How to Successfully Market Lunar New Year
February 7th, 2022
By: Annette Yang
It's time to ring in the new Lunar calendar and welcome the Year of the Tiger: a symbol of confidence, charm, and adventure. Lunar New Year landed on February 1st this year and signifies the beginning of a new lunisolar calendar following the cycle of the moon. Although often referred to as Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year is a cultural holiday celebrated in many countries including Singapore, Vietnam, Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Lunar New Year is a massive celebration involving family, tradition, and togetherness for many cultures and alongside the festivities also comes an upwards spike in commerce. Prior to the global pandemic, China’s spending toppled over a grand number of 1 trillion yuan (over 157 billion USD) in 2019. Western markets have been quick to take advantage of this spending and drawing near to the holiday, we can see Lunar New Year marketing everywhere. Global companies such as Nike and numerous luxury brands have been actively involved with Lunar New Year marketing campaigns. China is also predicted to become the largest luxury market by 2025 (Bain & Company) and had bought ⅓ of the world’s luxury goods in 2018. With Chinese consumers being such an important market, an increasing number of luxury brands have been interested in the holiday, yielding a 75% increase in Lunar New Year products from 2019 to 2020 across the U.S. and U.K. (NBC).
Walking on Thin Ice
Unfortunately, some brands are too wrapped up in commodifying Lunar New Year and fail to capture the true meaning of the holiday. Misunderstanding the culture or releasing appropriated products led a number of companies to meet boycotts and global outrage. Numerous luxury labels including Givenchy and Versace fell into controversy by listing Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries on their Lunar New Year merchandise leading to their Chinese celebrity representatives canceling their contracts with the brands (Jing Daily). Luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana was met with severe backlash in 2019 after attempting to sell Lunar New Year products shortly after being caught in multiple racism scandals. Shockingly, it is not obvious to brands that in order to draw in the Chinese consumer, they should not be xenophobic and disrespectful to Chinese culture. Since the incident, Dolce & Gabbana has yet to sign a major Chinese brand representative, and winning back the Chinese consumer is seen as a lost cause (CNN). China is a massive luxury consumer and taking the wrong approach to marketing can be suicide.
Judging off of many failed Lunar New Year marketing initiatives, there is a fine line between what is and is not acceptable to market the East Asian holiday. Italian fashion house Bottega Veneta drew headlines through an installation at The Great Wall of China with “Happy New Year” written in Mandarin followed by the brand name “Bottega Veneta” over an orange color signifying good fortune in Chinese culture. The brand also pledged a donation in support of renovating and maintaining the Shanhaiguan AKA Shanhai Pass, a major pass within the site. Responses were divided amongst those who viewed the campaign as thoughtful and appreciative of Chinese culture and those who were just sick of brands’ excessive efforts to bring in the Chinese consumer. All in all, luxury Lunar New Year marketing needs to be more than just a blind grab for sales and actually depict the holiday in a respectful, meaningful manner. French luxury brand Maison Margiela gained positive responses from Chinese netizens when they partnered with a local Chinese artist to represent the spiritual meaning of the 2021 Lunar New Year animal, the ox. Another good example is Prada’s take on the 2022 Year of the Tiger. Instead of splattering animal motifs on products without meaning, they produced a charity project supporting the safeguarding of tigers (Vogue).
Although it is exciting to see brands’ creative takes on the holiday, it is important to respect the deep-rooted culture of Lunar New Year. Lunar New Year is a holiday steeped in tradition and it can be wildly offensive and disheartening to see brands view the holiday as solely an opportunity to capitalize on ethnic culture. Despite what brands like to depict, Lunar New Year is not just about buying a ten-thousand-dollar bag with a little tiger drawing on it. It is a celebration that calls for rest, celebration, and togetherness no matter how much money you have. Happy Lunar New Year everyone!
Annette Yang is one of the Spring 2022 Content Directors. She is a sophomore at NYU Steinhardt studying MCC with a minor in business. Stay tuned for more amazing content from Annette!