CBI Case Study: Bilibili’s Top Bullet Chats of 2019

Screenshot from Bilibili video “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”

It’s that time of year when we can look back and see what were some of the most popular entertainment trends of 2019, and consider their implications for brands seeking to resonate with Chinese consumers, particularly the digitally savvy and demanding millennial and Gen Z demographics that are driving consumption. 

One of the key emerging platforms for young audiences is Bilibili. Since its founding in 2009, it has become the central hub for China’s highly engaged ACG (anime, comic and games) subculture and a hotbed of the country’s viral meme activity. In the third quarter of 2019, Bilibili reported 127.9 million monthly active users and 7.9 million paying users, and more than  54 million “official members” have passed its somewhat notorious 100-question “geek test.”

Earlier this month, Bilibili released its third annual list of its top “bullet chats,” a defining feature of the platform. These user-submitted comments (弹幕, danmu, literally “bullet screen”) stream across the screen in real time as videos play, and a total of 1.4 billion bullet chats were posted between January 1 and November 30, an increase of 40 percent over the previous year that highlights rising engagement among users on the platform.

Appearing 3.3 million times during this period, the top bullet chat for 2019 is the acronym “AWSL,” which stands for “a, wo si le!” (啊,我死了!, literally, “ah, I’m dying!” ), an emotional phrase used to express a feeling of being deeply touched, amused or excited by certain content, similar to “it’s killing me!” in English, but one that users have also opened up to further creative interpretations. 

“A key reason for the growing popularity of bullet chats is they foster a highly interactive and enjoyable viewing experience that allows users to make connections with others online who may share similar aspirations and interests,” the company said in a statement. 

Source: Bilibili

The viral effect of bullet chats offer opportunities for brands to tap into cultural trends among young Chinese consumers. For example, some creators have reportedly produced videos around the most popular bullet chat memes in order to draw more comments and land a higher position on Bilibili’s rankings. Promotional events and collaborations may offer another path to commercializing popular memes. Bibilibil developed a supplementary campaign to celebrate the top bullet chat “AWSL,” including a dedicated topic page with an online game that  gave users who played could win a co-branded gift box created by pen-and-pencil maker M&G Stationery. Bilibili also launched a user competition to personify “AWSL” into an anime-style character, which could also provide further opportunities for brand engagement.