This festive message by “Bobbie” is currently reducing countless Chinese girls to tears. Bobbie is not the singer of a Korean boy group, but a lavender-coloured teddy bear that is not only hand-stuffed with Tasmanian lavender but can also, with the help of a microwave, be converted into a virtual hot-water bottle.
Produced by a company called Bridestowe Estate in Nabowla/Tasmania, it has become a “must-acquire” item for sophisticated urban young ladies in China with the help of social media. Unfortunately for would-be buyers, in the past three months Bridestowe has been inundated with orders for 45,000 Bobbies from China, which even the four extra staff brought in to help hand-stuff the only bears in the world containing fine lavender have struggled to fulfil. Australian media quote the Managing Director of the Bridestowe Estate, Robert Ravens, saying “Our phone system has gone into meltdown. We can’t put Bobbie on the internet anymore because the demand just overwhelms our ability to supply on a daily basis. People are using their friends, close contacts, pressure is brought on us through all sorts of channels just to acquire one, or one thousand, of these bears, it’s become a mania.” Some people, Ravens adds “have been hacking into the backend of our website to place orders.”
Mr. and Mrs. Ravens, who bought the Estate in 2007, have been targeting Asian markets for years. With more tourists from Mainland China as well as Hong Kong arriving in Tasmania, visitors came to Bridestowe, bought the bear and brought it back. But it is only since August 2013 that Chinese outbound travellers have been turning up by the busload at the Bridestowe Estate on a regular basis, only to find out that each visitor is allowed to buy one bear only, regardless of how much money they offer to buy additional Bobbies for their friends and family. This is based on the understanding that “the new Asian consumers are seeking goods and experiences that are not necessarily expensive, but of limited availability”, according to Mr. Ravens. Therefore they are not moving to mass production.
The beginning of Bobbiemania in China can be traced back to the social media activities of a single celebrity. Viann Zhang Xinyu, a model and movie actress from Suzhou, got a bear some months ago and consequently let her followers on Facebook and on several Chinese social media know that she preferred to sleep with Bobbie, claiming that the calming qualities of the fragrance brought her health benefits. Zhang, who previously had achieved netizens attention with online postings showing herself in bed with various boyfriends and with photos on the covers of magazines exhibiting the very visible enhancements of her female forms through cosmetic surgery, fired the imagination of her female followers who want to become a bit more like her by owning the same cuddly toy. “Every (Chinese) lady under 30 wants one,” Mr Ravens is quoted.
There are more than 600 million internet users in China, most of them very actively using the opportunities of information technology every day. Following the antics of celebrities is one of the favoured pastiges of online social media users. Another one is online shopping, as the “Bachelor’s Day” on Nov. 11thdemonstrated again, when on a single day goods for US$5.7 billion were purchased on Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent of Ebay. To put products and destinations onto the Chinese consumer’s mental map, including outbound travellers, nothing beats the speed and depth of an endorsement by the right kind of celebrity.