The curious case of two “spring mountain” teas

Key takeaways:

  • The CNY gala performance Shang Chun Shan (上春山, climbing spring mountains) spawned a viral meme due to a controversy.
  • Netizens started to play on the meme by making their own milk tea named after the song, utilising ALittleTea’s customisation platform.
  • Hey Tea, on the other hand, released a tea that was pointed out to share visual similarities to the performance.

As spring approaches, two tea chains both offered green-hued tea drinks that were associated with one performance from this year’s CNY gala, but the results are very different. This demonstrates two examples of when viral memes should or should not be capitalised upon.

The meme

After the CMG New Year’s Gala this year, one performance went viral for all the wrong reasons. “Shang Chun Shan” (“上春山”, Climbing the Spring Mountain) was a song performed by singers Wei Chen, Wei Daxun and Bai Jingting. A social media controversy occurred after Bai was accused of trying to steal the spotlight from his fellow singers by changing his stage outfit to black, while all three men wore white in the rehearsal.

Also, rehearsal images show that when climbing the winner’s podium-like mountain set, each would take turns to stand and sing on the top step but in the final performance Bai stayed at the top while the other two stood on the side. But later netizens point out that a different rehearsal was the same as the final performance. On Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, the topic “Shang Chun Shan” (#上春山#) reached number 2 on the Hot Search list with 240 million views.

The controversy spawned the meme “chunshanology” (春山学, lit. spring mountain studies) where people pore over all the available resources about the performance and imitate the stage blocking of the performance, while singing the song in karaoke. As the holiday ended and urbanites went back to their offices, some found a way to combine the meme with their everyday tea drink.

As the holiday ended and urbanites went back to their offices, some found a way to combine the meme with their everyday tea drink

A can of worms

Veteran milk tea chain ALittleTea has a customisable order page where customers can select their own tea base, add-ons and name on the drink. The most recognised version is a macchiato with a matcha or jasmine tea base, with boba or coconut milk jellies before naming the custom drink “Shang Chun Shan”, mostly because of its whitish green colour. The recipe for this tea flooded Xiaohongshu (RED).

With the accidental viral success of the customised tea, ALittleTea responded with a Weibo post. They jokingly asked if anyone has tried the new tea and informed users that it is available through its customised page and more creative recipes are welcome. The response fuelled further discussion online and the topic “ALittleTea respond to selling Shang Chun Shan milk tea” (#1点点回应卖上春山奶茶#) gained 1.31 million views on Weibo. However, some in the comment section quickly pointed out that the brand is courting controversy because of the negative connotation of the meme, especially for Bai. Memes and topics originating from controversies, especially celebrity ones can often land users in an awkward situation.

The post was later deleted.

How Hey Tea may or may not have leveraged the meme

In other news, Hey Tea’s latest “Springtime” collaboration with Taiwanese actor and singer Greg Hsu was also promoted with the green theme colour and outdoor imagery. Eagle-eyed chunshanologists were quick to point out the similarity between the ads and the stage design of the performance during the CNY gala. The topic “Hey Tea Springtime” (#喜茶春光#) easily amassed 4.11 million views on Weibo, 3 times that of ALittleTea’s report.

ALittleTea tried to harness the power of the meme but was forced to retreat due to the controversy from which the meme originated. On the other hand, Hey Tea’s springy images and green colourway has resulted in the brand possibly leveraging the exposure from both the meme discussion and Hsu’s star power unintentionally. Hopefully, the two strategies adopted by both brands can serve as an example of how to approach a meme born from controversy.

The two strategies adopted by both brands can serve as an example of how to approach a meme born from controversy

As a side note, after Hey Tea’s unexpected run-in with authorities for the “Speechless Buddha” collab, tea brands need to be extra careful with meme-centric campaigns as the landscape of the internet holds many surprises.