More Than a Holiday; The Real Human Meaning of Brands Celebrating Lunar New Year
Updated: Feb 3
The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is one of the most important festivals in China. It celebrates the beginning of the new year on the traditional lunisolar calendar, marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Central to the festival are a diverse set of values; tradition, self-direction, achievement, and universalism. As the holiday customs change to meet modern needs, so do brands, who leverage innovative campaigns that reveal a shift in values over time. Let’s take a look at some of these values and how brands have adapted to meet them…
The themes of luck, happiness, wealth, and longevity are themes supported by a value of tradition, and reinforced by many customs like a reunion dinner on New Year's Eve, house cleaning (to sweep away bad luck and make way for good luck to come), red-colored decorations such as paper cutouts and couplets (to welcome wealth and happiness), and more. These customs follow long held traditions which are widely recognized, providing marketing opportunities during the festive season which speak to widely held beliefs and wishes for the future. It is the perfect time for brands to use tradition in launching attractive campaigns that increase brand awareness and product sales.
One of the most symbolic items in Chinese New Year is the red packet, which is a red envelope filled with money. When parents give their children a red envelope, it represents the parents' wish for their children to spend the year safely.
As China moves into a cashless economy, the value of self-direction reveals the imaginative red envelope practices which have kept pace with modern times. As electronic payment systems continue to improve in security, speed, and convenience, the creative concept of giving away virtual red packets is gaining popularity. WeChat Red Packet is a mobile application developed by Chinese technology company Tencent. Money is deposited into the user's WeChat Pay account and can be used for purchases and withdrawals. The app offers paired red envelopes, in which money is sent through private chats between two users or groups. Group red envelopes can then be posted to group chats and the app randomly distributes the amount in each envelope to each recipient. This innovative combination of social media and digital transaction not only inherited the cultural tradition but also translated it into business value. WeChat Pay’s market share has more than doubled since it launched its virtual red envelope campaign in 2014.
A digital red packet money transfer
A traditional red packet envelope
In a more controversial statement, the fashion brand Bottega Veneta broke with tradition by releasing the traditional red envelopes in the brand color's of green and orange instead. While yellow is associated with prosperity and royalty, it’s not the typical color used during this Holiday, and the move received mixed reviews on social media, with some feeling that it takes self-direction too far by promoting the brand rather than honoring the Holiday's traditions.
Bottega Veneta's orange take on the traditional red envelopes
Limited-edition Chinese New Year merchandise is another common marketing tactic used by brands during the festive season. Brands often introduce new seasonal and collectible items that are only available during Chinese New Year, by changing the packaging of existing products to have a festive look (using red and gold), and even including zodiac animals in their products (most commonly found in fashion products).
Many luxurious brands are worn as signs of achievement, and brands themselves are well-aware of their influence—people want to exhibit their wealth and power by wearing the latest fashions and accessories during this socially active festival. Many brands look on the tiger (a traditional zodiac animal of the new year) as a source of inspiration for their new designs, adding some Animalia, tiger stripes, gold and red tones.
A Gucci Ad featuring the symbolic Tiger for a Lunar New Year campaign
Gucci and Prada went a step further. They connected their capsule collection to philanthropy by donating a portion of their profits to programs that protect endangered species and their natural habitats. "Walking with Tiger and Leopard" and "The Lion’s Share Fund" are initiatives to raise universalism and protect biodiversity in China.
Always doing something different, Bottega Veneta took over the Great Wall of China during Chinese New Year 2022. The Italian brand has created a digital installation featuring the classic Bottega green and orange. The symbol of the Great Wall is the Chinese blessing of "Happy New Year", and Bottega Veneta has pledged to donate to support the renovation and maintenance of one of the major traditional passes in the Great Wall, ensuring that the ancient building remains intact for future generations to enjoy.
Bottega Veneta's installation of digital screens at the Great Wall
During Chinese New Year, brands use different forms of marketing to meet their needs or allow them to effectively target their favorite markets. 'Red envelope' marketing enables brands to connect with consumers across generations as it focuses on family gifting and cultural celebrations. Limited-edition Chinese New Year merchandise incorporates different brand values to attract respective customers. Whether breaking from tradition is appreciated or not, these initiatives reveal an evolution of values within the traditional festivities of the Chinese New Year.