Lychee and rose flavored baked goods may once have been the exclusive property of the Chinese Imperial Court, but Oreo’s recent collaboration with Beijing’s Palace Museum means Emperor Kangxi’s favorite flavor is now reaching a mass audience.
Packaged in a playful two-tier box, the six imperial-inspired flavors, which include hawthorn, green tea, and red bean, were released as part of Tmall’s Super Brand Day. By reimagining dynastic snacks, the Forbidden City has once again leveraged its IP in a bid to connect with a young and culturally-engaged audience.
Having gained an additional 260,000 followers for its flagship store on Tmall while selling more than 760,000 boxes on launch day, May 23, it’s clear that the collaboration is working. Yet despite these numbers, the cultural heft and ubiquitous popularity of the Forbidden City make it difficult to assess the extent to which the site’s tactics should serve as a guideline.
Consider the following: the museum’s site attracts in excess of 14 million visitors annually, its generic WeChat posts regularly receive more than 100,000 views, and mass-produced Forbidden City products sell like hot cakes. Even when the Palace Museum was forced to recall some branded cosmetic boxes on the grounds of quality concerns, its overall sparkling image remained intact.
Still, brands and cultural institutions can learn from the former imperial palace’s latest tailored cultural product, known in China as wenchuang. From their selection of culturally relevant flavors, to their package design that references the Palace’s famed “Twelve Beauties” painting, to a promotional campaign that included quirky Oreo-themed videos and a Moving Forbidden City van that cruised around New York City, Oreo’s Forbidden City snacks is a holistic and well-developed concept.
This May marked the fourth consecutive year Oreo has tapped into Tmall’s brand event, and they’ve proven that establishing a commitment to topical and surprise products in the country is an important way to create buzz. “[The collaboration is] a big milestone for Oreo to tap into the Chinese local market and win the hearts of consumers,” said Joost Vlaanderen, president of Mondelez Greater China, noting that the potential of Tmall Super Brand Day is “more than a gross merchandise volume driver, but also a brand event to celebrate with fans each year.”
Given China’s long-demonstrated perchance for unusual Oreo flavors, this success should not come as a surprise, because “in terms of the packaging and the value, this is a great cookie,” wrote one consumer in the comment section of Tmall. “The cookies are individually packaged, none of them had broken and all of the flavors are tasty.”
Kraft Foods introduced Oreos to China in 1996 and after experiencing modest growth during its first decade on the market undertook a full-scale reimagining of their product, packaging, and advertising in the early 2000s. By 2010, Kraft had captured 22 percent of China’s then $1.6 billion cookie market.