Megan Gell
Jan 31, 2018

How to celebrate CNY: A lesson for brands

For companies with operations in Asia, CNY is a time for lavish events.

Nike Air Force 1
Nike Air Force 1

Every Lunar New Year sees Chinese communities around the world gather to celebrate a year of hard work and wish for a lucky and prosperous year ahead. It’s also a busy time for brands who are increasingly targeting Chinese consumers with limited edition products and holiday messaging. And for companies with operations in Asia Pacific, it’s a time for lavish events.

Adrian Chiu, producer, FreemanXP says: “CNY celebrations are not just a way of commemorating Chinese traditions, it is also a company’s way of fostering greater community bonds in the workplace and ushering the New Year together. The celebrations are also a great form of client appreciation.

“Many traditional elements are retained for every annual CNY celebration—auspicious colours of red and gold, use of mandarin oranges, red packets, traditional activities such as lo-hei and lion dances, plus incorporation of the lucky number “eight”.

“However companies are always looking for a way to elevate the experience and make it more memorable and novel whilst still retaining elements of tradition. A good example of this would be an LED Lion Dance that is an upgrade from the traditional performance. Traditional performances with a twist is what brands want!”

BMW gets playful for CNY

Themed celebrations

For a financial services client, FreemanXP is organising a “Prosperity in Bloom” theme event at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.  

“We aim to engage all five senses in a multitude of activities,” says Chiu. “Guests will enter through the flower field dome, taking in the CNY floral displays which sets the mood and ambience for a “prosperity in bloom” theme celebration.

“A prosperity tree sculpture will stand tall at the event space and hangs in abundance with red packets. Guests are invited to view the tree, write their Chinese New Year messages on the paper flowers laid beneath the tree, and hang the flowers to receive red packets in return. The tree will then continue to “bloom” even more as the event goes on with well wishes and prosperous paper flowers.”

A floral fragrance bar will allow guests to sample different scents and create their own take-home fragrance as a themed souvenir. A “Prosperity Oracle” will also interact with guests.

“As ‘Caishen’ is known as the Chinese god of prosperity, his figure and name is often invoked during CNY celebrations for good luck,” says Chiu. “We decided to modernise this concept by having a roving prosperity oracle dressed as Caishen reading guests’ fortunes via palm reading and sharing their fortunes for the year ahead.”

Fortune telling is popular way to inject fun and excitement, for a hotel client FreemanXP will install traditional pavilions, domes and archways with panels displaying fortune predictions for each of the 12 zodiac signs. The hotel’s celebration will be themed “A Story of Good Fortune” and incorporates lucky elements of gold coins, “happiness” characters and lanterns.

Nike's Air Jordon brands gets in on the CNY action

Swag tips

Nike was among the first global brands to launch limited edition gear around the holiday when in 2002 it released a CNY Air Force 1 complete with galloping horse. Now everyone from Kellogg’s Cornflakes to VegaFina cigars and Vacheron Constantin (US$125,000 for its platinum Year of the Dog wristwatch) are getting in on the act. It’s getting harder to stand out and as Chinese consumers become more discerning, sticking the relevant zodiac animal on your packaging simply isn’t going to cut it.

It may even backfire, as Burberry learned in 2015 following a social media backlash to its classic tartan scarf with a poorly positioned prosperity character stitched on the end. As one Weibo user said: “If you want to integrate exotic cultural elements…then you should do it in the right way.”

Some 16 years since its first release, Nike has moved on from the zodiac to incorporate more subtle materials and themes such as jade and fireworks. Event planners should take their cues from this, stay on brand and avoid “on the nose” messaging. Have fun, but be careful as many of the iconic CNY tropes such as lanterns and plum blossoms carry specific meanings.   

Vacheron Constantin's Year of the Dog watch

Be playful

Jean Liang, marketing executive APAC at FreemanXP says: “Chinese couplets, which are a must for any CNY event, serve as a form of reinforcement of the celebration’s theme and express a brand’s wishes and direction for the year ahead.

“Couplets also play a very big role in publicity, as the key event photos will always focus on the couplets displayed, which are also used in lion dances. These couplets are often related to the zodiac year, auspicious sayings or traditional phrases. A play on words is very common.”

BMW played on this idea when celebrating CNY in China recently, it wanted to promote its popular 3 Series. As “shan” (衫) means clothes in Mandarin, the couplet for the year referenced the traditional CNY saying of “mai xin shan” (buy new clothes), but replaced the “shan” with the similar sounding “saam”, which means three in Cantonese, playfully encouraging people to “buy a new 3” Series car.

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