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CNY Weekly #5: Rabbit sells beef 🐇, love/hate Paxlovid ❤️🩹, machine gun fireworks 🎆 | Following the yuan
"Let's meet up after Chinese New Year!" is as sincere as "Let's meet up after Thanksgiving/Christmas!" We feel it in the moment but we may not follow through.
No one’s in the mood to do work in China. The whole country will take off 7 days from Jan 21 to Jan 27 for Chinese New Year (CNY), except for some service workers . Plus, it’s common for professionals to use holidays to spend more time with the fam.
So, when you hear “sorry, many of our colleagues are off” when you reach out for interviews, that means: “Go away!”
As the first CNY after zero-Covid, I’m also expecting to see an influx of stories on the China's Spring Festival Travel Rush 春运, known as the world's largest annual human migration. It may be the first time for many to return home after 3 years!
There will also be coverage about the annual Spring Gala 春晚, which people turn on just as background noise.
1. Rabbit sells beef, pasta, coffee & more 🐇
There was a time when CNY campaigns and limited-edition gift sets were the exclusive concern of fashion brands. That’s no longer the case and many food and beverage brands now launch seasonal offerings and products for the Year of the Rabbit. Some are better (read tastier) than others.
What do we see: Homegrown pasta brand Airmeter collaborated with Disney’s “Mickey & Friends” IP to launch a pasta gift box featuring spaghetti bolognese (huh?).
In a bid to tap young consumers, ice cream maker Chicecream, tea brand Chali, and Tasogare Coffee engaged in some witty homophones play to express their New Year’s wishes (“兔年敲平安”“卯足劲儿”“钱兔无量”).
On Point: Chain bakery Holiland and herbal tea brand Wong Lo Kat teamed up on a selection of desserts, including herbal tea cakes in a can, herbal tea-flavored flaky pastries and Chinese-style petit fours (yes!).
What do we want to unsee: Can rabbits sell beef? Burger King certainly thinks so judging on its collaboration with Peter Rabbit IP. As China-based gaming consultant, fellow advertising aficionado, points out:
2. Chinese cities open up firework restrictions 🎆
Like I said, no one’s in the mood for work, but they’re in the mood to celebrate and let off some fireworks. Some cities in Shandong, Liaoning, Hunan, and Shaanxi this year are allowing residents pyrotechnic freedom, albeit with limitations.
Beginning in 2015 many major cities began to cracked down on fireworks and firecrackers, citing concerns around air pollution and smog. With air quality improving, some local governments think it’s ok to have some loud fun once in a while.
What’s in: the so-called "Gatling" fireworks, named after a rapid-firing firearm invented in the 19th century. [Kids, adults, everyone, don’t try this at home.]
Who’s out: Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Wuhan said a straight no
Who’s (kinda) in: Changsha, the city allows fireworks during certain hours for almost 2 weeks during the holiday. Changsha’s neighbor, Liuyang, is China’s biggest producer of fireworks.
3. China’s love and hate relationship with Paxlovid ❤️🩹
China is having a love/hate relationship with Pfizer’s Paxlovid, the crème de la crème of Covid drugs.
Why love? With peak after peak of Covid infections, patients in China, especially the elderly, are in desperate need of effective drugs. Paxlovid has a nearly 90 percent effective rate to reduce Covid-related hospitalization and death.
Why hate? It’s scarce and expensive.
Paxlovid is not covered by China's national medical insurance plan because of its high price, according to the National Healthcare Security Administration, which has been read by some netizens as not wanting to save lives.
The antiviral drug, which was approved by the FDA stateside in Dec. 2021, is only available in designated hospitals in certain regions in China. Without insurance, it’s priced at 2,300 yuan (US$451), 12.4% of the country’s average annual salary. For now, people who are lucky enough to be prescribed Paxlovid can have ~90 percent covered, but the plan only lasts until Mar. 31 this year.
Some people resort to synthetic drugs in India, a scenario that parallels with the 2018 hit movie Dying to Survive《我不是药神》 that was based on a real story.
4. Tech companies flex metaverse muscles 💪
Two of China’s biggest tech companies launched their own CNY metaverses. One as an online program, the other as an e-commerce store, guess who?
NetEase teamed up with China’s national web-based broadcaster cctv.com to produce a metaverse venue for the online Spring Festival gala. Audience members can create and customize their own virtual person (see below). It aired on Jan 14, a week ahead of the TV-broadcasted gala — often cited as the world’s most watched program. Here’s a cringe-worthy video from a watcher.
Alibaba created a virtual space called "Future City" for its e-commerce app Taobao. Once inside, users can visit stores, watch livestreams, and interact with other users.
Why it matters: With tech giants and local governments on board, these are potentially important first steps towards mass metaverse adoption in China. Whether they are able to provide the type of online interactions that users want and need awaits to be seen.
5. Tencent stumbles in metaverse plan 🥴
Six months after walking away from a deal to acquire VR start-up Black Shark, Tencent’s extreme reality (XR) team is reportedly in shambles. Black Shark isn’t doing so well itself, with employees taking to social media to complain about delayed salaries and layoffs. Some told various domestic publications that the company has a corruption problem.
Why it matters: XR, a catchall term for technologies such as VR, AR, and MR, is seen as the foundation for China’s metaverse. Tech companies have been rushing to get ahead of each other for years. In 2021, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance acquired domestic VR headset maker Pico. Research firm IDC predicted that the China VR/AR market would surpass US$13 billion in 2026.
What does it mean? Tencent’s interest and investment in the sector was once a sign of hope. Now, its struggles are casting a shadow on China’s broader XR market.
Has Tencent given up? The company’s XR team has only been partially suspended, but no one, it seems, is in charge. Shen Li 沈黎, Tencent Games’ former Global's Chief Technology Officer, a.k.a. the last PIC, left in Nov after five months.
Researcher: Nie Yiming; Copy Editor: Richard Whiddington
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