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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Will the Real Peppa Please Stand Up? – The War Between Peppa Pig and China Copycats

How Peppa Pig became the victim of thousands of “trademark squatters” in China.

Manya Koetse

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Image by http://www.twoeggz.com

Peppa Pig is one of the most popular cartoon figures in China, but the company behind the porcine celebrity is losing out on millions of dollars. For years, so-called “trademark squatters” have been registering Peppa trademarks in China to profit from the piglet’s PRC success.

From Peppa Pig t-shirts to tattoos to tableware – over the past few years, the British cartoon pig Peppa has conquered the Chinese market and its merchandise is being sold from Taobao to neighborhood shops.

But the tens of millions of dollars that the company behind Peppa Pig – Entertainment One UK Limited – should have gained from its big China boom, have gone to many other companies instead. In 2011, long before Peppa had her big breakthrough in the PRC, people have scrambled to register for Peppa Pig (小猪佩奇) trademarks in China.

Anything Peppa is booming on Taobao.

According to various news sources, one company (扬州金霞塑胶有限公司) registered 21 different variations of a ‘Peppa Pig’ trademark back in 2011, and one person by the name of Cai (蔡X) even registered 100 trademarks similar to Peppa Pig in that same year across different industries.

Dozens of Peppa Pigs trademarks.

The topic of unauthorized Peppa Pig products and brands in China gained a lot of attention on Chinese social media this week, after Chinese news outlet The Paper published an interview with Entertainment One’s Brand Protection senior director Niall Trainor on September 25, in which he was quoted as saying that due to copyright infringement, the company has suffered “a loss of tens of millions of dollars in China alone, without exaggeration.”

 
Peppa Pig and the Trademark Squatters
 

Trainor explained that one of the biggest challenges for Entertainment One UK in fighting unofficial Peppa Pig goods or services in China, is that their trademark has already since long been (successfully) registered across various industries in China, from educational fields to dental healthcare industries.

In China, anyone is basically allowed to apply for a trademark for a specific industry. It is a lengthy process that can take up to two years to be approved, if no objections were received. The country has a so-called “first-to-file” and “multi-class application” system, meaning the person who registered the trademark in a certain category first, will get all the rights to distribute and sell the products within that class.

From pianos, to pasta and puppets: a selection of Peppa Pig products available on Taobao and Tmall.

But there are many people taking advantage of this system. So-called “trademark squatters” (商标抢注者) try to register trademarks across various classes for the purpose of earning money, often specifically targeting well-known foreign trademarks in doing so. Language barriers and foreign companies’ unfamiliarity with Chinese trademark procedures make them especially vulnerable to these kinds of practices.

A well-known example is that of Apple, as introduced by Sunny Chang in “Combating Trademark Squatting in China.” Although the American company made their first application for their iPhone trademark in China in 2002, they only did so in the class of “computers and computer software” (Chang 2014, 338). One Chinese company soon seized the opportunity, and managed to successfully register the iPhone trademark under the “phones and mobile phones” category. Eventually, Apple ended up paying that company $3.65 million to reclaim their rights to the trademark. For a ‘trademark squatter,’ there is a fortune to be made from a relatively simple registration procedure.

Recently, there is more attention for victims of this kind of “bad faith trademark registration” (恶意抢注). Earlier this month, a court ruling in Hangzhou involving Bayer and one of its sunscreen brands (see this article) pointed out that victims of trademark squatters may be able to pursue civil actions for compensation against them.

But for Peppa Pig, a lot of damage has already been done. Peppa first aired as a British animated television series (produced by Astley Baker Davies) in May of 2004, but it took more than eleven years before the show was officially launched in the PRC (CCTV/June 2015). Since then, Peppa Pig has become one of the most popular programs for preschoolers in China. The early ‘trademark squatters’ were years ahead of its big success.

The Peppa Pig brand especially suffered from the fake Peppa merchandise industry in China in 2017, when the little pig became somewhat of an icon on Chinese social media and in the trendy fashion scene.

Earlier this year, What’s on Weibo published an article discussing the pig’s status as a cultural icon for some subcultural groups in China.

 
No Pity for Peppa
 

As Peppa’s popularity in China is still on the rise, the trademark war is anything but over. According to the The Paper, one Shenzhen company registered the trademark of George Pig (小猪乔治, Peppa’s little brother) in 2016 in a total of 28 categories, varying from board games to puppets. Their application was successfully completed earlier this year.

The Peppa Pig family, including George.

Meanwhile, Entertainment One is fighting a neverending battle against copyright infringement in China, but has failed to even register its Peppa Pig trademark in categories such as ‘plush toys,’ since others beat them to it.

On Weibo, the hashtag “The Domestic Fight over the Peppa Pig Trademark” (#小猪佩奇商标国内被抢注#) has been viewed more than 11 million times today.

Many people call “trademark squatting” a practice that is similar to a lottery, as one never knows if their efforts to register various trademarks are actually going to pay off. Some even praise those who registered Peppa trademarks as early as 2011 for their ‘prophetic vision’ about the pig’s coming popularity in the PRC years down the road.

There are many commenters who do not seem to sympathize at all with the British creative company behind Peppa and their struggle over the Peppa trademark. “Foreigners have also taken many trademarks from China,” a typical comment says: “We’ll also never get that money back.”

“Whoever registered the trademark first is to whom it belongs,” many other people comment.

There are, however, some people who are worried about their Peppa products, wondering: “So are my Peppa showergel, cookies, and sweets the real thing or not?”

Some voices speak out for better protection of copyright in China, saying: “Originality needs to be protected.”

Ironically, a verified Weibo account named “Peppa Pig” (@小猪佩奇PeppaPig), registered by a company in Xiamen (厦门小黄人科技有限公司), also responded to the issue, calling those people fighting over the Peppa trademark “abominable.”

Some people do not understand what all the fuss is about in the first place, writing: “Why are people going crazy over a pig that just looks like a blow dryer anyway?”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

References

Chang, Sunny. 2014. “Combating Trademark Squatting in China: New Developments in Chinese Trademark Law and Suggestions for the Future. Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 34(2): 337-358.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

A Brew of Controversy: Lu Xun and LELECHA’s ‘Smoky’ Oolong Tea

Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy.

Manya Koetse

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It seemed like such a good idea. For this year’s World Book Day, Chinese tea brand LELECHA (乐乐茶) put a spotlight on Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936), one of the most celebrated Chinese authors the 20th century and turned him into the the ‘brand ambassador’ of their special new “Smoky Oolong” (烟腔乌龙) milk tea.

LELECHA is a Chinese chain specializing in new-style tea beverages, including bubble tea and fruit tea. It debuted in Shanghai in 2016, and since then, it has expanded rapidly, opening dozens of new stores not only in Shanghai but also in other major cities across China.

Starting on April 23, not only did the LELECHA ‘Smoky Oolong” paper cups feature Lu Xun’s portrait, but also other promotional materials by LELECHA, such as menus and paper bags, accompanied by the slogan: “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” (“老烟腔,新青年”). The marketing campaign was a joint collaboration between LELECHA and publishing house Yilin Press.

Lu Xun featured on LELECHA products, image via Netease.

The slogan “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” is a play on the Chinese magazine ‘New Youth’ or ‘La Jeunesse’ (新青年), the influential literary magazine in which Lu’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918.

The design of the tea featuring Lu Xun’s image, its colors, and painting style also pay homage to the era in which Lu Xun rose to prominence.

Lu Xun (pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a leading figure within China’s May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement (1915-24) is also referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment or the Chinese Renaissance. It was the cultural revolution brought about by the political demonstrations on the fourth of May 1919 when citizens and students in Beijing paraded the streets to protest decisions made at the post-World War I Versailles Conference and called for the destruction of traditional culture[1].

In this historical context, Lu Xun emerged as a significant cultural figure, renowned for his critical and enlightened perspectives on Chinese society.

To this day, Lu Xun remains a highly respected figure. In the post-Mao era, some critics felt that Lu Xun was actually revered a bit too much, and called for efforts to ‘demystify’ him. In 1979, for example, writer Mao Dun called for a halt to the movement to turn Lu Xun into “a god-like figure”[2].

Perhaps LELECHA’s marketing team figured they could not go wrong by creating a milk tea product around China’s beloved Lu Xun. But for various reasons, the marketing campaign backfired, landing LELECHA in hot water. The topic went trending on Chinese social media, where many criticized the tea company.

 
Commodification of ‘Marxist’ Lu Xun
 

The first issue with LELECHA’s Lu Xun campaign is a legal one. It seems the tea chain used Lu Xun’s portrait without permission. Zhou Lingfei, Lu Xun’s great-grandson and president of the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation, quickly demanded an end to the unauthorized use of Lu Xun’s image on tea cups and other merchandise. He even hired a law firm to take legal action against the campaign.

Others noted that the image of Lu Xun that was used by LELECHA resembled a famous painting of Lu Xun by Yang Zhiguang (杨之光), potentially also infringing on Yang’s copyright.

But there are more reasons why people online are upset about the Lu Xun x LELECHA marketing campaign. One is how the use of the word “smoky” is seen as disrespectful towards Lu Xun. Lu Xun was known for his heavy smoking, which ultimately contributed to his early death.

It’s also ironic that Lu Xun, widely seen as a Marxist, is being used as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a commercial tea brand. This exploits Lu Xun’s image for profit, turning his legacy into a commodity with the ‘smoky oolong’ tea and related merchandise.

“Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you in an article. ”

On April 29, LELECHA finally issued an apology to Lu Xun’s relatives and the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation for neglecting the legal aspects of their marketing campaign. They claimed it was meant to promote reading among China’s youth. All Lu Xun materials have now been removed from LELECHA’s stores.

Statement by LELECHA.

On Chinese social media, where the hot tea became a hot potato, opinions on the issue are divided. While many netizens think it is unacceptable to infringe on Lu Xun’s portrait rights like that, there are others who appreciate the merchandise.

The LELECHA controversy is similar to another issue that went trending in late 2023, when the well-known Chinese tea chain HeyTea (喜茶) collaborated with the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum to release a special ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ (佛喜) latte tea series adorned with Buddha images on the cups, along with other merchandise such as stickers and magnets. The series featured three customized “Buddha’s Happiness” cups modeled on the “Speechless Bodhisattva” (无语菩萨), which soon became popular among netizens.

The HeyTea Buddha latte series, including merchandise, was pulled from shelves just three days after its launch.

However, the ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ success came to an abrupt halt when the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen intervened, citing regulations that prohibit commercial promotion of religion. HeyTea wasted no time challenging the objections made by the Bureau and promptly removed the tea series and all related merchandise from its stores, just three days after its initial launch.

Following the Happy Buddha and Lu Xun milk tea controversies, Chinese tea brands are bound to be more careful in the future when it comes to their collaborative marketing campaigns and whether or not they’re crossing any boundaries.

Some people couldn’t care less if they don’t launch another campaign at all. One Weibo user wrote: “Every day there’s a new collaboration here, another one there, but I’d just prefer a simple cup of tea.”

By Manya Koetse

[1]Schoppa, Keith. 2000. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York: Columbia UP, 159.

[2]Zhong, Xueping. 2010. “Who Is Afraid Of Lu Xun? The Politics Of ‘Debates About Lu Xun’ (鲁迅论争lu Xun Lun Zheng) And The Question Of His Legacy In Post-Revolution China.” In Culture and Social Transformations in Reform Era China, 257–284, 262.

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©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Zara Dress Goes Viral in China for Resemblance to Haidilao Apron

Who’s gonna buy this Zara dress in China? “I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Manya Koetse

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A short dress sold by Zara has gone viral in China for looking like the aprons used by the popular Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao.

“I really thought it was a Zara x Haidialo collab,” some customers commented. Others also agree that the first thing they thought about when seeing the Zara dress was the Haidilao apron.

The “original” vs the Zara dress.

The dress has become a popular topic on Xiaohongshu and other social media, where some images show the dress with the Haidilao logo photoshopped on it to emphasize the similarity.

One post on Xiaohongshu discussing the dress, with the caption “Curious about the inspiration behind Zara’s design,” garnered over 28,000 replies.

Haidilao, with its numerous restaurants across China, is renowned for its hospitality and exceptional customer service. Anyone who has ever dined at their restaurants is familiar with the Haidilao apron provided to diners for protecting their clothes from food or oil stains while enjoying hotpot.

These aprons are meant for use during the meal and should be returned to the staff afterward, rather than taken home.

The Haidilao apron.

However, many people who have dined at Haidilao may have encountered the following scenario: after indulging in drinks and hotpot, they realize they are still wearing a Haidilao apron upon leaving the restaurant. Consequently, many hotpot enthusiasts may have an ‘accidental’ Haidilao apron tucked away at home somewhere.

This only adds to the humor of the latest Zara dress looking like the apron. The similarity between the Zara dress and the Haidilao apron is actually so striking, that some people are afraid to be accused of being a thief if they would wear it.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “The most confusing item of this season from Zara has come out. It’s like a Zara x Haidilao collaboration apron… This… I can’t wear it: I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Funnily enough, the Haidilao apron similarity seems to have set off a trend of girls trying on the Zara dress and posting photos of themselves wearing it.

It’s doubtful that they’re actually purchasing the dress. Although some commenters say the dress is not bad, most people associate it too closely with the Haidilao brand: it just makes them hungry for hotpot.

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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