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Business hits a ‘purple patch’ with clever marketing

The fortunes of one Tasmanian business have risen to international prominence on the growing popularity of a small purple bear, popularised in China and Hong Kong, thanks to a unique marketing strategy. 

The cute purple toy, dubbed “Bobbie the Bear” is produced by Bridestowe Estate, a lavender farm located in Nabowla to Tasmania’s north, about three hours from Hobart.

Owner of the estate, Robert Ravens, says that every lady under 30 in Hong Kong now wants one. The craze started when he began marketing the bear in Asia after noticing it was popular with tourists.

“When they picked it up, the words “so cute” came along with it,” he told Dynamic Business. “We thought ‘wow’ there’s something that appeals to the Chinese psyche.”

Mr Ravens decided to use the power of Asian celebrities to promote the bear overseas and lift the profile of the Tasmanian lavender farm. Just over three years ago he successfully encouraged well-known Hong Kong Master Chef, Wong Wing Chee, to visit the estate and pose with the bear.

Bobbie the Bridestowe Lavender Heat Pack Bear

However, the craze began in earnest a couple of years later when Chinese model Zhang Xinyu posted a picture of herself with the bear on social media. The product immediately took off.

“She said in July of 2013 that her favourite bedtime companion for a cold winter’s night in Shanghai was the bear and that went viral,” Mr Ravens said.

“We’ve used celebrity three times with great success… We had a deliberate market strategy to use it as a link to our farm. We’re quite highly regarded for our ability to position ourselves in the market.”

Bobbie the Bear was always intended as cute yet convenient disposal mechanism for dried lavender with which he is stuffed along with wheat and then hand stitched. He can be heated up and used much like a hot water bottle.

Manufacturing is capped at 50,000 per annum, with production limited by the amount of lavender that can be dedicated towards the product. However, the boutique toy is now so popular that a thriving black market in fake “Bobbie the Bears” has arisen. Mr Ravens responded with an authentication system allowing customers to check whether they have purchased the genuine article.

Despite gaining international fame, Bridestowe Estate is managed by a small team of about 15 people. The farm was established back in the early 1920s when a London perfumer moved to the area with his young family carrying lavender seeds from the French Alps. In 2007, it was purchased by Robert and Jennifer Ravens with 44 acres of the site dedicated to the cultivation of perfume grade lavender.

“We really don’t want to be famous for the bear. The bear is just a way of brand recognition or branding. We really want to continue with our evolution as a fine (lavender) oil producer,” Mr Ravens said.

Images: Bridestowe Estate

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Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly is a writer for Dynamic Business. He has previously worked in the Canberra Press Gallery and has a keen interest in business, the economy and federal policy. He also follows international relations and likes to read history.

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