The Year of the Ox: Advertising for Chinese New Year

Western businesses are tentatively trying to get a foothold on the lucrative Chinese New Year celebrations, with varying degrees of success. The trick seems to be to recognise that there are several distinct phases involved, which cause marked shifts in product and media consumption, with more than a billion people following the traditions and routines before, during and after New Year. In this article, we’ll explore how to successfully leverage Chinese New Year to reach consumers in China.

When is Chinese New Year in 2021?

Chinese New Year, also know as the Spring Festival, is taking place on 12th February in 2021. This year will signal the start of the Year of the Ox. In China, the public holiday starts from 11th February (New Year’s Eve) and goes on until 17th February.

Chinese New year is known as the biggest celebration of the year and can be likened to the celebrations of Christmas holidays in Western countries. For this reason, it continues to be a significant date in marketing calendars for brands in China, with competition rife to win the attention of consumers.

Consumer behavioural shifts

Although the official holiday is still a few weeks away, consumers in China will be preparing for this festival weeks ahead and therefore will begin engaging with marketing content surrounding Chinese New Year weeks in advance too. According to Alimama (Alibaba’s marketing arm), consumers’ interaction with different marketing activities changes significantly in the four weeks leading up to Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival, taking place on 26th February 2021. These major consumer behavioural shifts fall into six categories.

1. Self-treating

Updating your appearance is a commonly known tradition in China in the lead up to Chinese New Year. To that end, consumers will be more likely to increase purchases for beauty, healthcare, fashion, sports or entertainment products in the weeks leading up to the celebrations.

2. Gifting

It is traditional to present your friends and family with gifts as part of New Year celebrations in China. Traditionally, gifts are presented in a red envelope – more recently digital red envelopes – which symbolises prosperity and good luck for the New Year.

3. Entertainment

Gaming and video platforms such as TikTok, WeChat, Weibo and more see a strong peak over the new year celebrations. In the few weeks leading up to the celebrations, it is expected that brands will start promoting more short and long form video content to interact with consumers.

4. Hosting guests

Whilst this may not be something we can expect in its full form this year, it is very common for families in China to come together to celebrate the holidays. These celebrations include plenty of food and drink and it is customary for families in China to decorate their homes in aid of new year festivities. Therefore we can also expect sales in food, beverages and decorations to increase during this period.

5. Travel

Chinese New Year is one of the longest holidays of the year in China. For this reason, it’s common for many Chinese families to take this opportunity to travel. Whilst this may not be a strong possibility this year due to the continuing global pandemic, it’s still worth noting.

6. New Year resolutions

Much like the Western celebrations, it is very common for the Chinese population to set resolutions for the new year as part of their celebrations. So many will return to work following the festivities looking for a fresh start, with a new sense of motivation to create new habits, spanning everything from fitness to education.

Media consumption fluctuates dramatically

In the lead up to Chinese New Year, average daily usage across applications will continue to fluctuate. Both ecommerce and video platforms, such as Douyin and Taobao, show an increase in daily user concentration in the lead up to the holidays, and a subsequent decline following the holiday period. This suggests that consumers are engaging with content a lot more before the holidays, and this could be attributed to the behavioural shifts mentioned previously, such as gift purchasing.

What have we seen so far this year?

Utilising the colour red & ox imagery

A majority of multinational beauty brands, such as Lancôme, SK-II, Givenchy and more, have revealed a limited edition collection of products to represent the Year of the Ox. Using red as the main theme for the product packaging and design is the safest approach, as it doesn’t depend on the animal represented by the year – it is also a Chinese tradition that red represents good luck, especially within the context of New Year.

Global brands may also use the animal zodiac sign as a key characteristic in their campaigns for New Year collections, in the hope that it will resonate more with Chinese consumers. With 2021 being the Year of the Ox, brands looking to include this within their campaigns are touching upon the symbolism, which in Chinese culture is a symbol of wealth, prosperity, dominance and strength.

The risk of cultural backlash

Burberry released its Chinese New Year capsule collection featuring international model, Liu Wen, who has a very positive reputation amongst Chinese consumers. The collection and campaign ticked all the boxes of a luxury brand’s approach to Chinese New Year, including the theme of red, references to the animal zodiac and celebrity endorsements. However, the collection received a very mixed response on social media, with some finding the concept ‘tasteless‘.


On the other hand, a brand that has succeeded in avoiding cultural backlash is Dior. Taking inspiration from hibiscus rosa-sinensis (commonly know as ‘China Rose’), Dior’s Chinese New Year collection stood out from its competitors because they ignored all the cliche tactics typically used by other brands, which resulted in a more unique experience for its customers. In addition, the use of celebrity endorsement helped increase visibility for Dior’s collection, proving that unique approaches always perform better.

Source: Dior’s Weibo account

Digital tactics for your Chinese New Year campaign

Echo consumer sentiments

Launching a collection for Chinese New Year isn’t a must for brands, but if you’re taking part, it’s important to ensure your promotional plan is aligned with consumer habits for each stage of the holiday festivities (as detailed above). Consider what may motivate your target consumers to purchase in the various stages of the holiday, and identify how emerging trends may influence these purchase decisions.

Once you have an understanding of this, you can outline where and when to adapt your campaign messaging to align with this. For example, if you’re launching a product line with a red or gold colour theme and a focus on the notion of bringing fortune, we can expect consumers in China to engage with this more during the lead up to Chinese New Year. Whereas if your campaign is centered around new year resolutions, we can expect this to perform better during the latter part of the holiday period, as people start to return to work.

Creative messaging

You don’t always need a high advertising budget like Apple or Nike to win consumers’ hearts. What is most important is to identify who your target audience is, and what their pain points will be during the holiday season. This allows you to tailor your messaging in a way that will resonate further with key consumers.

Invest in the right media

Similarly to consumer habits, media consumption also changes during the holiday season. Use insights to underpin your budget planning across different platforms throughout the holiday season. For example, allocate sufficient budget towards social media ads throughout the holiday (such as WeChat moment ads or Weibo content promotion), and shift budgets towards news media and short-form video content when consumption is expected to increase.

Features to watch out for this year

WeChat branded red envelopes

Gifting red envelopes has been a long-standing tradition for Chinese New Year, but nowadays digital red envelopes have become the norm. In 2019, there were more than 800 million digital red envelopes opened on WeChat during Chinese New Year, with more than 250 million of them including customised covers.

Previously, WeChat red envelopes were mostly adopted by businesses as an employee incentive, but in recent years they have been utilised by brands for more exposure too. For example, in 2020 luxury brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton released branded red envelope covers for their social followers. This year, Swarovski has collaborated with trending celebrity, Yibo Wang, to launch branded red envelope covers on WeChat. The campaign has been a huge success, allowing Swarovski to achieve a 300% increase in brand searches across WeChat.

Swarovski WeChat Chinese New Year campaign
Source: Swarovski’s branded red envelope featured Yibo Wang
Chinese New Year WeChat marketing
Source: Brand searches for Swarovski within WeChat before and after the campaign launch

WeChat brand zone

More and more users are turning to WeChat for search queries in China. To that end, if you’re keen to boost visibility then utilising WeChat’s brand zone is a great way to do so. WeChat brand zone is essentially a feature that allows brands to dominate and customise search results for searches that include their brand terms.

Through the brand zone feature, you can add branded backgrounds, banners and site links that direct users to an official WeChat account, social commerce store or even allow users to check-in to the nearest store. Taking Lancôme as an example, you can see that the brand zone feature has allowed the brand to dominate the first search results page when a search includes the brand name.

WeChat Mini Store

Facing strong competition from the likes of Douyin, WeChat launched their Mini Stores feature in 2020. This feature gives brands access to a templated storefront that is embedded within the WeChat ecosystem. Although it is a basic application, it comes with full functionality; a built-in live shopping function, a voucher distribution system, basic product and order management and logistics management.

In summary, as with all marketing, the secret to a successful campaign is to find an approach that fits your brand and target audience the best. However, with over a billion highly motivated consumers ready to spend their money over the holiday, it’s certainly worth considering a marketing strategy for Chinese New Year. Just make sure to use traditions subtly and sensitively and lean on your consumer data to gauge what will work, as you’ll need a lot more than good luck to compete with local brands.

If you’d like to know more about Croud’s APAC team, and how we can support your Chinese marketing strategies, get in touch.

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