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Wed, Jan 03, 2001 - Page 18 News List

A-bian knit cap falls from fashion favor

TRENDS As President Chen Shui-bian falls from popularity, so too does his namesake hat. Many say it was not simply the dog days of summer that hurt its popularity


Even as winter temperatures set in, sightings of people doffing the "bian mao" are growing rarer.

And no wonder. Popularity of the dark green woolen hat -- named after President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) or "A-Bian" (阿扁) -- has fallen by the fashion wayside in tandem with Chen's popularity in the polls.

Chen's popularity has dropped from an approval rating of 73 percent on March 30, when his DPP won the presidential election, to today's 38 percent. Dissatisfaction with Chen's performance as president has risen from 8 percent to 48 percent, according to a China Times poll last week.

Prior to the March election, the "bian mao" sold like hotcakes with sales in spring of last year topping 300,000 units from the now defunct Bian Mao Factory (扁帽工廠).

Earlier this week, a study by Business Weekly magazine rated Chen Shui-bian products as one of the top 10 "trendiest commodity concepts" of 2000.

According to the magazine, Chen's likeness was heavily marketed by local businesses earlier this year via the print media and in television commercials, stuffed dolls and other spin-offs, due to the "political star" status he received in being the first opposition leader to become president, the report says.

But as Chen's popularity has waned, so has the public's acceptance of the products.

In the six-month period since the Chen administration took office, the stock market has drastically fallen, banks appear ready to bust wide open with bad debts, and many industries -- short on cash and business -- teeter on the brink of collapse.

One pundit says that even though he did turn a dollar or two during the peak of the hat craze, he wouldn't recommend investing in any A-bian get-rich-quick schemes in the current climate.

"It's a bad time to talk about any products related to President Chen Shui-bian, especially with the unfavorable situation and bad economy," said Lee Shui-yin (李淑尹), Bian Hat Factory (扁帽工廠) assistant manager.

One advertising pundit also advised against investing in the "A-bian image."

"It's not suitable to use A-bian's image anymore ... it doesn't make any sense. The whole situation [the economy] is a mess and the continued use of his image is a joke," said Huang Cheng-pin (黃政斌), a manager at Kuohua Advertising Company (國華廣告公司網路溝通部經理).

"A-Bian products have fallen from favor all over Taiwan," said Huang.

But another company who tried to profit from the A-bian craze may now be wishing they had stuck to their core business.

Makoto Bank (誠泰銀行) -- a long-time supporter of the president -- has for several months been using TV commercials to promote their A-bian series credit cards.

Makoto Bank, authorized by Chen to use his image, introduced the cards in May for an unspecified period of time.

But souvenir A-bian credit cards, like the hats, have met with poor public reaction. The first card in the series, a hand-sketched caricature of the president, is currently being replaced with a cartoon doll that bears little resemblance to the embattled Chen. According to a bank official, while the cards were popular in the first few months of the new president's term of office, consumers have lately shunned the product and are requesting "cuter designs," a Makato Bank employee said.

"The reasoning behind introducing the [cuter] A-bian credit cards is because of consumer feedback ... but actually the bank is working on other new credit cards ideas now," said Ms Chuang, a Makoto Bank Credit Cards Center supervisor (企劃部專員) who declined to give her full name.

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