The mystery in Chinese idol show saga: who poured the milk 

Not the fans

In May, a big outcry swept China’s social media when a video revealed that ‘fans’ of a popular youth idol competition poured bottles of milk into the drain in order to get the QR code embedded in the bottle cap for voting. 

The event was very unfortunate to unfold just days after the Anti Food Waste Law was enacted by China’s parliament. It could derail or even kill the whole idol competition industry.

  1. Why Chinese-Pop Fans Are Spending Millions on Milk

For Chinese idol competition shows, fans can vote for their favourite contestants on video platforms (iQIYI and Tencent) and to buy sponsored products allow fans to obtain additional voting opportunities. 

For example, in iQIYI’s “Youth with You 3”, ordinary users can only vote 1 vote a day, and VIP users have 2 votes. But if you buy the sponsored milk products, you can get 5 more votes per day.

Participants are not eligible to modify the rules. Contestants, fans, artist management companies can only buy sponsored products to compete for the debut this year.

There are several ways to vote with sponsored products: 

One way is to directly print the voting QR code on the outer packaging of the product. You need to tear off the outer skin to scan the QR code on the bottle for additional voting.

The other way is to use QR cards sold with milk products:

The above two methods generally do not involve “pouring milk.” Fans will usually give milk products to friends to drink, or to make charitable donations in the name of their idols.

The only way that involves pouring milk is the product with voting QR codes on caps.

The code is in the bottle, so you can only scan it after opening it. If these codes are not in the bottle cap from the beginning, the problem may be alleviated.


  1. Who poured the milk?

Since the milk pouring video went viral, all parties have accused the problem of wasting food. But there is a problem that has not been solved yet-who poured the milk.

One theory is that fans hire someone to pour milk. As I worked closely with fans in the past three months, I know that it is not true. What fans can get is pictures of QR code. They directly purchased QR code from scalpers and they have no idea their QR code is from which kind of products.

Besides, do these people in the video look like fans of a youth idol competition? 

So scalpers can be the one who poured the milk? It is possible. As I introduced, the main way for Youth With You this year is milk cards. The price of milk cards change every day during the competition.This kind of operation is similar to futures. Brands and platforms inadvertently give birth to a new “electronic currency.” 

As the price of milk cards goes too high, scalpers decide to sell milk caps. However, as I interviewed several scalpers, they claimed that they are not involved in pouring milk. Instead, they directly got caps from Mengniu dealers. 

Why do dealers want to sell caps instead of selling milk? The answer is easy-the sponsored product is hard to sell. According to Taobao’s selling records, this kind of milk product is unsaleable goods with sales of only 1000 bottles per month.

The sponsor probably wanted to spur the sales of an otherwise unpopular product, and sponsoring the idol show seemed perfectly logical. 

And when there is a market for the QR code, and the price of that exceeds the profits dealers will get by selling the milk – the logical and economical, if not moral, action for the dealer is to dump the milk and sell only the cards. 

That can probably infer a simulated industry chain-

Mengniu prints the voting code in the bottle cap—>the dealer pours the milk and fetches the cap with the voting code—>the scalper takes the cap and scans the code with the code scanner to pack it into the computer—>the fan buys the voting package.

It is the invisible hand in the market economy at play. Without understanding this, the regulators and public opinion will not solve the root cause of the problem. 

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].