Damian Madden
Feb 18, 2015

Do Chinese New Year right, or don't do it at all

Just because Chinese New Year is happening, should your brand try to be part of it? Damian Madden of Spectrum Group argues that unless your brand has a good reason to join in the celebration, it might be better to sit this holiday out.

Do Chinese New Year right, or don't do it at all

Chinese New Year is upon us and, as usual, brands are clamouring to associate themselves with this auspicious event. Hey, why not? There’s a rich heritage of iconography and meaning to draw from and align with, not to mention a theme that changes every year and an emerging Chinese market with a large disposable income.

So it’s no surprise to see special edition products and campaigns marking the occasion across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. For many Western brands, it’s become almost as important as Christmas. But should it be? Just because Chinese New Year is happening, should your brand try to be part of it?

It’s not every day that brands get to align themselves with the positive emotions of luck, happiness and prosperity. This alignment is also a good way for brands without a traditional foothold in Asia to begin making headway into a potentially very lucrative market. But positive emotion is the real prize.

However, herein lies the problem, because it can come off as shameless wagon-jumping, a blatant cash grab, if you will.

So which brands should consider aligning themselves with Chinese New Year? There are three factors you need to consider:

  1. Are you an Asian company? Do you have a large Asian presence or Chinese customer base?
  2. Does your product have an obvious connection to Chinese culture, customs or traditions?
  3. Are the ideals of luck, happiness and prosperity an obvious association for your brand?

If you answered yes to one of these questions you’re on safe ground to consider some sort of Chinese New Year promotion. However, the degree to which you integrate still needs to be carefully considered so don’t run off limited edition packaging and change your masthead just yet. If you’re going to get that involved you’d better be able to tick more than one of these three boxes.

Before we get into examples of brands doing it right (and wrong) there’s one more important fact to consider. It’s something I’ve spoken about numerous times before on this blog. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s an extension of your brand. Failing to align your Chinese New Year messaging with your general brand promise will land you in trouble, even if you’re one of the biggest companies in Asia.

Remember to take a multi-channel approach, giving consumers the opportunity to engage with your product and Chinese New Year offerings through multiple touchpoints and calls to action. It’s not all about the special packaging and logos. It needs to be a deeper engagement to be truly effective.

So, let’s have a look at a few examples:

Coca-Cola does it well. Obviously the colour red (synonymous with Chinese New Year) is already a strong part of the Coke brand, but it runs the gamut of offerings from packaging changes (cleverly featuring Chinese characters appropriate to the celebration) to more generic Chinese New Year iconography. Although large scale (with plenty of opportunity for missteps) it seems natural and celebratory. It’s perceived as adding to people’s experience.

Tiger beer also does it well, surrounding its product shots with themed imagery that eschews the usual red and gold in favour of more dreamlike imagery that better fits the brand. It’s certainly a different approach, and so subtle it could be used outside of Chinese New Year. The biggest strength here is that it connects to the celebrations without being perceived as chasing money.

Another effective effort comes from a rather unusual source; the Houston Rockets NBA team. The team, which has a large following in China because Yao Ming played for the Rockets, has gone with a red basketball jersey with the word ‘rocket’ on it. If you look closely at the way the characters are written you can see they’re composed of small rockets. Very clever.

Switching to brands that aren’t doing it so well, how about Nike’s Year of the Goat sneakers? The shoes, although cool, do not in any way reflect Chinese New Year. This makes them a perfect example of a brand trying to use the occasion just to sell limited-edition products.

Similarly, Patron has merely put its Anejo Tequila inside a red tin. It’s a nice design but little more than pretty packaging. At least Johnnie Walker changed its bottle, producing a rather beautiful Blue Label design that’s more in keeping with its brand.

So, what if your brand doesn’t really fall into these categories or your link is only tenuous. Well you need to be clever about how you do it, seamlessly weaving your Chinese New Year branding in with your wider brand.

Let’s compare two luxury design houses; Burberry and Gucci. Burberry just slapped the Chinese good luck symbol on its scarf, resulting in a huge backlash against the brand. Gucci did a much better job 12 months ago for the Year of the Horse with metal fittings fashioned after horse bits. That’s clever and subtle. That’s how to do it without seeming blatantly opportunistic.

Whether it’s Chinese New Year or some other occasion, you need to ensure it’s a fit for your brand before you do anything. Then make sure you have the correct strategy in place to support the campaign and draw customers into your world. It shouldn’t just be about special-edition packaging, it should be about building connections with your audience. That’s the real value in any branding initiative.

Damian Madden is group creative and social director at Spectrum Group, a communications company with offices in Australia and Singapore.



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