Asia becomes a beautiful and vibrant sea of red and gold as we celebrate Chinese New Year.
As a newcomer to Singapore, learning about the significance of Chinese New Year (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. We’re now entering the Year of the Snake, an animal signifying wisdom and business nouse, and 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. Whisky 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.
Written by Ellie Nuss