China Consumer

Red alert

‘Coke of China’ ditches red can for Angry Birds

A child plays on an Angry Bird rocker at a real life Angry Bird's outdoor game in a theme park in Shanghai

The Angry Birds park in Shanghai

Despite the waning global popularity of the mobile game Angry Birds, it has found unwavering loyalty amongst gamers in China, where it has been downloaded at least half a billion times, says its Finnish game developer Rovio. Just last year, the company even unveiled a China-specific Angry Birds 2 – made with local gaming firm Kunlun.

Alas, in spite of its China boost, Rovio reported nearly $15 million in annual losses last year and had to cut a third of its staff as it has failed to create new hit games.

To reverse its fortunes, the company is betting on the animated The Angry Birds Movie to help it evolve its business beyond apps and into media.

Given China’s love for the destructive feathered creatures, it won’t come as much of a surprise that the film has proven to be a box office hit since its release in mid-May. As of the end of last week, Angry Birds had taken over Rmb260 million ($40 million) in ticket sales.

That’s good news for herbal drink maker Jia Duo Bao (JDB), which has bought the licencing rights to promote the film. In May, JDB unveiled a limited edition drink featuring four Angry Birds characters on the can. It also released a mobile game on WeChat, that offers gamers the chance to use cans of the herbal drink as weapons to douse “flames of anger”.

The cross-promotion with Angry Birds coincides with JDB cutting its ties with The Voice of China. The herbal tea maker has been the title sponsor for Zhejiang Satellite TV’s hugely popular music talent show since its first season. But four series on – it reportedly paid Rmb300 million for sponsorship in the last season – JDB is ready to move on.

“A company must focus on what are the hot topics that are trending in the society. We can’t just stay with one show for a long time. That’s not evolving with the world the consumers live in,” a JDB spokesman said.

Herbal tea is big business for the Chinese. Many believe the drink has medicinal value; some even suggests it is China’s answer to Coca-Cola. Indeed, Beijing Youth Daily reported that sales of herbal tea reached Rmb50 billion last year and JDB is the market leader, with sales of around Rmb20 billion.

For JDB, breaking up with The Voice of China also signals that it is putting past issues behind it. After being locked in a trademark row against state-backed rival Guangzhou Pharmaceutical for years (see WiC103 for more), JDB looks to be ready to ditch the disputed red can (the trademark package for Guangzhou Pharmaceutical’s Wang Lao Ji herbal tea) for a gold alternative to avoid design infringement, says 21CN Business Herald.

Industry observers say collaborating with Angry Birds not only helps with the rebranding but also support JDB’s ambitious plan for international expansion.

“There is strategic significance for JDB to work with Angry Birds. With the gold can now being exported to over 60 countries and regions, putting the world’s most famous red bird on the can will certainly help boost its visibility and give the brand a more youthful image. It will also help elevate the brand internationally,” says Brandcn.com, an industry portal.

And besides, there are thematic links between JDB and the birds. For instance, many say the game is great for releasing pressure and managing anger, which coincides with the Chinese brand’s tagline “not afraid of heat,” says China Business Journal.

JDB is not the only company taking advantage of the popularity of the Angry Birds film. Fast food giant McDonald’s has also recently released new burgers and drinks tied into the pig-hating avians. For instance, there’s the “Naughty Green Pork” burger, which is inspired by the green pigs in the game, and “Super Red” burgers, a double-chicken patty burger in a red bun.

But the response to these new products has been underwhelming, to say the least. On weibo, many netizens complained that the red and green-dyed buns “look disgusting” and “gross”.

As one blogger puts it: “I would say this whole Angry Birds [at McDonald’s] experience left me with more disappointment than excitement, which may be a sign for anyone looking forward to the film.”


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