Mark Tanner
19 January 2022 0 Comments

Every brand wants their campaigns to be runaway successes in China. Yet, like many marketing peculiarities in China, you need to be careful that they aren’t too successful as KFC recently discovered.

Astute Skinny readers will be familiar with the rise of China’s Box Economy since 2018-2019 anchored by brands such as Chinese toy maker Pop Mart. This month’s KFC’s promotion began as an innocent blind box promotion to celebrate 35 years since opening its first Chinese restaurant. A ¥99 ($16) family set meal came with a box randomly containing one of six Dimoo figures from Pop Mart. A seventh, hidden character, could only be unlocked after the other six were collected, adding impetus to collect the full set.

Initially, state media threw its weight behind the standout success of the campaign. China Daily described the promotion as a sizzler, highlighting the 91 million reads of the topic on Weibo within the first week. Global Times reported that online Chinese were organising paid services to help people eat their meals so they could collect the figurines without wasting food.

But the tone quickly soured after word spread about hundreds of scalpers flogging the collectables on online for as much as eight times the price of a family pack of chicken. Genuine fans were being deprived of the figures. One person spent nearly ¥10,500 ($1,650) on 106 meals to get an entire collection of toys. Many just kept the collectables and threw the food away.

These shenanigans clearly struck a nerve with the China Consumers Association (CCA), who called for a boycott of KFC. The association claimed that the restaurant chain “used limited-edition blind box sales to induce and condone consumers’ irrational and excessive purchase of meal sets, which goes against public order, good customs and the spirit of the law.”

The criticisms were of a similar vein to the hugely popular Mengniu idol promotion last May which caused widespread food waste and was a catalyst for the clampdown on idol worshipping. Unsurprisingly, officials in Shanghai have been quick to place price caps on blind boxes, stop sales to children, and ban blind boxes containing toxic merchandise, explosives or animals.

Although many brands have used blind boxes in their promotions over the past few years, their appeal doesn’t appear to have faded. Nevertheless, most blind box promotions could be better executed to reinforce an emotional connection with their brand and tell related stories, rather than the fairly generic promos that most brands use.

In addition to illustrating the popularity of blind box promotions, KFC’s campaign reinforces a bigger takeaway: Chinese consumers connect with campaigns that deliver surprises, and offer the potential to obtain ‘rare’ or exclusive elements. All in all, it underpins the importance of going beyond a standard transaction and creating a memorable experience with your brand.

Get in touch with China Skinny to learn how we can assist in creating such experiences that are on-trend and connect with consumers at an emotional level – while keeping consumer groups happy.

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