Olympic Mascot Bing Dwen Dwen has a scarcity problem

Bing Dwen Dwen, the Beijing 2022 Olympic mascot, is very popular. Long lines have formed outside Olympics merchandise stores in Beijing, with some people camping overnight to snag the rotund panda plushie — only to find that it has sold out for the day.

The frenzy over Bing Dwen Dwen is perhaps surprising. When the mascot was unveiled in 2019, the panda was described as “out of this world ugly” and a “sesame ball with its filling leaking out,” the Washington Post reported.

Every Olympics since 1972 has had an official mascot, but interest in it is often subdued. It’s rare that a mascot plushie sells out in the first few days of any Olympics, Reuters reported.

Now, people are lining up for any Bing Dwen Dwen item they can get, leading to a scarcity of the plushies and other goods like key chains and snow globes. The Global Times reported that sales for merchandise have “gone viral.” Mentions of “One Dwen at each family” became the fourth highest trending topic on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, with 10 million views within a day, Reuters reported on Feb. 6.

The rage over the panda has inflated the plushie’s value, with the toys being re-sold for hundreds of dollars online. Reporters in Beijing have spotted a curious number of middle-aged men, looking more like Bing Dwen Dwen scalpers than stuffie and snow globe connoisseurs, standing in lines outside Olympics merchandise stores. China, which is the largest toy producer in the world, has said that factories will increase production of Bing Dwen Dwen merchandise to meet demand. Revenue from Beijing Olympic licensed products is expected to hit close to $400 million.

What’s driving the Bing Dwen Dwen craze?

There’s speculation that the plushie craze is manufactured.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that almost 20% of the social media accounts posting on Twitter about Bing Dwen Dwen were created in the last month. “Chinese government documents show government agencies have been on a recruitment drive to manage their social media accounts and create new online narratives,” the Herald wrote.

The mascot is a perfect example of so-called “panda diplomacy,” and suggests that China is cute, cuddly, and friendly, an image it has protected. This week, a man dressed as Bing Dwen Dwen spoke, creating an uproar among fans who said the middle-aged voice ruined the cute image. In response, the Beijing Olympics Committee said the man was a “fake.”

Even if the supply and demand mismatch is by design, it’s not without precedence, even in the realm of cute stuffed animals. In the late 1990s, Ty Warner, the creator of the Beanie Babies plush toys, would retire specific animals at whim to create scarcity in the market. In return, that would inflate the value of the plushie, pushing collectors to pay up to $5,000 for the beanie baby that retailed for $5.

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