AN ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO PROMOTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS IN CHINA
As we take a deep breath and recover from end-of-year festivities, the break will be short for brands looking to resonate with Chinese consumers in 2019: Chinese New Year is just around the corner. And while not all festivals have the same cultural and commercial significance, in recent years many have taken a competitive dimension, where brands are compared by consumers based on their perceived creativity and cultural sensitivity. A recent example is Chinese New Year 2018, when top fashion KOL Gogoboi compared the traditional greeting red envelopes (“hong bao”) he received from luxury brands and called out Dior’s lack of imagination: the brand had simply printed the character for “dog” on a red envelope.
To ensure brands hit the right chord with Chinese consumers in 2019, here is an essential guide to the major cultural and commercial festivals in China in the new year.
Chinese New Year Golden Week – 4 to 10 February
Taking place on 5 February in 2019 with public holidays from 4 to 10 February, Chinese New Year will mark the official start of the new lunar year, ushering the Year of the Pig. One of the 12 Chinese Zodiacs, the Pig is associated with luck and wealth, and will be sure to appear on most marketing platforms at least for the duration of February. The Golden Week itself is one of the two main week-long breaks in the year (the other being National Day Golden Week in October), introduced as a way to give enough time for families to visit one-another. Besides being a high-season in the Chinese travellers’ calendar, it has also become a high point for digital marketing in China, with luxury brands launching holiday or zodiac-themed videos and H5 games for consumers to enjoy in the comfort of their own home. Here are the campaigns that made it on Forbes and Jing Daily’s radars in 2018.
National Day Golden Week – 1 to 7 October
National Day marks the founding of the PRC on 1 October 1949, which means 2019 will mark its 70th Anniversary. As a (much) newer celebration than Chinese New Year, National Day is not anchored in cultural symbols and traditions. Instead, the focus is on travel. Along with Chinese New Year, it is THE travel period of the year in China, with over 700 million taking advantage of the week-long break to travel back home or to newer destinations – including the European fashion capitals. In 2018, some 6 million travelled overseas, with the UK enjoying the highest spend of EMEA according to Alipay, China’s leading mobile payment platform. With soaring spending figures in duty free outlets and iconic department stores, it is a key season for brands to ensure their domestic and travel retail teams are fully aligned, with the goal to enhance the Chinese consumer journey on a global scale.
Valentine’s Day – 14 February
Mainly observed by younger generations, the holiday has become popular in large part thanks to its visibility in western popular culture, and the successful import of themed products and experiences by international brands. So successful, in fact, that in 2017 Mainland Chinese were open to spend the most (USD 310) out of all Asia-Pacific consumers on the romantic holiday, according to a survey by Mastercard. Most popular items among Chinese respondents were flowers (33%) followed by clothes & leather goods (21%) and jewellery (21%). Here are some of the most interesting valentine’s day WeChat campaigns of 2018, courtesy of our digital partners Digital Luxury Group.
“520” – 20 May
The newest of the romantic celebrations in China, “520” emerged from the internet age as a shorthand for “I love you”, which shares a similar pronunciation in Chinese. The date of May 20 was also soon associated with it, in the same way that Star Wars fan may celebrate May 4th for its likeness to the phrase “May the force” (“…be with you”). But unlike the Star Wars date, May 20 has become a mainstream celebration across China and across generations. Take a look at how Cartier, Michael Kors, Coach and Givenchy have approached the day on WeChat.
Qi Xi (AKA Chinese Valentine’s Day) – 7 August
While Valentine’s Day may have its historical roots in Rome, Qi Xi is China’s own celebration of romance, originating from a nearly 2,000-year-old Chinese fairy tale of a forbidden love story between a mortal and a goddess. Taking place each year on the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar, the festival is celebrated through various local traditions and symbols around Greater China, all inspired by the story of the star-crossed lovers. Perceived by many in China as the most romantic day of the year, Qi Xi has also inspired more and more fashion and luxury brands to roll-out special collections and elaborate social campaigns. See how Dior, Burberry, Michael Kors and more approached the festival in 2018.
618 – 18 June
Launched for the first time in 2010 by e-commerce platform Jingdong on the anniversary the company’s founding, today 618 is the second biggest online e-shopping festival after Singles Day (hosted by e-commerce leader Alibaba). Featuring thousands of deals and promotions over 18 days (ending on 18 June), in 2018 the festival expanded its channels to offline and virtual shopping for a ‘boundaryless retail’ experience, with pop-up stores across 30 cities receiving over 43 million visits. With electronic goods and food and beverages making the bulk of the sales, the festival has also seen growth in more premium and luxury categories, including an 11-fold increase in transaction volume for Tag Heuer watches, and a five-fold increase transaction volume for Tommy Hilfiger products in 2017.
Singles’ Day – 11 November
Singles’ Day is the world’s largest shopping festival, and a key date in China’s retail calendar. With total sales exceeding 30.8 billion US dollars in 2018, it wildly overtakes Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and highlights the sheer spending resilience of Chinese consumers. For this reason, international have recognised Singles’ Day as an opportunity not just for sales but also to increase brand identity and loyalty, and other e-tailers have also joined the fray in planning marketing campaigns and deals around Singles’ Day. Find out all you need to know about Singles’ Day in our deep-dive feature by Marianna Cerini.
World Consumer Rights day – 15 March
Volkswagen, Nike, Apple, Starbucks and Muji are just some of the household brand names previously exposed by the annual “315” consumer rights show, broadcast each year by China Global Television Network (formerly CCTV). Over the past few years, the show has become a popular rendez-vous where consumers discover double standards in product quality, false advertising and other fraudulent practices by both Chinese and international brands. Ensuing consumer anger and calls for boycotts have seen brands scramble to clarify, refute, investigate, apologise, call back products, or all of the above. In 2018, however, the scope and response to the controversies was arguably more muted, with a person close to the show sharing with Reuters: “It’s definitely tougher now to do this show. Many firms start taking precautionary measures half a year in advance.” Our advice for 2019: begin internal due diligence early to identify reputational threats, and fix the issues, not just the message.