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In the last month, Asia has been a sea of red and gold as we celebrated Chinese New Year. As a newcomer to Singapore, learning about the significance of CNY has been a fascinating insight into Chinese culture, and as a designer, it’s been interesting to observe how modern brands have translated traditional stories and motifs into their products and communications.
As we enter the Year of the Snake, an animal signifying wisdom and business nouse, it’s no surprise that there have been plenty of reptiles slithering around. From the cute and cuddly to the sleek and sophisticated, brands seem to be putting their own spin on this year’s zodiac. Most popular sports retailers have released a snake inspired shoe for the season which reflects their own brand personality. Nike for example, released an ever-so-serious looking pair of black-adder pumps, while Stussy’s snake inspired collection is true to their streetwear style. In Chinese culture, colours are considered auspicious or inauspicious. Red and gold symbolize good fortune, joy, wealth and prosperity, so it’s little wonder that most limited edition packaging at CNY is a beauty parade in this colour combination. Calvin Klein, for example, produced a truly lucky pair of undies – a red and gold pair that featured a cheeky gold snake slithering up the side. While some brands sensitively integrate the colours into their palette without compromising their identity, others appear like a brand simply trying on new clothes for the sake of pleasing others.
Many brands are similarly guilty of caricaturing traditional motifs, like the beautiful Chinese paper cut illustration, with little consideration of how it relates to the brand itself. Coca-Cola on the other hand, have used this style as a reference, executing it in their own unique way to deliver their consistent story about happiness in the context of Chinese New Year. Interestingly, Rolls Royce, who last year produced the extravagant Year of the Dragon Phantom Car (which was valued at over $1.3 million and sold out within 8 weeks), decided not to produce a serpentine version this year. According to their press release, they’re very considerate of the choice of zodiac they integrate into their products and don’t see the snake as a particularly appealing animal for their market.
The most successful pieces therefore reveal a sensitivity to the underlying significance of traditional themes and interpret them according to the unique voice of the brand. Topshop for example, celebrated CNY for the first time this year by producing a fashion film called The Lanterns. Without featuring stereotypical symbols, the structure of the 58 second film communicates an honest respect for the traditions of its modern Chinese consumers. The brand currently has over 10 million followers on its Chinese Weibo site and is opening its first store in China in May. According to their Chief Marketing Officer, as a global brand, they recognise the importance of understanding what matters most to their consumers.
But perhaps the most considered campaign this year has come from Johnnie Walker. Whiskey is a popular gift for colleagues and clients at this time of year, and the brand has certainly made the most of the opportunity. Following the dragon-inspired box sets of 2012, this year, Johnnie Walker released a collection of 12 bottles, each etched with a different zodiac. In traditional Chinese culture, the number 8 is as lucky as they come, so the brand limited the edition to only 88 bottles – all of which sold out within two weeks of the launch. Going a step further, Johnnie Walker also collaborated with three bars in Singapore to design a series of bespoke cocktails that feature their Gold Label Reserve. Respecting the significance of the colour gold, the cocktails were aptly named ‘Good as Gold’ and ‘Liquid Luck’, and infused with flavours of special significance like mandarins and plums (which signify an abundance of wealth).
When approached in a thoughtful way, events like Chinese New Year offer great opportunities for brands to reflect their customs and traditions in a way that is meaningful, both to the consumer and to the brand. Strong brands don’t simply mimic traditional motifs and dress in the right colours; they use story to make a deeper connection.
As a kid I remember the fizzy pop man coming up our street with a truck full of carbonated goodness or Mr Whippy, playing his hypnotic tune to hoards of screaming ice-cream crazy whippersnappers. But the super-aggressive New York truck scene is something else.
There are food trucks all over the city selling various offerings, from culinary classics to experimental fusions. Every year, these street vendors fight it out in New York for extreme supremacy.
This year’s Vendy awards (a competition between street cart vendors) featured Greek, Mexican, Afghani, Korean, New Orleans sno-balls, paranthas, Filipino spring rolls, Peruvian ceviches and savoury ice cream (to name a few) all fighting it out on Governors Island for the honour of being crowned NYC’s top street vendor and lifting the highly coveted Vendy Cup.
In the end, a band of esteemed judges settled on Piaztlan Authentic Mexican. These beauties are sold out of a Red Hook ball field in Brooklyn, I’ve heard that people actually make the trip (and there’s no subway in Red Hook) just to get those award-winning goat meat tacos.
New kids on the block
Food aside, a new breed of trucks is starting to appear. Big brands have started popping up on the mean streets of NYC and taking their offers straight to the people.
The most notable being Procter & Gamble and Walmart.com launching a joint, month-long initiative to increase the brands’ footprint in big cities. Their food truck style pop-up store rocked up to the car park next to our office in Manhattan, complete with P&G products and just did its stuff, not a problem!
Recently I’ve noticed Samsung, MasterCard, Maybelline and The History Channel all doing a bit of mobile brand-building too. The other day, I clocked an 80-strong queue of women on East 18th Street all waiting for the latest ‘fresh’ facemask. Quite a sight to behold. If crow’s feet were a big concern in my life and I was a lady the market for a soy facial delight, I’d have been number 81 in that line.
A dollar and a dream
I’ve also heard rumours of a Brooklyn knife sharpening van, a truck rocking up at skate parks selling replacement parts, and the best ever is the paternity truck that offers on-the-spot tests with ‘Who’s your daddy?’ emblazoned on the side. Genius.
So all this truck madness seems like a pretty effective, upwardly mobile way of bringing your brand to the people, for the price of a van and a few willing workers.
It was once raised in an Elmwood bootcamp that each office should have a green campervan and hit the road for car park based client presentations. Maybe that’s not such a far-fetched idea? We just need a global fleet of vans and sign-off on a hypnotic tune!
Introducing Dressing for Pleasure – a New Jersey-based fetish store and online catalogue. Unfortunately the company was forced out of business, but before they closed they managed to create this less-than-traditional ad stunt (nice spot Tim!).
So, why were they forced out of business? Apparently for running sex parties in the boutique’s basement fantasy dungeon – charges the owner denies!
Japanese advertising company Shunkosha has developed a new way of engaging with commuters on the Tokyo subway. ‘Strappy’ is a small box which attaches to the subway’s handrails. When commuters touch their phone to the box, it automatically sends them to a URL.
The box uses Near Field Technology (NFC) which is already well established in Japan and Korea. By installing these devices in subways, advertisers gain access to a captive audience looking for a little distraction during their crowded commute.
To promote its product, deodorant company Axe/Lynx created the world’s first invisible ad. (Cheers, Ify!)
Using hack LCD screens and a terrace house in Sydney, the company created ads that were only visible when viewed only through polarized sunglasses.
Watch the video below to check out how it worked and what the invisible ads were about: