How can my brand celebrate Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year falls on 1st February 2022, and we’re already seeing brands celebrating the occasion across their social media feeds. We’re seeing New Year Flash Sales, exclusive discounts and we’re even seeing specially commissioned products to commemorate the day.

So often we hear it referred to as, “Chinese New Year” but actually it’s an event that is celebrated across a host of East Asian countries including Korea, Singapore and Japan. And, it’s celebrated differently depending on which country you’re in.

It’s around this time that we also start getting questions from our clients and partners on how their brand should be and could be, celebrating the occasion. So we asked Linda Cheung-Lee, a Harrogate based blogger, to partner with us in this online guide on how your brand can honour the event. Linda is a talented blogger whose content covers skin-care advice and restaurant recommendations, but she’s not afraid to discuss key political matters such as cultural appropriation, Asian hate crimes and the Black Lives Matter movement.

We put together our thoughts, and now share with you our tips on how your brand can celebrate Lunar New Year respectfully and authentically.

1. First, think about why you want to celebrate.

We had to start with this one, because to be authentic in anything you do, you need to know why you’re doing it. Think logically about why you’re choosing to celebrate the occasion. Is it to keep up with other brands, or is it because it’s a day of true significance to your clients or team? Think about what message you’re trying to convey before you post.

2. Understand the occasion.

Lunar New Year falls on the day of the new moon. It’s a day that comes from history and legend. In China, legend states that a monster called Nian would descend upon you, but it could be scared away with bright lights, noise and the colour red – which is one of the reasons we see red in so much Lunar New Year marketing material.

Today, celebrations include dressing up in new clothes, traditional garments and wearing the colour red. There’s a significance in spending time with family and close friends, which after the global pandemic is more important than ever before. Families celebrate the occasion with fireworks and crackers, and even exchange carefully chosen gifts.

“The celebrations can last for weeks, rather than a single day, some businesses in China close for a few days as it’s a public holiday,” said Linda. “It really is a beautiful time to spend time with loved ones and exchange gifts, but be very careful around promotions on gifts as there are traditions and etiquette to follow.”

Here are some of Linda’s top tips when it comes to gift buying etiquette, which you should certainly consider when it comes to any gift guides, promotions and marketing literature:

  • Avoid dark coloured packaging – as this is usually associated with funerals, avoid black or pure white, including envelopes and wrapping paper. Choose red as it’s a colour of luck and good fortune.
  • Avoid packing four gifts together. Stick to two, three or five gifts together and the number 8 is very lucky!
  • Avoid clocks and watches – unless it comes with a very high price tag from a very luxurious brand! In China the pronunciation of watch/clock is “送钟 sòng zhōng /song jong”, which is the same as the phrase for when the family of a deceased person has completed the burial of a loved one.
  • Fruit is a beautiful gift, but not pears and especially to a couple, because the Chinese word for pear sounds like “separate”.
  • Don’t gift an umbrella. The word for umbrella in Mandarin is “ 伞 sǎn /san”, which sounds like the word for breaking up. So giving an umbrella symbolises that the relationship between you and the recipient may soon dissolve.
  • Don’t gift a mirror, which is said to attract ghosts and spirits but is also easily broken and considered a bad omen.

Lunar New Year is also a beautiful nod to fresh starts. East Asian families will declutter and deep clean their homes, to sweep away bad luck and prepare for their new year ahead.

It really is cause for celebration but also honour, as families take time to remember lost loved ones and pray for a year ahead that is successful and full of joy.

In China, each year is tied to one of the 12 animals of the zodiac, with 2022 being the year of the Tiger.

3. Be authentic in your messaging.

It’s always true that you should be authentic in your messaging – but especially when approaching events of cultural significance. When it comes to designing your marketing materials, use colours, fonts and photography that engages your target audience, and doesn’t stereotype them.

Consider using East Asian models in your photography too. “I’d be so much more interested in a product if I see someone who looks like me, with the same skin tone as me modelling that product. It’s also the perfect opportunity to show that your business is inclusive,” said Linda. “But be true to this inclusivity consistently. Use a mix of models and ethnicities in all of your marketing and not just for this specific occasion.”

Food plays a big part in Lunar New Year celebrations, if you’re using food in your photography, think about what is authentic to the occasion:

  • Noodles symbolise longevity, and spring rolls are a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The lucky saying around spring rolls is, “Hwung-Jin Wan-Lyang", which translates to mean "a ton of gold" - plus they look like bars of gold!
  • Steamed fish is considered an auspicious food because in Mandarin the pronunciation of fish sounds like the word for, “more” or “excess”.
  • Fruits like oranges, tangerines and satsumas are used for their roundness and colour, which symbolises wealth and fullness. They also have what is considered lucky sounding names.

And you should consider the styling of your pictures. For example if you’re using chopsticks in your shots, you should consider the placement. “Don’t stand your chopsticks into the bowl of rice or noodles because it resembles incense sticks at the temple for the deceased. The best place to put chopsticks is to lay them flat side by side, and not crossed over,” Linda advised. As a final note – don’t use chopsticks as a fashion accessory. They’re purely for food!

We can’t stress enough the importance of connecting with your audience, and not using imagery which simply stereotypes them. It’s lazy marketing, and in a world where we can access various cultures so easily, there’s no excuse for it.

“Think about who your audience is too. Is it aimed at a westernised audience? Then you can certainly opt for a more bold and fun marketing campaign. However, the East Asian audience definitely leans towards a more traditional presentation and way of celebrating especially when it comes to gifting and packaging,” said Linda.

4. Remember what it’s about.

Intention is what elevates your post from simply being a token gesture.

Use this beautiful occasion to teach more people about the history of Lunar New Year, and to truly wish nothing but brilliant vibes to your audience. It’s not just another opportunity to sell. Speak to your audience about why and how you’ll be celebrating the event. Or, take the opportunity to learn from them by finding out how your customers will be celebrating.

Celebration. Fresh starts. Good luck. Honouring the past. Remember those key pillars of Lunar New Year and let it run through your messaging.

Could you tell customer or partner stories, or interview some of your East Asian customers? Could you launch a special product, or offer an exclusive discount or special gift with purchase?

5. Use the correct language.

This is a big one. We love seeing brands who have made the effort to translate their marketing materials for their non-English audience. But, please make sure you’ve translated correctly. Google translate doesn’t always get it right…

We’re always haunted by the story of a client who told us about their marketing company using Google Translate and proudly displaying a sign in the window which stated, “Happy New Year, Dog.”, instead of “Happy New Year of the Dog.” in Mandarin.

For the record, Happy New Year in Mandarin is:

Xīnnián hǎo
( 新年好 )

Or try:

Xīnnián kuàile
(新年快樂)

A very special thank you Linda Cheung-Lee for supporting us on this blog, but most importantly for educating us! Her work and guidance is helping to ensure that the East Asian audience is being properly considered, and we can’t wait to see what more we can achieve with her support.

Stay connected with Linda on her Instagram, or via Facebook.

Got further questions? Please email enquiries@nima.co.uk.

Happy Lunar New Year everyone!