Design Inspiration: Chinese New Year Marketing Ideas

Preparations are underway for a festival celebrated by about 25% of the world’s population! We’re talking about the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, which will be falling on  February 12th this year. And if your brand wants to get in on the festivities, we’ve got some Chinese New Year marketing ideas for you.

But first let’s take a quick look at what the festival entails. Each year an animal represents the new year according to zoolatry (the worship of animals). The zodiac signs include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. 2020 was the year of the rat and as that draws to a close, the year of the ox (begins). 

The ox is thought of having the traits of strength, conscientiousness, inspiring confidence and reliability as well as fairness. People who are born in years that represent the ox are thought of as being calm, patient, methodical and trustworthy. Although they are also very opinionated, strong-willed and potentially stubborn.

In 2021, celebrations will look quite different during the pandemic. But over 2 billion people around the world are expected to mark the Chinese New Year in some form.

Given the numbers, does your brand has a natural tie-in to the festival? Or do you know that it will be meaningful to your audience? In either case, it is worthwhile to consider some Chinese New Year marketing ideas.

Celebrating Chinese New Year in a pandemic 

Many companies and even the Chinese government are offering some financial incentives this year with one goal in mind. They want to encourage people to stay at home during the celebrations next month. These incentives include cash bonuses, shopping vouchers, movie tickets, free entry to local attractions, and even food and decorations.

Incentives aside, it is believed that people will be staying home more than they have in past years. With many places around the world facing increased restrictions due to new waves of the pandemic, there is a a lot of hesitation around travel at the moment.

As we’ve seen with other holidays, as more people stay home, shopping online will aslo be increasing. More and more people are going to be looking for ways to send gifts to their family and friends and stay connected this Chinese New Year.

2021 Chinese New Year marketing ideas  

The Chinese New Year is an especially important time for family and friends to get together and celebrate. So when you design your marketing campaigns around this event, hitting the right spots is a must. Here are a few great strategies and examples that will help you get inspired.

Identify what your customers want from you

Every good marketing campaign starts with knowing who your customers are and what they want from you. Before you implement your Chinese New Year marketing ideas, take the time to do a bit of research. Find out what your customers expect from you. And take a look at your past holiday campaigns to see the types of messaging and offers that work best.

You can even post a survey or poll to decide on what type of content is best and collect feedback. The more targeted your approach, the better your results will be. Of course if this is your first year trying out some Chinese New Year marketing ideas, you’re testing the waters. But taking a look at the types of campaigns and content that have done well during other holidays may give you a good starting point.

Update your social media feed

One of the simplest ways to connect with your audience around any holiday is to simply publish social media posts. This can just be wishes on the day of. Or you can build in a few posts and Stories leading up, during and after the celebration. The second strategy is especially effective if you’ll be running promos related to the Chinese New Year. 

Here are some images and elements to consider incorporating in your designs:

  • The color red. It’s associated with wealth and good fortune. 
  • Complementing a dominant palette of red, you can incorporate yellow. The color was the traditional symbol of the Chinese emperor. And to this day it suggests a higher status. 
  • Images of the lucky red envelopes. They are commonly gifted during this time.
  • Koi fish which represent wealth and success.
  • Tangerines and oranges are Chinese New Year symbols of abundant happiness.
  • Peach blossoms and plum blossoms. Fruit blossoms are used to symbolise the start of a new cycle.
  • Firecrackers, which ward off evil spirits, and red lanterns which light the way for the family’s Kitchen God.
Connect with wholesome messaging 

Messaging that is wholesome and warm will do really well in the lead up to the festival. Warm and welcoming stories will help customers connect emotionally with, and feel good about, your brand. 

Even if some of the messaging may be heavy (e.g. mention of families having to be apart this year), it is perfectly fine to use it as long as there is a happy ending and genuine tone. This year, many people will not be able to travel to see their loved ones or be with their families. Give them ways to reconnect to their loved ones even if they may be miles apart. This will help them feel emotionally connected to your brand and make the distance less painful.

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For example, one of the most effective marketing campaigns for the season was done by McDonald’s in 2016. Their “You Are My CNY” campaign was a hit! Many people travel to meet their families as this is the only time that they get to see their loved ones. McDonald’s in China focused on the feelings of “togetherness and the importance of connecting with the people you love” in their campaign. They made a video which starred the toy Ronald McDonald. Ronald followed travellers on the journeys that they took back home. At the end of the video the toy was reunited with the real Ronald MacDonald.

User generated content is a must 

Ask your customers to create and share themed content in the lead up to the festival, and beyond if you’d like. Be sure to give them a branded hashtag and you can even encourage them to share particular types of images. Here are few ideas to give you some inspiration:

  • Your followers’ favourite CNY decor to get into the festive mood
  • The best snacks or meals to celebrate the festival – you can encourage followers to post/share recipes with a picture of the final product. Or you can ask them to recommend their favourite local eats to get a meal for CNY.
  • Your followers’ favourite outfits or looks for the festive season
  • How everyone is getting creative and staying connected 

This will give you brand exposure and increase engagement as well. Even in a digital age, word of mouth continues to be one of the best forms of PR for any brand. 92% customers are more likely to trust what another customer has to say about your brand, as opposed to just branded content from you. If we consider millennials alone, 84% say that user generated content has an influence on the purchasing decisions that they make. 

Pick the right marketing materials 

When it comes to your advertising, and branding, picking the correct marketing materials and formats is a must. It’s not a secret that consumers are more likely to look twice at or purchase products based on great packaging or ads. And keep in mind, the products you offer during the festive season could help you make a lasting impression on your customers. 

When they are out and about or thinking of shopping online, you want your brand to be the one that crosses their minds. If the marketing materials you choose – whether online or offline – are useful and relatable, the chances of this increase exponentially. 

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A good example of this would be what WeChat did over the past couple of years. They introduced electronic versions of the red packets, or the hong bao, that are traditionally gifted during the New Year. By doing so they facilitated sending money to loved ones digitally. WeChat simply put a digital spn on a time honoured tradition and allowed people to do what they would do each year, only in a more convenient way. According to Reuters more than 46 billion red packets were sent out in 2017.

Launch limited editions

Many brands around the world make it a point to launch limited edition items that help people celebrate the Chinese New Year. Most of these products use the colors red and gold on them and feature the animal of the zodiac that represents that particular year. 

In addition to this, prominent Chinese characters that are representations for good luck or prosperity are also featured on these limited edition products. For example, Apple launched two models of sports watches that were both red colored. They were also only available for a short period of time.

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Meanwhile, Nike launched sneakers that had a lucky character on the heel. So if you are planning on launching any products to celebrate the Chinese New Year, make sure that you do the research first and then develop the product in a way that will appeal to your target market.

Your packaging matters 

People always think of the New Year as a time to engage in positive and auspicious traditions that they believe will usher in good luck and happiness. They want to attract good luck and positive vibes. 

So, when you are working on your packaging for customers, look for ways you can incorporate this thought into your packaging designs. For example, Godiva, in 2019, put a Koi Fish on their box. The Koi Fish is a sign of abundance in Chinese tradition. 

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Look into the traditions that are associated with the Chinese New Year and figure out how you can incorporate these into your packaging. It could be as simple as a card, tag or sticker that you incorporate into your existing packaging. 

Also consider including traditional red packets free of charge or limited edition items based on lucky numbers. These Chinese New Year marketing ideas will encourage people to buy more from you and also recommend your products or services to others.

Share how your team celebrates 

When people like or trust your brand, they will be more likely to connect with you and to shop with you again. One way in which you can gain trust, and also be more likeable, is by sharing causes and organizations you support. Maybe your business could make a donation of products or services to a local seniors’ centre or community centre where Chinese New Year is typically celebrated. Chances are there are local organizations looking for some help to celebrate in creative ways this year. Try doing a call-out to your followers for suggestions if you’re not already connected with an organization you can support.

As it is a time of festivity and celebration, another way to share your company culture is to have your team share what the holiday means to them. Or how they’ll be celebrating. For instance, you could interview staff members and post short clips of them sharing how they celebrate the Chinese New Year with their families. 

If your team members don’t typically celebrate the Chinese New Year, but many of your customers do, you can still share posts that recognize the holiday in respectful ways. Here are a few ideas:

  • Your team members could share some of their favourite aspects of the festival
  • Or you can collect stories from your followers and have your team members read them out in short video clips
  • You can get an influencer relevant to your niche and audience who celebrates CNY to do a social media takeover for the day

This kind of content can make for some great IG or Facebook Stories.  

Tug on the heartstrings with a great story

In 2020, Prada filmed a documentary featuring top Chinese model Chun Jun alongside her family. The documentary was all about how the family celebrated the Chinese New Year. It also featured the brand’s new collection, just in time for the New Year. The color red was a dominant feature in the collection and the brand reimagined its iconic triangle in red as well, to depict good luck.

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This clever strategy helped Prada connect to its customers through a relatable story of family ties, childhood memories and laughter. So if you want to tell a story, make it authentic and genuine. It needs to be something that resonates with people’s lived experiences. And this in turn will encourage them to buy products from you that they feel they have a connection to. 

Share videos that feel authentic

One of the most sought after formats of content right now is video. In 2020 alone, the ROI of online videos increased because people spent more time online watching them. 99% of marketers had said that they would like to focus on videos last year and 95% of them expected to either increase or maintain the spend that they had on video content. 

With much of the world still in various stages of lockdowns in the ongoing pandemic, these numbers are likely to stay the same this year too. Businesses used to be a bit sceptical about the cost of video production and the likes in the past. But with live videos and other formats that are more budget friendly, there is a focus more on the value of the content being presented. Not just looking shiny and sleek. 

As a matter of fact, more and more people are appreciating the raw and candid styles of videos increasingly being shared by brands. Authenticity is everything. In fact, 63% of customers surveyed from over 12 global markets say that they would like to buy from a brand that they feel is authentic. 60% said that they would also recommend an authentic business to their family and friends. 

Here are some ideas that can help you create awesome videos that feel authentic: 
  • Film the preparations of traditional Chinese New Year dishes. This can be by your team members, or a local chef or restaurant. Be sure to document all the ingredients and how each dish is made. 
  • Take the opportunity to help out those in need and give them some delicious food and lucky red envelopes. Film the preparations and maybe even the distribution if those you’re donating to are comfortable with the idea. Or you can always share the impact with a video (e.g. standing outside of a community centre or organization you’ve donated to, speaking to one of their team members).
  • Film your team putting up decor in your shop/business windows to brighten the spirits of passers by.

What to avoid in your Chinese New Year marketing ideas 

Just like there are best practices for Chinese New Year marketing ideas, there are also things that you really should avoid. Below we walk you through some of these examples:

Lacking cultural sensitivity

If you want to create something that is humorous or witty for your marketing, that can be a really great approach. But the humor has to be relevant and it should not come at the expense of cultural insensitivity. 

No matter what you create, always make sure that you are respecting the culture of your audience. And if you’re not sure if an idea will fly, then reach out to a few different contacts or organizations to make sure your messaging is on point. When Dolce & Gabbana decided to do an advert that featured a Chinese woman attempting to eat Italian food with chopsticks, they thought people would laugh off. 

Instead Dolce & Gabbana had to deal with a massive backlash as people saw them as being racist and insensitive, not to mention disrespectful. The company got pulled off of Alibaba.com, JD.com and other such Chinese ecommerce platforms as well. They also had to cancel a show after many celebrities and other prominent brands started speaking out against the designer label.

Be on brand, but not tone deaf 

In 2019, Burberry launched their very first Chinese New Year campaign. They chose to show a traditional family portrait style image, in which a family is seen wearing Burberry clothing. Sounds safe enough right? Well, they missed the mark because a lot of people likened the aesthetic to being similar to what’s seen in Asian horror films. 

The campaign was called “Modern Tradition” and meant to put a new spin on traditional sentiments around Chinese New Year. But when you’re dealing with a time-honoured celebration, you have to be really careful that any new spins you’re attempting aren’t upending the things that consumers feel most connected to. 

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This is why it’s so important to put the time into understanding your audience and figuring out how the stories you tell, and the content you create, can connect with them.

Connect with customers this Chinese New Year 

The Chinese New Year is just a few weeks away, but there’s still plenty of time to pull together a few different pieces of content to connect with your customers. Keep them as simple or as creative as you’d like. But just remember, your end goal has to be connecting with your audience. Look for ways to be relevant and engaging. And remember, if a design is on brand but falls flat when it comes to capturing the feelings and ideas associated with the festival, you’re better off tweaking it or trying out another approach altogether. Use the Chinese New Year marketing ideas we’ve shared for inspiration. And try to capture the real essence of this auspicious festival and the significance that it holds in the Chinese culture.