Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Feb 18, 2016

CNY not just for promotional tactics anymore: Prophet

GREATER CHINA - Chinese New Year is a surprisingly strong branding opportunity, not just a promotional tactic, according to survey results from brand consultancy Prophet.

Lifebuoy's soap-lined red packets make wishes for good health a reality
Lifebuoy's soap-lined red packets make wishes for good health a reality

As one of the most important festivals in the Chinese calendar, CNY has traditionally constituted a window period for brands to promote their products and ring up robust retail sales. It has not generally been considered a time for brands to deepen and strengthen their relationships with consumers.

That perception may need to change, according to Prophet's poll, carried out last month. The company surveyed 1,000 consumers across three markets (mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore) regarding their attitudes on how brands should participate in CNY.

Chinese brands that did well during this CNY included Jiaduobao, Xufuji, Want Want, Yili, Haier and Mengniu. These companies understood the strong traditions associated with the festival—visiting family, gifting, sharing of food—and fully embraced the sentiments of this prolific time of year, the consultancy reported.

This is of course expected of domestic brands, but in fact, some non-Chinese brands, such as Coca-Cola and Lifebuoy, also stood out for the emotional connections they built with natives.

In the survey, 72 percent of respondents said that it was important for them to be surprised by brands’ CNY promotions. Chinese consumers clearly want to be captivated by brand campaigns, said Jay Milliken, senior partner in Prophet’s Hong Kong office.

Haier, for example, catered to emotional needs this CNY with a campaign called “Be your parents’ companion during CNY” (新年陪伴父母). Partnering with China Railway, Haier labelled entire trains under its washing machine brand ("海尔新水晶号") and decorated train compartments with QR codes.

People taking the trains home for family reunions could scan the QR codes and watch a short branded video about the unconditional love of parents. Prophet indicated that Chinese consumers related strongly to this sentiment.


Another example highlighted by Prophet is Unilever’s Lifebuoy, which has developed novel 'hongbao' or red packets from anti-bacterial soap paper.

The packets, which can be used to both gift money and wash hands, were sent to 270,000 target households in Shanghai, increasing Lifebuoy’s brand awareness in the market by 17 percent, or the equivalent of US$830,000 in free impressions, Prophet reported.

As non-Chinese brands bring innovation to marketing that delights and engages Chinese consumers, the message for Chinese brands is that they can no longer get along simply by offering the usual CNY promotions, Milliken said.  

Mainland respondents indicated that they are more likely to recommend brands to others (59 percent), try new brands (65 percent) or buy more from brands (64 percent) if those brands participate in CNY in the ways they wanted.

"This is a big surprise because consumers told us that they were interested in brands engaging with them and would reward them with higher loyalty or trial of new brands," added Milliken.

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