Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Porcine Issue

China Daily, the leading English language daily newspaper in China, reported some time ago that a hog weighing more than 1,040 kg was crowned the “king of pigs” in Ningxiang County, Hunan province over the weekend. To the best of my recollection, PG Wodehouse, while describing the adventures of the Empress of Blandings, never really mentioned her precise weight, but it would perhaps be a fair assumption that Lord Emsworth would have been proud of this achievement, if his own sow had reached such heights (or weights, to be more precise).
The story on the fattest pig is not the only porcine story in the Chinese papers. In fact, pig and pork have been extremely salient in china for some time. China’s consumer price index (CPI) jumped 4.7% in 2007, with the price of food showing particularly ballistic tendencies. Specifically pork prices almost doubled last year due to short supply and mounting feedstuff costs. Apart from rising prices for grain used as feed, blue ear disease - also known as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome - killed a large number of pigs nationwide last year. As a result, the Chinese farmers, despite their love for pigs and their meat, were less enthusiastic in rearing them than in the past. The central and local governments plan to launch a concerted effort to rekindle their enthusiasm for raising pigs and boosting pork supplies. China is on a comfortable and steady growth path and maintaining stability – whether it is in currency valuation, consumer incomes, political climate or pork prices – is of the essence.
The year of the golden pig

Ironically the scarcity of pigs came in the year of the pig (there was no shortage of chicken in the year of the rooster in 2005, and no shortage of dragons is expected in the year of the dragon in 2012) – though rat population hopefully would be contained in the year of the rat which started this February. In Chinese tradition, each year is cyclically assigned one of the 12 animals, each of whom are believed to bestow some specific benedictions and character idiosyncrasies on the humans born in that specific twelve month period. The year of the pig is one of the more cherished ones and thought to bring luck, prosperity and ampleness (like itself). A person born this year is likely to be intelligent, honest, courageous, gallant, and sincere. They are good implementers can be relied on to see things through. They also tend to be popular and make lasting friendship and are good neighbors.

The years also rotate through five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth – and when pig and metal (gold really) coincide (as it was believed to have happened this year) the floodgates of fortune are expected to open like never seen before (or only seen 60 years ago, as that is when it would have occurred before).

It was under this expectation, that the youth of China timed their sexual activity to ensure the arrival of their off-springs in this auspicious period. It is reported that this year saw the birth of a lot more babies than the previous years. Of course, none thought about the pressure it will bring to the lives of the Chinese obstetricians, who were getting used to an easy life, thanks to China’s one child policy. Similarly, the supply of maternal beds and other wherewithals related to child birth are also reported to be strained. On the happier side, figures indicate that the companies manufacturing diapers, baby foods and other goods of “little” interest upped their advertising and reaped generous rewards.

The marketing opportunity

Marketing companies often struggle with the extent to which they need to balance their global strategies with the subtleties of local culture and traditions. The fervent communist era in China and the cultural revolution did its best to liberate the Chinese from the shackles of their traditions and beliefs. However, the interest in Chinese Zodiac, the strong beliefs about lucky and unlucky numbers (most Chinese buildings do not number the 4th floor, as number 4, because of the similarity of its Chinese pronunciation with death, is believed to bring misfortune) and the increasing enthusiasm with which Chinese traditional festivals are celebrated, seems to suggest that companies will be well advised to take cognizance of the traditions, and develop their marketing campaigns to take advantage of the consumer interest in these. The more marketing savvy companies in China are already launching special communication and marketing campaigns around traditional festivals. The festival related marketing activities are likely to receive a further boost from the recent government decision to declare three additional holidays for the Chinese festivals of Tomb-sweeping day, Dragon Boat festival and Mid-autumn festival.

The fattest pig in China

While marketing companies deliberate on appropriate strategies to win the hearts of the Chinese consumers, it is reported that the owner Xiao Shahong of the Chinese “king of pigs” apparently declined an offer to part with her precious animal, at a record of more than 50,000 yuan ($6,730). It is befitting that the prized pig is preserved, loved and cherished while the Chinese just finished celebrating the last few months of the year symbolized by it.

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