Luxury brands have all eyes on February 12 as they prepare for one of their biggest holidays of the year: Chinese New Year. And how these brands approach the vacation offers marketers an important lesson in harnessing consumer insights to create culturally relevant campaigns.
China’s consumer market, which is expected to reach $ 8.4 trillion by 2022, is seen as a key growth opportunity for luxury brands looking to bounce back from a difficult 2020. Brands like Gucci and Fendi are already running their annual Chinese New Year marketing campaigns.
Simply put, luxury brands cannot get enough of the Chinese market or vacation. However, the difference between creating a campaign that thrives on a campaign that falls flat begins with recognizing the cultural nuances that surround the vacation. A nod to childhood nostalgia can bring brands closer to their East Asian audiences, while Chinese New Year marketing ideas that use exaggerated motifs are sure to generate online criticism.
When brands take the time to understand what customers really value and the cultural meaning behind the holiday they are celebrating, a campaign starts. Even if the Chinese New Year isn’t on your brand’s marketing calendar, there is much to be learned from the luxury brands that have seen success and failure, and everything in between.
A brief introduction to the Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is referred to by different names. In Tibet, the festival is known as Losar, while Koreans call it Seollal. To encompass all of the different cultures that celebrate this holiday, it is commonly referred to as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival.
Although the specific traditions and festivals vary from country to country, at the heart of the holiday is the family. Vivien Kuo, Product Software Engineer at Sprout Social and member of the Asians @ Sprout BRG, compares the holidays to Christmas or Thanksgiving in America.
“It’s a time when your family comes together,” says Kuo, who identifies as Taiwanese-American and grew up in Taiwan. “It’s a family-oriented vacation where you spend a lot of time eating and each family has their own traditions like watching a movie or going to the local night market.”
As for timing, the New Year celebrations follows the lunar calendar and falls between January 21st and February 20th. Each year is associated with a specific animal that repeats on a 12-year cycle, with 2021 celebrating the Year of the Ox.
Prioritize the channels your audience lives on
Given that China leads the world in all countries with the most Internet users and knows which social channels can be used, a brand’s Chinese New Year marketing campaign can be run or interrupted. Luxury brands have shown they know where to go by using local social platforms like WeChat and Weibo.
Think about how Gucci uses WeChat for its New Years campaigns. Data from the Vogue Business Index shows that the search volume for Gucci has increased tenfold compared to the average for the app in January this year. The luxury brand knows that customers who are most interested in New Year-themed products are more likely to use WeChat and Weibo than Twitter or Instagram. In fact, you won’t find any mentions of Chinese or New Year celebrations on Gucci’s main Twitter profile.
Burberry also realizes that platforms serving a Western audience are unlikely to attract the consumer attention they want. The fashion house teased its lunar new year short film, A New Awakening, on Weibo. The 60-second teaser generated over 3.4 million views, while the associated hashtag generated over 89.5 million views. Burberry has since released the short film worldwide on YouTube, but it currently has only 405,000 views since it premiered on Jan. 18.
For a digital campaign to be successful, brands need to consider how different social networks can target both local and international audiences. While the people of China are probably the main consumers of luxury brands, there are also consumers around the world who are interested in Lunar New Year themes. In addition to Weibo and WeChat, Fendi uses platforms like Twitter to create shorter, product-centric campaigns that appeal to global audiences. This strategy enables the luxury brand to both market to its primary audience and pursue opportunities to reach consumers outside of China.
Leave the stereotypes behind and focus on cultural values
It is almost guaranteed that there will always be a brand to go overboard with the red and gold color scheme, paper lanterns and exaggerated motifs when the New Year festival begins. Consumers are quick to point out when a campaign crosses the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Kuo also notes that the visual design of a campaign makes it easy to see how much (or how little) effort brands have put into their marketing efforts for the new year.
“When I lived in Taiwan, much of the Chinese New Year material was about the zodiac of the year. This is the year of the ox, so many things are ox-themed, ”says Kuo. “It’s interesting for me to see how some brands, when creating Chinese New Year collections, are only doing generic things. I don’t take this negative, but clearly someone decided that Chinese motifs are good enough and decided to sell this. “
Instead, brands should recognize and incorporate the traditions celebrated during the Lunar New Year in order to better connect with their customers. Kuo shared some of the better New Year campaigns she had seen while in Taiwan. It contained blessings and sayings about bringing happiness. For example, a tradition during the Lunar New Year is for families to exchange gifts of red envelopes for cash. Nike playfully incorporated this tradition known as Hongbao into its 2020 campaign, which was well received in the social field.
Nike also took inspiration from the Chinese temple gathering tradition known as Miaohui for its recent Weibo and WeChat campaigns. The sportswear brand created a 60-second short film that received over 277,000 views on Weibo in two days. To round off the activation of the Chinese New Year brand, Nike launched a campaign-specific hashtag that allows consumers to upload user-generated content to share their personal resolutions.
The most successful campaigns are those that show a deep understanding of the culture and take into account the emotions of consumers. For example, the Belgian brand Maison Margiela worked with a local Chinese artist to design a campaign that explores the cultural representation of the ox in contemporary art. Internet users reacted positively to the luxury brand’s decision to exploit the animal’s spiritual significance. The campaign received over 21,100 WeChat views. Consumers look for brand messages that resonate with them and quickly sniff out when brands don’t make the effort to learn the meaning of certain celebrations.
The best global campaigns start with a local perspective
Currently, luxury brands dominate the New Year holidays. With the internet and the migration of Asian consumers around the world, it’s no surprise that more and more retailers are joining the celebrations.
At the same time, it’s important for brands to remember that Lunar New Year is more than collectibles with zodiac motifs and red and gold packaging. It is a holiday that has historical and cultural significance to the billions of people around the world who celebrate it. Even if Lunar New Year isn’t on your brand’s marketing calendar, there is a lot to learn from the luxury brands that are thriving in the Asian market. Local marketing and addressing the emotions of your customers are two good starting points for a campaign to reach your target group.
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