Recognise this? It’s January, and having just come through Christmas retail craziness, a bright young spark flags that Chinese New Year is just round the corner.
Realising you’re already well into one of China’s most important commercial seasons, you rush to your New York design team who pull together a Monkey/Rooster/Dog/in gold on a red background with a hasty gong xi fa cai underneath. Due to signfiicant constraits around time, planning and cultural knowledge, this last minute dash becomes your company’s New Year effort and falls flat with your Chinese audience, the very consumer you are looking to charm and engage.
Culturally and commercially, Chinese New Year festival holds the same important to a Chinese audience as Christmas does to a Western one. It should be treated with the same level of importance, yet the majority of global brands selling to China still fall into the trap of producing predictable, run of the mill campaigns at the last minute. Think of the creativity, planning and budgets dedicated to delivering cut-through for Christmas campaigns globally. Don’t your Chinese audience deserve a little more?
Below are Hot Pot’s top 6 recommendations for planning a successful CNY campaign:
Whatever your campaign lead time is for Christmas, apply the same methodology to CNY. We recommend starting around 6 months prior to the festival itself, longer if special edition products or collections are to be considered.
Stand out from the rest
Just as reindeer, tinsel and Santa Claus are tired and unoriginal for a Western audience at Christmas, the same applies to defaulting to the colour red with golden zodiac animal imagery and hongbao to a Chinese audience at CNY. It’s predictable and so much more can be done to stand out.
Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year?
As many brands are now running campaigns to reach a wider audience in Asia, it’s important to consider if your Chinese New Year really is “Chinese” after all. Celebrating the Lunar New Year is commonplace with many nations and cultures across Asia, so applying a blanket label of Chinese New Year risks causing offence unless you are confident in only solely appealing to a China-based audience.
Interestingly the Chinese term chunjie 春节 literally means “spring festival” so avoids the Chinese/Lunar issue altogether.
Get Your Symbolism Right
It’s important to ensure that your imagery is relevant and culturally correct. As outlined above it’s easy to fall into hackneyed, outdated symbols for a Chinese audience that do not resonate with a younger audience. However it can get much worse when Western teams impose their own ideas of Chinese culture onto a CNY campaign.
For example, fortune cookies may well be a China cultural reference point for a large part of the world’s population, but they originate from Japanese immigrants to the US and were popularised in Chinese restaurants across America during the 20th century (anecdotally none of the Hot Pot team has even been offered a fortune cookie at a restaurant in mainland China).
Likewise, don’t do dragons. Unless it is specifically the year of the dragon, this symbol of Chinese imperial greatness is best left well alone.
Take time to ascertain what CNY really means to your target market and age group – does their association revolve around returning to their home provinces to be with family for the holiday? Does it mean travelling abroad, splashing out on a new outfit, or eating? Build your messaging around solid audience insights.
Get Help from Those in the Know
Making a faux pas around CNY can come down to something as specific as choice of colour or a particular flower that holds cultural connotations that are not obvious to a Western marketing team.
Having cultural consultants that understand your brand as well as the market and can advise on strategy, messaging and creative is essential.
In 2015, British luxury brand Burberry released a special-edition scarf as part of their Chinese New Year campaign. The scarf featured the Chinese character Fu, which means “blessings and prosperity”. However, the character 福 is commonly displayed upside-down to mean “blessings and prosperity will arrive”, as the words for “upside down” and “to arrive” are homophones in Mandarin.
On the Burberry scarf, however, it was placed upright – totally missing the cultural reason for using the character. Burberry received hefty backlash from this oversight on Weibo – and immediately alienated their hugely significant target audience in China.
Similar situations can be avoided by seeking advice from branding consultants that have an equal understanding of your brand and the cultural reference points of your Chinese target audience.
Armed with the right insights and the relevant strategic advice it’s time to be daring and imaginative with your creative. Every brand – Chinese and international – will be trying to win share of voice in the Chinese New Year market with significant supporting media spend. It’s important, therefore, not to settle for watered down “safe” content and instead produce something that will stand out and get cut through during one of the most important commercial seasons on the planet.
Check out how Hot Pot Digital helped Mulberry stay on brand while engaging with core themes of Chinese New Year and a paper cut ram.
Chinese New Year Strategy
Chinese New Year Creative
Hot Pot Digital advises leading consumer, premium and FMCG brands on digital branding strategies for the Chinese market.
We generate high-value audiences through targeted creative, social, digital and paid media campaigns.