With 170,000 Weibo followers and a dedicated line of accessories featuring his black and white snout, Liu Kanshan is, without question, China’s most popular arctic fox.
He’s probably also the busiest. Created in 2014 as the mascot for Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer platform similar to Quora, his role has involved summer tours through Japan and interviews with celebrities such as Chris Hemsworth. His latest endeavor, however, is a range of collaborative products with the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York City. The prospective collaborative launched on the Chinese crowdfunding site Modian, in September, with the goal of raising $17,000.
Collaborations between brands and cultural institutions are commonplace on Chinese e-commerce with everyone from provincial museums to city opera houses releasing popular wenchuang products, the term used to describe well-designed cultural goods. The Met stands as one of a growing number of Western museums looking to tap into this trend.
Since partnering with product licensing experts Alfilo Brands earlier this year, the Met has continued developing its China strategy and joined institutions such as the British Museum and the V&A in using their IP to create products specifically for China. This past June, the Met released a collection of limited-edition lipsticks with the fashionable Chinese cosmetics brand Perfect Diary. It also promoted its annual Met Gala on Douyin, known outside of China as TikTok, and received 170 million views in 48 hours.
The British Museum has set the benchmark for global museums in the world of wenchuang products and has shown that Chinese consumers are keen to buy hieroglyphic tote bags and Hokusai umbrellas on Taobao, the Chinese giant online shopping website. In 2018, the UK’s most visited attraction, furthered its position by signing a deal with Alibaba to develop its marketing reach and allow select brands on the platform to use its IP. The British Museum is projected to make $51 million from licensed product sales this year.
The new collaboration between the Met and Zhihu appears playful and light-hearted, with Liu Kanshan, that fun-loving fox, dressed up as a pharaoh and swimming through Monet’s waterlilies (among other guises) on towels, notebooks, fridge magnets, and music boxes. The products are available for pre-order on Modian either individually or as a pack of four for $48.
Currently, there are two weeks remaining in the crowdfunding campaign. So far, the collaboration has raised $7,590, though several users in Modian’s comment section have claimed the products are overpriced. A more common response from longtime fans of Zhihu’s mascot, however, was of surprise, “I use Zhihu, but I did not expect that one day Liu Kanshan would become IP,” as one user put it.
It remains to be seen if the Met’s collaboration with Zhihu’s cartoon artic fox will be successful, but the rewards for building brand awareness in China certainly make it a worthwhile risk.
Words by Richard Whiddington