It’s not easy to become an entertainment icon. Ask Mickey Mouse what it takes and he’ll tell you about the decades of hard work he had to put in to become the ubiquitous, universally recognized brand he is today. With Disney’s level of dominance over the hearts and minds of American youth, it’s hard to imagine another brand rising to the same level, especially without the same long, long history. As unlikely as it seems, in China I discovered another anthropomorphic animal who seems to be making a run at Mickey’s throne.
The first time I encountered Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf was the day after my arrival in Beijing. I was flipping through the local TV channels and happened upon a show featuring a group of fluffy goats (or sheep) being pursued by a grey wolf with a facial scar and a bad attitude. With an animation style that didn’t live up to standard of Japanese anime, it quickly dawned on me that this must be a homegrown show.
I watched for a few minutes then moved on, not thinking about it that much. That is, until we headed out into the city. It didn’t take long to realize that Pleasant Goat is more than the average cartoon series. It is a merchandising powerhouse! These goats are everywhere.
I saw them in toy stores (as plush toys, playsets, vinyl figures, and more), on blankets, in books, on DVD, as stickers, school supplies, soap dispensers, housewares… practically everything! I even saw them licensed for a full line of electronic learning toys for small children (Leapfrog-type products).
A little digging on Wikipedia shows that Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf has over 800 episodes and 3 feature-length films (the first film broke the Chinese domestic box office record), all since debuting in 2005. Just as impressive is the attachment that Chinese children seem to have to these characters. Our friend’s baby, who was fairly subdued during a group lunch with us, lit up with joy when he spotted a Pleasant Goat mylar balloon on the far side of the restaurant.
The telling moment for me was when we found a toy store kiosk in the Beijing International Airport. 40% of the display space was given to Mickey Mouse and Disney characters, 40% was given to Pleasant Goat (and 20% to miscellaneous other toys). From my point of view, that's brand parity!
We have become so used to Western brands being exported to China and being embraced as market leaders there, but the success of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf shows that there is tremendous demand for local, homegrown entertainment brands. It’s only a matter of time before these brands mature and begin to be pushed out to the rest of the world.
The mouse managers at Disney would be wise to keep an eye on this pleasant little goat. The numbers hold promise for him, if only based on sheer population. After all, if you win the hearts of America, you’ve got 5% of the global population. If you win the hearts of China, you’ve got 20%!