Banbo Kitty, the self-proclaimed coolest cat on TikTok China (Douyin), is a chubby, grey cat with a collar featuring a golden ornament that resembles a sheriff badge. Banbo Kitty sometimes wears outfits and frequently shows off mirrored aviator sunglasses. Produced by Wow Comics and published by Bixun Culture Media, Banbo Kitty has amassed a considerable following on the platform. Besides being a cat (and therefore being of obvious relevance), Banbo Kitty represents multiple trends that will continue to shape the communication landscape:
TIKTOK CULTURE: Having penetrated mainstream North American and European culture during the pandemic, TikTok culture will continue to drive trends in the social media world. Banbo Kitty rocks to his own pop songs or to classics like Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” challenges audiences to dance competitions, and stars in short stories that capture attention and provide “byte”-sized entertainment. TikTok culture has not only created fierce competition for other platforms but has led to a widening generational gap in social media usage. Universally relatable characters like Banbo Kitty and their spreadable content serve as important bridges.
VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS: Maybe the most relevant person of 2022 will not be human at all. Recent advances in AI have propelled CGI-related possibilities. At the same time, the work of social media influencers requires new levels of creativity to attract eyeballs, and is ever more subject to regulation and increasingly shaped by the demands of brands. Virtual influencers are uniquely able to bridge the creativity-brand requirements gap. Banbo Kitty joins other animalistic virtual influencers like Puff Puff (@itspuffpuff) and Noodle (@noodle_ and_bun) in their quests to create loyal followings. Their persuasiveness (rooted in baby schema that results in cuteness perception) combined with expanded message and branding possibilities make them serious competition for human influencers and human-like virtual influencers like Lil Miquela.
CHINESE INFLUENCE: Banbo Kitty serves as an important reminder that Chinese social media is a much more dynamic and advanced space that will continue to produce trends that spill over into global social media and entertainment realms. Thus, whether they directly work with Chinese social media or not, communicators need to be aware of emerging digital trends in China and beyond. Chinese content also matters. Banbo Kitty’s stories provide a glimpse into contemporary Chinese life while promoting Confucian values. His owner is a single, young Chinese woman. Banbo moves through both traditional Chinese landscapes and ultramodern urban settings. Banbo Kitty is therefore not only a charismatic entertainer but also a cultural ambassador.
FEEL- GOOD PHILOSOPHY: “The world is too complicated. I want to be a happy cat.” Banbo Kitty’s uplifting posts and general life philosophy statements delivered with his characteristic charm strike an important chord in a post-lockdown world. Banbo Kitty reminds us that social media are an
affective space and that beyond shock, surprise and sex, there is plenty of room for love, friendship, family, and respect. Asking his followers, “Whom do you miss when it rains?” and encouraging them to go home and visit with elderly relatives are the kinds of messages and sentiments a lot of people will engage with in 2022.
OVERCOMING DIFFERENCE: Banbo Kitty’s best friend is a goldfish, reminding us that stereotypes need to be challenged. While real life is full of divides and mainstream social media are increasingly polarized, Banbo Kitty represents the utopian side of social media that encourages us to envision a better world. Content creators and brands need to find ways to insert themselves into these conversations and foster exchanges that lead to positive change to stay relevant in 2022.