Peppa Pig, the UK cartoon character whose memes were banned from social media platforms by Beijing last year, is experiencing a huge boost to its popularity in China after the runaway success of a trailer released to promote a Peppa Pig film.
By Tuesday, the trailer’s Mandarin hashtag #WhatisPeppa had been seen by more than 1.45bn users on popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo and the official video had garnered hundreds of millions of views across various streaming platforms.
The short video — co-produced by Canadian media group Entertainment One and China’s Alibaba Pictures — is a feel-good tale that centres on an elderly sheep farmer who embarks on a haphazard quest to find out what Peppa is, after his city-dwelling grandson asks for the pig as a new year’s gift, so that he can make one.
“The film is very much my taste: it is not dark but is a little humorous, a little absurd and most of all, heart warming,” wrote the trailer’s director, Zhang Dapeng of Alibaba Pictures, on Weibo.
The trailer, for the China-only release of Peppa Celebrates Chinese New Year, has resonated with Chinese viewers for realistically depicting how societal changes such as urbanisation and generational culture gaps have impacted families.
“It hits the heart strings. China has modernised so fast and these old people have been left behind technologically and by cultural trends, but the love is still here,” said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai.
The film is due for release on February 5 to coincide with the beginning of the new lunar calendar, this year marking the start of the Year of the Pig, giving Peppa a particular resonance.
Other ad campaigns mounted by foreign companies have flopped in China. Most notably, Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana had its goods pulled from Chinese ecommerce stores after it came under fire for a video campaign last November that featured a Chinese model eating oversized Italian food items while a narrator asks: “Is it still too big for you?”
“The Dolce ad shows the mistake of having marketing campaigns run by foreigners who don’t understand local market conditions and even worse by campaigns that are run by headquarters,” said Mr Rein.
By contrast, Peppa’s family-friendly persona has spawned a commercial franchise of television shows, books and apparel that helped boost annual revenues at UK-listed Entertainment One by more than 50 per cent in 2017.
Not everyone is a fan, however. Last year, internet censors scrubbed 30,000 unofficial Peppa videos from prominent social media platform Douyin as part of an ongoing campaign against online content deemed subversive or inappropriate. The cheery pig’s persona has become inspiration for a sarcastic series of internet memes accompanied by a cynical or vulgar caption that depict Peppa as a shehuiren or gangster.
Follow Emily Feng on Twitter @emilyzfeng