ In July 2020, Bytedance participated in Series A funding of Seizet (熵智科技), an industrial automation company that provides a 3D industrial camera and software.
◼︎ In February 2021, Bytedance invested in Moore Threads (摩尔线程), a company that specialized in visual computing and artificial intelligence fields. In November last year, Moore Threads announced it has developed China’s first domestic full-fledged graphic processing unit (GPU) chip. Along with 5G communications, Wi-Fi 6, cloud computing, and chip technology, GPU is considered one of the main infrastructure technologies of the metaverse.
◼︎ In August 2021, ByteDance acquired Chinese VR hardware maker & software platform Pico for approximately $771 million to support its long-term investment in the VR ecosystem. By the end of Q1 2022, Pico is estimated to hold a 4.5% share of the global VR market, following Meta which is the dominant global player (90%). This year, Bytedance has set a higher sales target for Pico headsets to reach 1.6 million device output. To meet its VR industry goals, Bytedance is investing more into promotion and hiring more staff for Pico to catch up with or even surpass Meta’s Quest.
◼︎ In June 2022, ByteDance acquired PoliQ (波粒子), a team specialized in making virtual social platforms that allow users to interact with one another using their self-invented avatars in the virtual world. Jiesi Ma, the founder of PoliQ, is appointed to lead the VR Social department at ByteDance.
Research & Development
◼︎ To boost its entire VR ecosystem, Pico is engaging in more partnerships with Hollywood’s major film studios and leading streaming media companies in China (iQiyi, Youku, Tencent Video, Bilibili, and so on). In July 2022, Pico hosted Pico WangFeng@VR Music + Drifting Fantasy concert which leveraged 3D 8K VR Live Streaming technology to create a “magical” and immersive visual musical experience. By wearing Pico’s VR headsets, the audience can enjoy Wang’s performance from 5 different angles and as close as a meter away.
◼︎ On February 22, 2021, Bytedance released its game development and publishing brand Nuverse (朝夕光年). To date, Nuverse has launched several successful games through APAC and the western markets including “Burning Streetball” (热血街篮), “Houchi Shoujo” (放置少女), “Ragnarok X: Next Generation” (RO仙境传说：新世代的诞生), “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang”, and “Warhammer 40,000: Lost Crusade.”
◼︎ In April 2021, Bytedance put another US$15 million into Chinese Roblox competitor Reworld (代码乾坤), a platform for creating game worlds and playing games using the company’s own simulation engine.
◼︎ In September 2021, Bytedance launched its avatar app Pixsoul in Southeast Asian markets and Brazil. Users can create personalized avatars and use them to socialize.
◼︎ In January 2022, Bytedance launched a beta version of its virtual social app “Party Island” (派对岛) where users can make friends with people sharing similar interests and hang out with avatars in various virtual settings such as parks and movie theaters. However, the app was reportedly removed from app stores again and its date of relaunching is unknown.
◼︎ In September 2021, TikTok introduced its creator-led NFT collection titled “TikTok Top Moments” where TikTok will feature a selection of culturally-significant TikTok videos from some of the most beloved creators on the platform. Powered by Immutable X, users can ‘own’ a moment on TikTok that broke the internet and trade the TikTok Top Moments NFTs.
◼︎ In January 2022, ByteDance bought a 20% stake in Hangzhou Li Weike Technology Co., Ltd. (Li Weike, 李未可). The company aspires to build China’s first AI+AR-powered glasses that connect users with the virtual idol Li Weike, a digital character built by the company to help users with various tasks and essentially provide users with social and emotional support.
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Why Is Want Want So Popular in China? The Remarkable Revival of an Iconic Brand
We explain why the 60-year-old Want Want brand became the ‘hot kid’ on the block on Chinese social media this year.
Wang Wang (旺旺), better known as ‘Want Want’ in English, has become all the rage in China in recent months. In its September issue, the Chinese magazine China Marketing (销售与市场) listed Want Want as the number one brand on its marketing noticeboard hot brand list, referring to it as “‘Lonely Warrior’ Want Want” (‘孤勇者’旺旺).
The Want Want Group (旺旺集团) is the most well-known rice cracker maker in China and one of the largest food and beverage makers in the region.
Want Want is a brand that many Chinese millennials grew up with. The Taiwanese company behind Want Want has a history that dates back to 1962. After becoming the dominant rice cracker maker in Taiwan with a market share as high as 95%, founder Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) looked across the Strait and officially ventured into the mainland market in 1992.
Why is the Want Want brand still so popular in mainland China today? The brand’s success directly goes back to Tsai Eng-meng, who undeniably is a marketing genius with a peculiar style. The Want Want company icon, officially named Wang Zai (旺仔) in Chinese and ‘Hot Kid’ in English, was created in 1979 and depicts a kid with wide open arms and legs, rolling his eyes (fun fact: Hot Kid never looks straight at you).
With its catchy name and distinctive icon, Want Want soon became a household brand in China. Adding to the brand’s popularity are the many commercials throughout the years that show the brand’s style, standing out due to their simplicity and fun energy.
Some of these advertising campaigns have become part of the collective popular memory of Chinese millennials. On the Chinese video site Bilibili, old Want Want commercials bring up nostaligc feelings and still receive millions of views today (see this famous one, or see a collection of classic Want Want commercials on Bilibili here).
Ingenious strategies brought great success to the company from the start and subsequently ushered in “the golden decade” for Want Want from 2004 to 2013, making Tsai the richest man in Taiwan for three consecutive years.
Apart from Want Want’s signature rice cracker products, products such as Hot Kid Milk (旺仔牛奶), Lonely God Potato Chips (浪味仙), and QQ Gummies (旺仔QQ糖) also became household names in the mainland.
However, facing more competition and failing to keep up with Chinese customers’ evolving consumption habits and preferences, Want Want was stuck in a bottleneck period and its sales slowed down after 2014. Its recent comeback and sudden social media success have everything to do with Nancy Pelosi’s controversial Taiwan visit in August of 2021.
A ‘GOOD’ TAIWANESE COMPANY
On July 28, Tsai Wang-Chia (蔡旺家), Tsai Eng-meng’s second son and Want Want’s Chief Operating Officer and executive director, posted three single words on his Weibo account (@Matt旺家): “YOU GO AWAY.”
The text was accompanied by a photo of an old witch, which just so happens to be the nickname Chinese netizens gave to Pelosi, and the timing of the post was right when reports about the U.S. House Speaker’s potential Taiwan visit were coming out. Want Want soon became a hot topic afterward.
People had already been paying more attention to Tsai Wang-chia’s Weibo account in light of the then-ongoing calls to boycott Taiwanese companies on Chinese social media following rumors regarding Pelosi’s controversial visit.
Someone claiming to be an employee at Want Want then posted on the popular Red (Xiaohongshu) app, defending Want Want for being a “good Taiwanese company,” asking people to “please don’t hurt us by mistake.” This triggered a public campaign of digging into Tsai’s previous posts, and netizens soon discovered that the Want Want executive director had published similar posts before.
Because of his consistent patriotic and pro-unification stance, coupled with a down-to-earth personality and plain-spoken style despite being an heir of a multibillion dollar family, Tsai Wang-chia soon won the hearts of millions of Chinese netizens.
The hype got so so big that people started claiming that the figure of Want Want, the iconic Hot Kid, was actually based on Tsai Wang-chia as a child – despite the fact that ‘Hot Kid’ was created in 1979 while Tsai Wang-Chia was born in 1984.
PATRIOTIC ‘PRESIDENT WANT’
Tsai’s pro-unification sentiments seem to run in the family. Want Want founder Tsai Eng-meng, who is also commonly referred to as ‘President Want’ (旺董), has long been a unification supporter. This is also reflected in his business empire, which includes the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中时媒体集团) that owns dominant pan-Blue (pro-China) media outlets in Taiwan.
Various videos, which soon widely circulated online, also showed ‘President Want’ expressing gratitude for the “great market of the mainland” (“因为有大陆这个伟大的市场，才造就了我旺旺的今天”) and proudly declaring that all Want Want employees are “impressive and dignified Chinese people” (堂堂正正的中国人).
To the delight of many Chinese netizens, more events and incidents showing Want Want’s patriotic stance were brought to light one after another.
The company filed for IPO on the HK Stock Exchange in 2008 with the name “Want Want China Holdings Limited” (中国旺旺控股有限公司); its Want Want Hospital in Hunan (湖南旺旺医院) was among the first private institutions to send a medical aid team to Wuhan during the initial COVID outbreak in the city; in 2019, when a Taiwanese celebrity mockingly said on a local program that “mainlanders cannot afford to eat pickles”, its newspaper Want Daily (旺报) published a conspicuous headline on its August 18 frontpage saying “MAINLANDERS CAN AFFORD TO EAT PICKLES!” (“大陆人吃得起榨菜!”), noting on the side: “Taiwanese are Chinese. We are from the same country and therefore should support each other.” (“台湾人就是中国人. 我们都是同一国的，所以当然要相挺.”)
In early August of this year, Want Want soared to the top of Weibo’s trending list, and netizens swarmed its live stream channel on Taobao, vowing to “consume wildly” (“野性消费”) and “empty their stock” (“清空库存”) in support of the brand.
According to the Time Weekly (时代周报), a government-owned newspaper from Guangzhou, the number of viewers on the channel that day reached almost 100,000 – up to ten times more than what the channel usually received in viewers, – and sales of its online shop spiked as many new customers came in after following the trending hashtag.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
In contrast to Want Want’s fervent popularity in mainland China, the brand has become more controversial on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, especially in light of its ownership of multiple leading media outlets, with many expressing worries that its dominant position might impact press freedom.
In June of 2019, a predominantly young mass rallied against so-called “red media” (Taiwanese media in favor of Beijing), with Want Want-owned newspapers (China Times 中国时报 and Want Daily 旺报) and TV channels (China Television 中国电视公司 and CTiTV 中天电视台) being among the main targets.
The following month, the Financial Times published an article, quoting anonymous journalists working for these outlets, saying that their editorial managers took direct instructions from Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, a claim that the Want Want China Times Group later responded to as “malicious slander.”
In late 2020, the Tsai Ing-wen administration stripped CTiTV of its broadcast license upon renewal out of concerns about editorial interference by President Want Tsai Eng-meng. Such a ruling was a first since the founding of Taiwan’s National Communications Commission in 2006, a government body that regulates the industry, and evoked opposition from the ‘Blue Camp’ and controversy among the public.
SUCCESSFUL ON ALL FRONTS
Despite receiving criticism in Taiwan, Want Want has continued its success in mainland China. This year, Want Want is celebrating the company’s 60th anniversary, as well as the 30th year anniversary of the opening of its first factory in mainland China.
China Marketing wrote about Want Want’s 2022 success that “consistency is key” in marketing. Not only did the brand stick with its original logo and traditional products such as rice crackers and its dairy drink, it has also focused on nostalgic or playful ad campaigns throughout the years (think of its successful slogan “You Want, I Want, Everyone Wants” “你旺、我旺、大家旺.”)
At the same time, the company is not afraid to launch new products and stay active in the world of Chinese social media and e-commerce.
But what has really become an essential point in its regained success this year is the brand’s consistency in delivering a patriotic message through multiple channels that resonated with Chinese consumers at a time of deteriorating US-China relations and more focus on cross-strait relations.
Erke, the Chinese sportswear brand by Hongxing Erke Group (鸿星尔克), was also brought back into the limelight in 2021 after they donated 50 million yuan ($7.7 million) to the Henan flood efforts. When people found out that the relatively low-profile brand donated such a high amount of money to help the people in Henan despite its own losses, its online sales went through the roof – everyone wanted to support this generous ‘patriotic brand.’
While nationalistic consumer sentiments matter, being a ‘patriotic brand’ alone is not enough; it eventually is the combination of being consistent and authentic, delivering popular products, and having a strong marketing campaign. When it comes to the mainland market, Want Want tackled all fronts this year.
In October of 2022, Want Want celebrated China’s National Day by using drones to project netizens’ hopes and wishes for the future all over the Great Wall, including a projection of a giant Want Want drink (#旺旺把爱国刻进了DNA#).
For now, Want Want has practically made ‘loving China’ a part of its brand. Mixing rice crackers with some nationalism is turning out to be a recipe for success – at least in the mainland.
By Tucker Jiang, with contributions by Manya Koetse
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