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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.

Tucker Jiang

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Want Want – you probably know their rice crackers with the cute kid icon – is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. How did this decades-old brand become all the rage recently in China? From Pelosi to pickles, there is more to it than nostalgia and its cute ‘Hot Kid’ alone.

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).

Want Want Group CEO Tsai with the Want Want icon ‘Hot Kid.’ Image via https://turnnewsapp.com/wd/74725.html.

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). 

From one of Want Want’s iconic commercials.

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. 

In March of 2022, when a U.S. delegation visited Taiwan, Tsai bluntly posted: “The American pigs have arrived in Taiwan” (“美国猪到台湾了“).

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.

Tsai Wang-Chia (蔡旺家) and ‘Hot Kid’ (旺仔)

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.

Protesting against Want Want and other ‘pro-China’ companies in Taiwan, image via https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/life/breakingnews/2859708

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.”)

Want Want products for sale on Taobao.

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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  1. Avatar

    mmmm_crackers

    November 1, 2022 at 11:06 pm

    insightful. i am an old man born and raised in the you.ess.ayy but i have fond memories of want want. i appreciate teh article. (y)

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Show-Inspired Journeys: Chinese Netizens Explore Next Travel Destination Through Favorite TV Series

The rising influence of Chinese TV dramas on tourism highlights the synergy between entertainment & social media in China, serving as a powerful tool for travel promotion.

Wendy Huang

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The Chinese TV series Meet Yourself has significantly boosted the popularity of Dali in Yunnan. The series’ success, coupled with the official funding behind it, not only underscores the impactful role of Chinese dramas in tourism but also illustrates how Chinese travel destination promotional strategies are being reshaped in a competitive post-Covid era.

On December 25th, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture’s Culture and Tourism Bureau in Yunnan Province, Southwest China, announced a proposed subsidy of 2 million yuan ($282k) for the Chinese TV series Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The news soon went trending on Weibo (#去有风的地方获200万元补助#). Many found it noteworthy, especially since the announcement clarified that this funding is part of the prefecture’s special fund for cultural and tourism industry development, and the TV series was the only project under consideration.

There are several reasons why Dali might consider this strategy.

Firstly, Dali plays a pivotal role in Meet Yourself. Launched in January 2023, the TV series quickly became an online sensation, achieving an impressive rating of 8.7 out of 10 on Douban—a platform in China similar to IMDb. Spanning 40 episodes, the series features actress Liu Yifei (刘亦菲), renowned for her role in Disney’s live-action Mulan, and Chinese actor Li Xian (李现).

Promotional image for Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The narrative follows a white-collar worker in her mid-30s who, following her best friend’s unexpected cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing, embarks on a quest to understand the true meaning and purpose of life.

The TV series not only captivated audiences because of its soothing narrative about life and interpersonal relationships, but the show was also a hit because most of its scenes were filmed in Dali and showed picturesque rural landscapes and portrayed a slow-paced, idyllic lifestyle.

The show accumulated more than 3 billion views on the streaming platform Mango TV by the time its final episode aired on February 2, 2023. It also sparked numerous trending topics on Weibo during that time. For instance, one snapshot from the drama, “Liu Yifei Holding Flowers” (刘亦菲捧花), also went viral, with many netizens even changing their profile pictures to this image. Captivated by Liu’s beauty and charm, they believed that the image possessed some sort of magical power, like the symbolic significance of koi fish in Chinese culture and how they’re believed to bring good luck.

The ‘lucky’ Liu Yifei holding flowers image.

The lucky Liu Yifei holding flowers meme spread across social media in various ways.

Benefiting directly from the popularity generated by the TV series, Yunnan experienced a surge in visitors during the 2023 Spring Festival holiday. This influx significantly boosted its tourism revenue to an impressive 38.4 billion yuan (approximately US$5.4 billion), surpassing all other provinces and regions in the country.

The primary filming location of the drama, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, welcomed over 4.2 million visitors, marking a significant year-on-year increase. Within the first six days of the holiday, Dali boasted the highest room occupancy rate nationwide, and became the fifth most visited tourist destination across the country.

 
TV Series Inspiring Real-Life Travel to Featured Destination
 

Dali is not the only city or travel destination that has become popular because of Chinese dramas or TV shows. The recent Chinese TV series There Will Be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙), in which Chengdu plays a major role, has also come to be seen as a promotion for the Sichuan Province capital city.

The series revolves around four women who grew up together, chose different paths in life, and then reconnect in Chengdu. The series showcases the city’s laid-back lifestyle, especially in contrast to the fast-paced metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai where the featured women return from.

Scene from There Will be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙).

Back in 2003, the TV series Lost Time (似水年华), which was filmed in the historic scenic town of Wuzhen, also became popular. Lost Time was written, directed, and starred by the renowned Chinese actor and director Huang Lei (黄磊). The series narrates a poignant love story of a couple in their thirties who meet in Wuzhen, only to be separated by the vast distance between Wuzhen and Taipei.

The TV series successfully showcased the timeless beauty of the Wuzhen water town to a broader Chinese audience and, indirectly, promoted the town’s unique artistic and cultural atmosphere. This later led to the establishment of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, a celebration of performing arts and a center for cultural exchange. The festival has since become one of the premier events in China and Asia. Each year, as the festival unfolds, there is a significant increase in business, with tourists flocking to the area.

On social media today, Lost Time is still seen as one of the major reasons why Wuzhen became so popular among Chinese travelers.

Wuzhen featured in Lost Time (似水年华).

But it’s not only the television series that portray a slower-paced and romantic lifestyle that motivate viewers to visit the showcased destinations. In 2020, the filming locations of the popular Chinese crime and suspense drama The Bad Kids (隐秘的角落) not only entertained its audience but also boosted tourism in the actual places where it was shot.

Much of the filming for the TV thriller took place in Chikan, an old township located in Zhanjiang in Guangdong. As a result, Zhanjiang’s popularity as a tourist destination skyrocketed by 261 percent in a single week.

Earlier in 2023, Jiangmen in Guangdong Province also gained popularity after it was featured in the popular crime TV drama The Knockout (狂飙). As a result, it became a sought-after destination during the May Day holiday, drawing numerous TV enthusiasts to the city. Jiangmen reportedly received over 765,200 visitors in the first two days of the May Day holiday alone, generating a revenue of approximately 439 million yuan (US$62.2 million).

Jiangmen’s popularity went beyond the May Day holiday. The Knockout caused a steady influx of visitors to the Guangdong city. From January to October of 2023, the city saw a total of 20,278,200 tourists, a reported year-on-year increase of 85.36%. This resulted in a tourism revenue of 19.649 billion yuan, representing an impressive increase of 133.77%.

 
Beyond the TV Screen: Social Media Creating Travel Hits
 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen how there are always unpredictable factors that help Chinese destinations suddenly become a hit among travelers. For instance, in late 2021, a song titled “Mohe Ballroom” (漠河舞厅) gained popularity across various social media platforms in China. This song narrates the story of a man who, for thirty years, danced alone in the Mohe Ballroom following the death of his beloved wife.

Prior to the song’s release, many Chinese netizens were familiar with Mohe as it is the northernmost point of China, and it is extremely cold. As the song gained traction on social media, the local government seized the opportunity to promote the city’s ice and snow tourism. Now, Mohe has emerged as a new destination for tourists seeking a unique, chilly experience.

Another example is Zibo, an ancient industrial city, which treated students well during their Covid quarantine period. So, when China lifted all Covid restrictions in the spring of 2023, these students returned to express their gratitude and celebrate the city. Their contagious enthusiasm, coupled with their social media posts about the city, sparked nationwide interest and people soon flocked to Zibo to enjoy the vibe and the local BBQ (read more here).

During the summer of 2023, the city of Tianjin became online hit due to a group of energetic seniors who transformed a local bridge into a stage for their remarkable water acrobatics. Tianjin’s so-called “diving grandpas” attracted attention for their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). Videos of their dives quickly went viral on China’s social media, drawing tourists, including many foreign residents in China, to witness the spectacle firsthand. Some people even joined to dive, including He Chong (何冲), the 2008 Olympic Champion in the 3m springboard.

Tianjin’s diving grandpas had to stop their diving activities after rising to internet fame, causing too many people to dive into the river.

In a playful twist, some visitors created their own scorecards, acting as judges and rating the divers’ performances. However, this spontaneous event eventually had to be toned down due to safety concerns. Despite this, the event kept Tianjin in the spotlight for quite a while as a tourist destination.

Social media has become a vital tool for cities and tourist destinations aiming to attract potential visitors. While some destinations organically become online sensations due to a combination of factors, other efforts are more deliberate and strategic. For instance, in spring of 2023, Chinese local government officials went all out to promote their hometowns via online channels, going viral on Weibo, Douyin, and beyond for dressing up in traditional outfits and creating original videos about their hometowns with low to zero budget.

However, when an article by Xinhua News criticized this approach, suggesting that local officials should prioritize improving service quality in their hometowns rather than striving for internet fame, the online trend appeared to wane.

Over the last year, different regions and industries in China made significant efforts to boost their local economies through tourism to recover from the impact of the pandemic. The China Tourism Academy recently published a report that forecasts that the number of China’s domestic tourists in 2023 has hit 5.407 billion, and domestic tourism revenue will amount to 5.2 trillion yuan. This figure allegedly represents a recovery to 90% compared to pre-Covid year 2019.

The upcoming Chinese New Year’s holiday is expected to kick off a promising start for the Chinese tourism industry in 2024. According to Trip.com data, bookings for the 2024 New Year’s holiday have surged by over threefold compared to the corresponding period last year. Furthermore, Tongcheng Travel highlights skiing, hot springs, Northern Lights viewing, music events, outdoor activities, island retreats, cruises, staycations, and firework displays as the top domestic travel preferences during this holiday season.

As China has significantly relaxed several travel and visa policies for both Chinese and international travelers, the number of outbound travel bookings for the New Year’s holiday on Trip.com has also seen a nearly fivefold increase compared to the same period last year while inbound tourism is on the rise.

Meanwhile, the way in which the TV drama Meet Yourself (去有风的地方) has boosted the tourism industry of Dali, which already was a popular tourist destination, is generating ongoing discussions on Chinese social media as it is a good example of how the integration of destination themes can captivate viewers’ attention, inspiring them to visit and discover the real-life locations.

In this way, TV shows serve as powerful platforms for local tourism authorities across China. First, utilizing television series provides them with a higher level of control compared to other methods of online promotion, including more fleeting trends. The show’s narratives, vibe, and filming locations can precisely showcase a destination’s unique features, attractions, and local culture.

Second, featuring destinations in TV series effectively accomplishes two goals at once, as Chinese TV dramas and online communities have become strongly intertwined. This amplifies the influence and reach of such productions, as fans engage, share, discuss, and promote the series and associated destinations across various social media platforms. And so, a featured scene or image, such as the one with Liu Yifei, can transcend the series itself and become an entire trend of its own on Chinese social media channels.

For travelers, visiting a destination featured in a beloved TV drama is not just about exploring a new location—it’s about experiencing a feeling and and immersing oneself in a fantasy. This trend won’t end with Meet Yourself, as new dramas inspire viewers to visit new locations again. As fans are binge watching the TV series Love Me, Love My Voice (很想很想你), Guangxi’s Guilin is the next hotspot attracting attention online for its portrayal in the show. “I finished watching the show,” one viewer wrote, “Now I want to start traveling.”

By Wendy Huang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tick, Tock, Time to Pay Up? Douyin Is Testing Out Paywalled Short Videos

Is content payment a new beginning for the popular short video app Douyin (China’s TikTok) or would it be the end?

Manya Koetse

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The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical.

News that Chinese social media app Douyin is rolling out a new feature which allows creators to introduce a paywall for their short video content has triggered online discussions in China this week.

The feature, which made headlines on November 16, is presently in the testing phase. A number of influential content creators are now allowed to ‘paywall’ part of their video content.

Douyin is the hugely popular app by Chinese tech giant Bytedance. TikTok is the international version of the Chinese successful short video app, and although they’re often presented as being the same product, Douyin and Tiktok are actually two separate entities.

In addition to variations in content management and general usage, Douyin differs from TikTok in terms of features. Douyin previously experimented with functionalities such as charging users for accessing mini-dramas on the platform or the ability to tip content creators.

The pay-to-view feature on Douyin would require users to pay a certain fee in Douyin coins (抖币) in order to view paywalled content. One Douyin coin is equivalent to 0.1 yuan ($0,014). The platform itself takes 30% of the income as a service charge.

According to China Securities Times or STCN (证券时报网), Douyin insiders said that any short video content meeting Douyin’s requirements could be set as “pay-per-view.”

Creators, who can set their own paywall prices, should reportedly meet three criteria to qualify for the pay-to-view feature: their account cannot have any violation records for a period of 90 days, they should have at least 100,000 followers, and they have to have completed the real-name authentication process.

On Douyin and Weibo, Chinese netizens express various views on the feature. Many people do not think it would be a good idea to charge money for short videos. One video blogger (@小片片说大片) pointed out the existing challenge of persuading netizens to pay for longer videos, let alone expecting them to pay for shorter ones.

“The moment I’d need to pay money for it, I’ll delete the app,” some commenters write.

This statement appears to capture the prevailing sentiment among most internet users regarding a subscription-based Douyin environment. According to a survey conducted by the media platform Pear Video, more than 93% of respondents expressed they would not be willing to pay for short videos.

An online poll by Pear Video showed that the majority of respondents would not be willing to pay for short videos on Douyin.

“This could be a breaking point for Douyin,” one person predicts: “Other platforms could replace it.” There are more people who think it would be the end of Douyin and that other (free) short video platforms might take its place.

Some commenters, however, had their own reasons for supporting a pay-per-view function on the platform, suggesting it would help them solve their Douyin addiction. One commenter remarked, “Fantastic, this might finally help me break free from watching short videos!” Another individual responded, “Perhaps this could serve as a remedy for my procrastination.”

As discussions about the new feature trended, Douyin’s customer service responded, stating that it would eventually be up to content creators whether or not they want to activate the paid feature for their videos, and that it would be up to users whether or not they would be interested in such content – otherwise they can just swipe away.

Another social media user wrote: “There’s only one kind of video I’m willing to pay for, and it’s not on Douyin.”

By Manya Koetse

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