This is a short post all about Chinese New Year as it is fast approaching. It is crucial for any brand to understand a bit about Chinese New Year regardless of whether you are operating in the region or not. It is not only a big sales opportunity here but also as more Chinese choose this holiday to travel overseas it is an opportunity to target this consumer pretty much everywhere!
What is Chinese New Year & why is it so important?
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring festival is the most important holiday of the year in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea. It is also celebrated widely in various forms in South East Asia especially markets with large ethnic Chinese communities – there are public holidays in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam (Tet) and Indonesia.
It is not celebrated in Japan.
Chinese New Year is linked to the lunar calendar hence why the dates move every year between Jan & Feb. It is a time like Christmas in much of the west for families to come together. Traditionally and even now most people go back to their home towns. Chunyun has been called the biggest single migration of people – it starts 15 days before and can last up to 40 days and the estimated number of passenger journeys is expected to be 2.9 billion! This is really because factory workers tend to take their full year leave at Chinese New Year and have long journeys to get home.
Now many middle-class people choose this time to go on holiday as a family both within Asia and further afield.
Chinese New Year Traditions
There are lots of traditions surrounding this festival and some of them vary regionally. Anything from buying new clothes, cleaning the house before the new year and decorate with red signs of prosperity.
There are special types of food that are traditional – dumplings, new year cake and tang yuan are just some delicious examples!
Red packets are a big part of the ritual of Chinese New Year – more on these below.
The Art of gift giving
Gifting is crucial in Chinese culture for many occasions & it is quite the art. Chinese New Year gifting traditionally takes the form of red packets (hong bao红包????）which is money given in red envelopes but even this is anything but simple.
Adults who are defined is signified when you get married or in some countries when they start full time work are required to gift red packets to children. Traditionally it is believed that the money in the red packet will suppress the evil and provide health and a long life. Nowadays red packets are given out to all people who support you from door man, hairdresser to office staff – it is usually a token amount to bring good luck for the coming year but there is a complicated etiquette depending the closeness and dynamic of your relationship.
A bit more on gifting – although not traditional to give gifts at this time of year it does happen especially in business relationships where giving cash is not acceptable.
So a few tips if you are doing business in China or with Chinese partners in your home country:
Never give: Sharp objects (cut off your relationship), Clock (parting), four of anything (word for 4 means death), shoes (evil), handkerchiefs (farewell), umbrellas (bad luck), mirrors (attract ghosts), be careful with anything that is too black or too white as they are linked to funerals and for traditional relationships avoid cut flowers but this is fine in most modern relationships, just avoid them at Chinese New Year because they are associated with funerals.
There used to be a very wide spread practice of gifting luxury goods to solidify professional relationships but that is less prevalent now since the government crackdown on corruption.
I always recommend gifting something personalised from your home market – showing the local culture whilst honouring the gift receiver. It is still very important when building relationships in China to give gifts as a sign of respect.
Brands in China at Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is a big sales opportunity both for gifting but also people tend to treat themselves at this time of year.
International Cosmetics brands have been capitalising on this for many years. There are different ways brands approach this, but it varies from dedicated marketing campaigns, special gift boxes to limited edition products and packaging.
Giorgio Armani – limited edition gift packaging for 2019 Chinese New Year focusing on gifting to others.
Estee Lauder’s campaign focuses on start product Advanced Night repair with a special shoot using festive fans with skyline cutouts, using red and gold palette – focusing on self rather than gifting.
Lancome with gift boxes and flying pigs – it is coming into the year of the pig so this is a cute addition to engage consumers. They have set this with the parisian skyline in the background but the Church in the focal position is an odd choice.
Sephora.cn homepage is focused on star products but with no stand out creative.
Brands should consult a market expert before finalising anything specifically targeted for Chinese New Year. There have been some recent high-profile mistakes – Burberry’s 2019 campaign was widely criticised for the lack of festive cheer. Another comical example was Nike adding characters to limited edition trainers – fa & fu which by themselves are good Chinese New Year characters but together mean ‘getting fat’ – pretty ironic for a sports brand!
Burberry subsequently put out more images that were less sombre.
This is another problem Burberry had in 2015 with their limited edition product – many consumers considered it cheap looking and overdoing the Chinese New Year message. There is a fine line luxury brands both fashion and beauty need to walk.
Opportunities for small brands in China or abroad
Despite the lack of budgets of the big players small brands can and should still capitalise on Chinese New Year. It is a good time to authentically reconnect with your customers – what can you offer them that is personalised? Or you may be able to have specific assets shot to celebrate this holiday. Can you provide branded red packets for your customers to use – this is common practice and a good way to get your brand name out there. Whilst limited edition packaging or product may not be worth your while make sure your gift packaging can have a festive touch to acknowledge the season and honour your customers’ traditions.
If you are not currently sold in Asia, then you can still consider targeting the overseas Chinese in your home market or those travelling. It’s a big opportunity to engage with the world’s substantial travelling consumer when they are in the mood to shop!
Do get in touch if you want to discuss anything related to this article. I would love to hear from you.