Chicken-shaped parrots become internet celebrity in China

Big eyes, rouged cheeks, yellow feathers and most importantly, exaggerated facial expressions - this pair of what seems to be chickens looks funny and naughty. But wait…if you take a closer look, you'll see these birds are actually parrots.

Known as the No.1 newly emerging web celebrities of 2017, the Poinko Brothers have been widely used on Chinese social networks at the start of the Year of the Rooster during the Chinese Spring Festival period, as they are mistaken for a pair of chickens by most people.

As of Feb 9, the characters were a hot topic, discussed 27.33 million times on the Sina Weibo platform, a Chinese version of Twitter, and won the favour of an overwhelming number of domestic netizens.

"They have replaced Kumamon as my new favorites. Every time I post my status to show my current mood, I will attach a picture of them because they can bring more likes from my friends," Weibo user Po Xiaohai said online.

Origins of the parrot brothers

As they are so hugely popular, you might wonder about the origin of the emerging stars.

Actually, they are the newly released mascots by NTT DOCOMO, Japan's largest telecommunications company, to attract customers and promote products.

They belong to the Poinko family. The parrot with a long face and three hairs is the elder brother while the one with the round face and one hair is the younger brother.

The elder brother loves his younger brother very much and likes to tell many jokes to amuse him. The younger brother loves sweet food and tries to lose weight but always ends in failure.

They are the most famous characters, but do not represent the whole Poinko family. Other members include 20,086-year-old Poinko Master, Poinko Sister, who is crazy about love and Poinko Doctor, who has 10 hairs on the head.

They were created in December 2015 and were featured in many eye-catching advertisements for the company throughout 2016. In addition, their dancing has gone viral on Japan's internet.

The Poinko Brothers have shot many eye-catching advertisements for the company throughout 2016 and gained great popularity in Japan. Photo: China Daily/Asia News Network

Reasons behind the success

Zhang Jian, a famous commentator in China, thinks the Poinko family's huge popularity is not by chance, but a successful marketing strategy.

"First of all, their dumb yet cute farcical expressions will steal the hearts of many people. Second, they speak very briefly and naively, a good way to promote their own style in a short and effective way. Third, they have shot many advertisements with Japanese stars, gaining entertainment and commercial value, little by little."

Chinese columnist Xu Fengwen adds that the Poinko Brothers craze has a close relationship with the arrival of Chinese lunar new year.

"Their introduction coincides with Spring Festival in the Year of Rooster. Also, thanks to photoshop gurus, they have been used as a series of emojis. For a majority of people, the chicken-shaped parrots are the perfect choice to send New Year's greetings to others," Xu said.

At the same time, many business people have released related products to further promote Poinko culture. They have been made into stuffed toys, phone screen protectors, bottles and T-shirts and sell well on the internet.

Quite a few Japanese mascots have entered the Chinese market and work well. Among them are Kumamoo (top left) Kumamoto (top right) zombie bear (bottom left) and Ima Barishi (bottom right). Photo: China Daily/Asia News Network

Messenger to promote culture

Reputed to be followers of Kumamon, the Poinko Brothers are just one of the many Japanese web stars in China.

In the past several years, quite a few Japanese mascots have successfully entered the Chinese market and gained a massive number of fans.

Among all of them, the most famous one is Kumamoo. Created by the government of Kumamoto Prefecture, the black bear was born for a campaign to draw tourists to the region after the Kyushu Shinkansen line opened.

At first it was just a mascot but then became a cultural phenomenon.

According to the New Straits Times, the Bank of Japan estimates that in the two years 2012-2013, Kumamon generated $1.10 billion (S$1.6 billion) in revenue.

At the same time, some made-in-China cultural products were entering the Japanese market. For instance, a series of "funny" emoji-based bolsters have attracted the attention of Japanese customers through Amazon Japan for its funny shapes.

"Be it cartoon character or emojis, they are turning into the cultural messengers of the nation to promote popular culture

and will continue to do so. And it is expected to be a trend," Chen Shuhua, a senior school teacher of Chinese, said.

The Poinko Brothers have aroused heated discussion on China's Sina Weibo online platform.Photo: China Daily/Asia News Network
Poinko Brothers have been made into stuffed toys, phone cases, bottles and T-shirts and sell well on China's Taobao platform, an online shopping website similar to eBay.Photo: China Daily/Asia News Network