I was in China recently, and the abiding image I brought back home was that of the Pig. In duty-free shops on the border with Hong Kong, there were pictures of chubby pink pigs announcing special offers. In Chinese supermarkets, beautiful ceramic figurines of pigs were on sale. Special bottles of Maotai, the famous Chinese liquor distilled from fermented sorghum, bore limited-edition labels featuring happy pigs.
And I was intrigued to read in local newspapers about two special postage stamps being released by the Chinese Government bearing images of cute pigs designed by the artist Han Meilin. Interestingly, one of these stamps is titled “Plump pig brings good fortune”, and the other features a gathering of five pigs — because pigs represent the five fortunes of longevity, affluence, health, benevolence and peace, in Chinese culture.
No prizes for guessing why there are pigs everywhere. This is the Chinese “Year of the Pig”, which comes once in twelve years, and New Year is around the corner. In Chinese culture, pigs are known to bring fortune.
In addition, they are gentle and rarely lose their temper, are generally tolerant and patient, and have a resilient body.
You will agree with me that these are virtues that many of us can benefit from. Astrologers predict that men born in the year of the pig are optimistic and gentle, whereas women born in this special year are full of excitement and treat everyone genuinely.
Marketers getting into it
In the midst of all this ancient wisdom, modern marketers are out there in strength, celebrating the pig in many interesting and profitable ways.
There are lots of cool “Year of the Pig” T-shirts on sale, featuring pigs in many interesting and happy poses. Golden Pig make-up and skincare products, launched in time for the New Year, are hoping to make consumers squeal in delight. Alibaba, China’s big online retailer, features more than 1,200 Chinese “Year of the pig” products, including pig plush stuffed toys and piggy phone covers.
For the artistically inclined, there are pig-inspired paper-cut artworks and paintings. And marketers are hoping to spread the good fortune to students and executives by selling them pig-themed notebooks and stationery.
Luxury brands, for whom the huge Chinese market is key to growth, have also trotted into this celebration. Gucci is offering an oversized brooch featuring a pig with wings, made in Italy. Louis Vuitton has launched a puffy, pink pig key holder made of solid gold.
Nike has just launched a limited-edition shoe collection that features all 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, including the pig, joined together in a form of traditional Chinese patchwork called Bai Jia Yi.
The pig is being celebrated not just in Beijing and Shanghai, but also in many parts of the western world. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to London City Hall, exciting Year of the Pig events have been lined up, and both these cities will, of course, have lots of branded pig merchandise for consumers to buy.
Perhaps the day is not far away when Chinese New Year will be as popular as Christmas or Halloween in popular imagination across the world, which is a tribute to the growing importance of China on the global stage.
With or without Chinese inspiration, pigs have been popular with marketers and consumers across the world, for many decades now. I still recall, as a school student in Madurai, my first introduction to saving money was through a piggy bank that was given to me by Canara Bank. It was branded with the Bank’s name. I kept dropping coins into the fat, pink pig through a thin slot on its back, until it got totally full. Then, on one auspicious day, we broke open the pig and used all the money to buy a few wonderful books, which I read and treasured for several years. I still remember that happy day of good fortune. The piggy bank has such a lovely symbolic appeal to kids and perhaps to adults too, that modern marketers in financial institutions should consider using this animal actively in many evocative ways.
Later in life, my wife and I loved the appeal of Percy Pigs, cute pig-shaped candies that we bought and stocked up on, during occasional visits to London. These gummy sweets, sold at Marks and Spencer, are immensely popular across the world, have made it to the Vogue magazine as a hot eating trend, and have inspired trendy emojis, as well as a Percy Pig appreciation society on Facebook.
Pig-inspired success stories
There are many other pig-inspired success stories. Tea Pigs is one of the world’s finest super-premium brands of tea, offering a fascinating variety of teas, herbal infusions and ready-to-drink matcha juice drinks. The pig-inspired name has contributed, in good measure, to the brand’s intrigue and appeal.
Peppa Pig, the British children’s television programme based on the adventures of a four-year old baby pig, is wildly popular with pre-school kids across the US, Australia and Brazil. Restaurants, pubs and even boats are named and themed after Empress of Blandings, the fictional prize-winning pig created by P.G. Wodehouse.
Clearly, pigs are popular in many different ways. So, in the Year of the Pig which is beginning this month, will we see Indian marketers also rising to the bait? Chinese restaurants across our cities can naturally feature interesting and authentic “Year of the Pig” food festivals.
Any product associated with China or the Orient, including noodles, silk and toys, can consider novel, pig-themed limited-edition ranges. I would love to see pig-inspired vodka, cool wrist watches or handbags featuring pigs with wings. Imagination is, after all, the secret Chinese sauce of marketers.
Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons and author of “The Curious Marketer”. These arehis personal views.
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