Written by Huang Lixia / Translated by Xie Zongming
Did you buy a Bing Dwen Dwen for yourself? This year, the Beijing Winter Olympics mascot Bing Dwen Dwen becomes a phenomenal must-have item. The toys were sold out both online and offline. This Bing Dwen Dwen craze also draws people’s attention again to the Guochao IPs.
Guochao, literally translated to “national trend,” refers to modern consumer goods that are infused with Chinese cultural elements as a key selling point. After the Guochao 1.0 which called for Chinese cultural style and old brand renaissance and the Guochao 2.0 which highlighted Chinese brand establishment, the Guochao 3.0 ventures to IP crafting and overseas operation. In recent years, Chinese designer toys have good selling in Singapore and Malaysia. To keep a high-speed development, Guochao enterprises need to enter a broader market. Luckily, the ASEAN market has many emerging niche markets waiting to be developed, which might make the region the next destination of Chinese Guochao enterprises’ overseas expansion.
Guochao IPs take stage overseas
There are a lot more designer toys like the Bing Dwen Dwen. Pop Mart, known as the top player in Chinese designer toys for its mystery boxes, has already ventured into this niche. In 2021, Pop Mart’s second overseas flagship store settled in the business landmark in Singapore — the Funan mall. The silver streamline decoration and the artistic metal showcases fit well in the futuristic-designed Funan mall. To better integrate with local designs and coordinate with the local designers, Pop Mart built a Designer Toys Gallery. There sets a special Southeast Asian section to place the works by the designers from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, etc., injecting vitality to the industry.
In December 2021, Pop Mart’s IP exhibition which is themed Jolly Molly Christmas launched in Singapore. The exhibition was held simultaneously at 16 CapitaLand malls, entering every business landmark in Singapore. In addition, Pop Mart set up pop-up stores and “roboshops” to further enhance its overseas influence.
In the same year, Pop Mart entered Shopee, the biggest e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia. It set up various stores for different areas of distribution, such as Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore. As the leading brand of Guochao designer toys going overseas, Pop Mart has entered 23 countries and regions, such as South Korea, Japan, the USA, Canada, the UK, and Singapore. Moreover, its products are sold to more than 50 countries and regions. The designs, ideas, and quality of Pop Mart’s IPs are widely recognized and loved by foreign consumers.
The reason for Pop Mart’s popularity is the fast development of China’s designer toys market. Statistically speaking, China’s domestic market of designer toys has a leading momentum of growth in the world. The market scale surpassed RMB 20 billion yuan in 2019, twice that of Japan and six times that of South Korea. From 2015 to 2020, the compound annual growth rate of China’s designer toys market reached an impressive 36%. It is estimated that the scale of this market will reach RMB 47.8 billion yuan in 2022.
Among the markets in the world, Southeast Asia has broad prospects of opportunities and geographical advantages. Introduced by the official of Pop Mart International, Singapore is the international hub for business, finance, transport, knowledge, and culture. It is also the fourth-biggest foreign exchange trading center in the world. Taking Singapore as the anchor to tap into the Southeast Asian market is of great significance to Pop Mart’s overseas business.
“We adopted a center-about development strategy. We choose Singapore as our center, or anchor, to gradually open other countries’ markets,” said Wen Deyi, Vice President of Pop Mart and President of Pop Mart International, who added that “and we have tentative operations in those countries. For example, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, we have set a few pop-up stores and “roboshops”, with which we estimate the potential of the local market before putting in more resources.”
Could Southeast Asia be the next stop?
At the age of Guochao 3.0, enterprises prioritize the exploration and demonstration of culture. For example, BYD company released autos named after ancient Chinese dynasties; the Sanxingdui Bronze Masks are revitalized with modern animation technology; the dancing performance The Only Green was played on the CCTV New Year’s Gala and welcomed by the audience. All of these are typical IPs. The Florasis, with its slogan “Eastern Makeup, Makeup by Flowers”, successfully entered the Southeast Asian market with its Chinese cultural features. Likewise, the Chinese makeup brand Venus Marble has gradually entered duty-free stores in Thailand and Singapore since 2018.
In May 2021, the Chinese brand Perfect Diary got the highest sales in multiple Southeast Asian markets on the e-commerce platform Shopee, setting up official cross-border stores in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. With Perfect Diary’s consistent efforts based on its knowledge of Southeast Asian consumers, the brand successfully integrated various local features into the global selling chains. With exclusive exposure granted by the platforms like the Shopee Mall and Shopee Super Brand Day, Perfect Diary takes the lead in establishing overseas brand influence in the Southeast Asian market, showing strong momentum and becoming an example for Chinese Guochao enterprises to carry out their overseas expansion.
According to Baidu 2021 Guochao Pride Search Big Data, people’s attention on Guochao has increased by 528% in the past ten years, 74.4% of the searches were contributed by the Gen Zs, showing that they are the core consumers of Guochao products. The population in Southeast Asia is 600 million and about 50% of them are under the age of 30. The young demographic structure suggests the potential popularity of new fashion. Besides, the market has similar preferences, culture, and customs with those of the Chinese market. Therefore, the overseas expansion of Guochao enterprises in Southeast Asia will be the next cash cow.
More than a trend
In 2018, the Chinese brand Li-Ning sparkled the first year of the Guochao era. With the constant development of the Chinese economy and continuous expansion of cultural influence, Guochao contents have also extended from consumer goods to technology and cultural & creative products.
The debate under the topic “The 10 Most Notable Guochao Products in 2021” showed that Chinese digital products, Guochao clothes, and Guochao makeup took the first three places respectively. Aside from these, the most-mentioned also included Chinese TV series & films, anime, comics, games, music, literature, food, cultural heritage, and technology.
Combining Guochao with the latest trend and culture also works in the foreign markets. Gegee Guo Rui, Chairperson of Thai Jiaranai Group and Editor-in-Chief of Thailand Headlines, thinks that Guochao is based on the vibrant Chinese culture, for which it is lively and constantly changing. She also believes that with the growing confidence the young generation has in Chinese culture, Guochao will be more and more popular. “Chinese TV series, especially the costume dramas, are very popular in Thailand. A group of young Thais loves to watch the series and thus love Chinese culture. Not only so, but some local young people also favor modern Chinese features, such as Chinese electronic products and cashless payment.”
From cultural & creative products to designer toys and from makeup to autos, Guochao has come to its time in 2022, taking that 2018 was its origin. Although Guochao enterprises’ overseas expansion faces various difficulties to overcome, it is still convincing seeing its significant momentum of growth. The future of the industry is set to be great.