It’s safe to say that Chinese New Year is the most definitive and anticipated holiday on the Asian calendar.
As precious to the East as Christmas is to the West, this holiday boasts 15 days of merrymaking, festivity, and most importantly, family. So why should brands and businesses, both locally and globally, take note? It all comes down to one powerful word – tradition.
The importance of tradition in Asian society isn’t just highly regarded – it’s something that’s engrained in everyday life, and still very much alive in today’s business world. Why is it, for instance, that Mandarin oranges and plum blossoms are abundant in offices and retail outlets throughout Asia? For the very same reason that red envelopes (Ang Pows) are proudly exchanged amongst associates in meticulous quantities of eight… to pass on the age-old virtues of luck and good fortune. With every changing zodiac, tradition is arguably the force steering the rise of Asia’s booming tiger economies, year after lunar year.
Deemed the biggest single shopping season across Asia, it’s no surprise then that retailers and brands are quick to follow suit with continued growth and spending. But the real success stories go beyond mere ‘campaign’ to embrace the real history and beliefs of Chinese New Year. Rolls Royce, for example, produced its extravagant Year of the Dragon ‘Phantom’ car in 2012, which was valued at over $1.3 million and sold out within (would you believe it) just eight lucky weeks. McDonalds also had success with its ‘McGreeting’ app a few years ago, allowing the whole of Hong Kong to personalise and share heartfelt blessings, whilst resulting in its highest-ever number of Chinese New Year customers.
Brands had a field day in 2013 for the Year of the Snake, with snakeskin sneakers, handbags and clothing. Many luxury brands created exquisite jewellery and watches which sold for thousands of dollars. Last year, Diageo produced a limited edition ‘White Horse Gold Edition 1890’ blended scotch whiskey to celebrate the Year of the Horse – an animal symbolic of power, success and integrity. They offered the product as a travel-retail exclusive until June only, hoping to appeal to Asian travellers looking for that special something.
There are many opportunities for mass-market brands too. Starbucks created a line of sheep-themed products this year, including flasks and mugs for the Year of the Sheep (or Goat or Ram). Experts in localisation, they even tailored the products to different regions, using completely different illustration styles, and opting for blue colours for the Korean line of products, instead of the traditional red colours used in China.
As we continue into 2015, it’ll be interesting to see how brands pay tribute to the sheep, a more gentle and kind animal, characterised as a meek follower. With the varying characteristics of each animal year after year, we can only begin to imagine how brands will bring the time-honoured traditions to life in their own worlds. The key is to know your audience, stay relevant to their lives, and treat the traditions with the full respect that they deserve. Your customers will love you for it.
Written by Bryn Berry