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Authentic Messaging Key To Marketing For Chinese New Year

In just a few days, Chinese New Year celebrations will kick off around the region. For marketers, what’s especially interesting is that nine of the top 10 brands in culturally rich China are internationally based, according to global research and advisory firm Reputation Institute. With a population just shy of 1.4 billion and 50 million more living abroad, the Chinese market is a hot commodity this time of year.

But marketers aren’t just using China’s most celebrated holiday as a reason to sell products: They’re looking to meaningfully increase brand awareness and recall with the world’s largest ethnic minority. That means taking cultural-specific behaviours into consideration, which means more than just messaging in Mandarin.

Caring Means Sharing
For retailers, Chinese New Year may seem like the perfect opportunity to sell gifts, but for service industries it’s the thought that counts.

Gethin Fisher is the general manager of BWD Creative, an Australian-based communications agency that helps brands market into Asia. With retail clients such as Manuka Honey on its books, the agency has a large base of B2B brands that need culturally thoughtful messaging at this time of the year.

“Chinese New Year is a celebration, not just a commercial opportunity,” Fisher said, adding that marketers need to recognise the holiday but also focus strongly on appropriate communication and messaging. Fisher considers BWD Creative’s GIF effective. 

Krystie Koh, director of operations and production at The Secret Little Agency (TSLA), agreed that it is imperative for brands to understand the real purpose of the Chinese New Year. TSLA is a creative agency with expertise marketing to Chinese consumers both on and off the mainland. While a mobile-first approach might be effective, considering that Chinese consumers spend at least two hours on mobile devices every day, Koh believes information and product-service value trump entertainment and celebrity influence when it comes to this audience.

“Foreign brand advertisements are designed to elicit an emotional response yet aren't able to deliver on this. This is largely due to these ads typically featuring a celebrity [speaking Mandarin] and don’t often convey a real understanding of the audience,” she said. “The link to the brand-product-service is not authentic or intuitive.”

Know Your Audiences’ Culture
Competition can become pretty hot around Chinese New Year; campaigns that cut through are driven by local insights, Koh said.

“Campaigns taken directly from Western markets without any adaptation or consideration of local insights tend to fail because they often feature non-Chinese talents and production scenarios, which aren’t reflective of real life in China,” she said.

Koh urged marketers in the region to explore their audience behaviours in detail before launching into campaign messaging. “For Chinese New Year, ask if there’s an emotional trigger that really speaks to the consumer,” she said.

Huge Opportunity If Done Right
China has an 899 billion-person online retail market, so the digital return on spending for the country’s biggest holiday is potentially enormous if the investment is well-thought-out.

Matthew McKenzie, co-founder at The Export Group, a business development enhancer assisting foreign brands establish themselves in China, said Chinese New Year is a calendar certainty for CMOs with mainland or local Chinese audiences.

With many companies employing celebrities to make product pitches in “ridiculous Mandarin,” McKenzie said the message needs to stay consistent with the holiday.

“It’s not about brands trying to speak their language–that doesn’t resonate,” he said. “The brands that do well are the ones that fit the occasion. In mainland China, across Southeast Asia, and even in Australia, Chinese people, as a general rule, will go back to their home villages, and what they do is bring a gift back to their family and friends and share that with them.”

As an example, Manuka Health New Zealand gift-packaged its healthy honey for Chinese New Year to specifically target Diago shoppers in Australia and New Zealand, a grey market of Chinese shoppers that import products back to China.

“This is a great opportunity for people to trial your product. I look at it as a paid sampling campaign,” McKenzie said.

These homecoming and sharing foundations are where McKenzie sees the biggest opportunity for CMOs, especially for those willing to invest in audience behaviour, creative packaging, and channel innovation.

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