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How to develop a successful CNY marketing campaign

by Pearl Zhu
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From Nike and Coca Cola, to Gucci x Doraemon, these are the brands that ran thoughtful Chinese New Year marketing campaigns in 2021 – and how you can learn from them going into the Year of the Tiger: Sandra Weiss from RedFern Digital explains how to develop a successful CNY marketing campaign …

As one of the most celebrated events in China and a festival often associated with gifting and reunions with family and friends, Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival) presents a significant commercial opportunity for brands. However, since the festival holds enormous cultural importance in China, it is also key that any marketing attempts are relevant and sensitive to the country and culture.

launchpad CBBC

During CNY, many brands will hold promotions, offer discounts, design special packaging, or release limited edition products or gift sets, with the imagery used often associated with the Chinese zodiac animal of the incoming year. These campaigns and releases sometimes occur weeks in advance of Chinese New Year, which is also when consumers begin to shop for the festival.

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Campaign highlights from CNY 2021

Doraemon x Gucci

  • With collaborations becoming more popular in the past couple of years, Gucci partnered with iconic Japanese cartoon character Doraemon to create a capsule collection. As the collection was inspired by the Chinese zodiac animal of 2021 – the ox – the blue robot cat’s appearance was redesigned for some of the items in the collection to include bovine horns. The campaign also included an augmented reality component as customers could scan the Gucci packaging or art walls located in Shanghai and Hong Kong through the Gucci app and watch Doraemon perform a dance. 
  • Marketing for this CNY campaign was widespread across multiple touch points, including WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu and Weibo, and even included an offline pop-up location. 
  • Through this collaboration, Gucci was able to tap into the nostalgia that many Chinese consumers have for Doraemon, while the association with Gucci added a sense of prestige and novelty to the character.

A screenshot from Coca-Cola’s 2021 CNY advert, telling stories of different family experiences during the pandemic

Coca-Cola’s CNY confessions
Coca-Cola released an ad focused on telling the stories of three young individuals living in China during the Covid-19 pandemic, conveying how the situation “inspired a shift in perspective of what truly matters – family, friends, connection and love,” according to Bassam Qureshi, head of IMX at Coca Cola.

    • The ad was able to engage with viewer emotions, while at the same time encouraging viewers to share their own stories and thus create user-generated content (UGC).

Nike Air Jordan 1 Low “CNY” special release

  • Nike designed and launched a special edition of their Nike Air Jordan 1 Low inspired by Chinese New Year and the Year of the Ox. The sneakers used a bold combination of black and red, with Ox imagery in classic Chinese art style, metallic gold thread, and gold tassels tied with red thread. By tastefully including Chinese cultural characteristics, Nike was able to release special edition footwear that is high quality, aesthetically well designed, and shows appreciation for China and Chinese New Year.

Johnnie Walker release limited-edition bottles to celebrate the Year of the Ox

Johnnie Walker’s limited-edition Year of the Ox scotch

  • For Chinese New Year 2021, Johnnie Walker collaborated with Chinese artist Shirley Gong to create a limited-edition version of its Blue Label bottle. The art on the bottle showcased an Ox standing over mountain clouds, representing prosperity and good fortune, and combining a Chinese artistic style with the Scottish alcohol brand.

How to develop your own successful CNY campaign

  • Cultural relevance and respect are more important than ever, especially when it comes to a festival that is so deeply aligned with Chinese traditions. Brands need to show that they appreciate Chinese culture and aesthetics by using appropriate colours, symbols, art styles and imagery, while also conveying a festive tone. Brands could work with a local Chinese creative team or artist to come up with culturally relevant and aesthetically pleasing designs that will resonate with Chinese consumers.
  • Although many Chinese New Year advertising campaigns include moving campaigns or videos that engage the viewers’ emotions, it is important to note that CNY campaigns should generally not be overly serious or sad. The festival is a time of celebration, humour, family and reunion, and any emotions brought up through the campaigns should relate to these elements and can demonstrate that the brand is attentive to and understands its Chinese consumers.
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  • Brands sometimes choose to use humour and puns in their CNY campaigns. When done appropriately, such as ensuring that any jokes used are not culturally insensitive, these types of campaigns can gain huge interest from consumers, especially among younger ones. 
  • With the increase in the popularity of video, releasing engaging video content that emphasises the values and traditions of the festival could elevate the brand campaign further, especially if shared on social media.
  • Encourage user-generated content through your CNY campaigns to increase word-of-mouth marketing, which is extremely powerful when it comes to brand awareness. Examples include creating challenges on Douyin to encourage participation from users, or encouraging responses to questions or prompts, and providing prizes for the best responses. 
  • Use a variety of media platforms to promote your campaign, ensuring that touch points exist across any channels that are relevant to your brand, such as WeChat, Xiaohongshu, Douyin, Weibo, Kuaishou, Bilibili, etc.  

As competition among both foreign and domestic brands continues to increase, brands will need to develop unique campaigns for CNY that can differentiate themselves from the crowd and ideally engage consumers’ emotions and encourage healthy interaction. For foreign brands, the creation of a culturally relevant campaign that does not overstep but is still able to resonate with Chinese consumers will be a careful balancing act that could bring massive positive attention. 

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A version of this article first appeared in China market-focused magazine, The RED Edition – Special Issue 2021, published by RedFern Digital

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