Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

2015 Ushers in the Year of the Sheep – What’s your Chinese New Year Marketing Strategy? Cultural Insights can boost Sales and Here’s Why…

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 02.02.15


On Feb 19th the Year of the Wood Sheep or Ram Begins!

On Feb 19th the Year of the Wood Sheep or Ram Begins!

Chinese New Year approaches and, on Feb 19th, the Chinese zodiac switches from the Year of the Horse to the Year of the Sheep. What will that mean for your business? It’s worth finding out.


First, what is Chinese New Year? Here’s a little Background:


Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, is a 15-Day Celebration that marks the first day of the New Year in the Chinese calendar. And for those of you who think this celebration is just a duplicate of the North American holiday, Chinese New Year actually predates the Gregorian calendar!


Fireworks for 2014's Year of the Horse

Fireworks for 2014’s Year of the Horse


Chinese New Year always falls between January 21 and February 21. This year it officially kicks off Feb 19th, 2015. Much like New Year’s in North America, various traditions follow the two-week long festivity.


There will be large family gatherings in homes and in cities. Red envelopes, known in Mandarin as “hong bao”, will be given to children and unmarried adults. Red and gold will be everywhere, symbolizing luck and happiness. People will buy brand new clothes and the house will have to be cleaned, it’s a Chinese New Year tradition. Since 2015 is the year of the goat, goat images will appear on posters, t-shirts and even on jewelry. It all culminates in a New Year’s Eve feast: a must in the Asian community, where all the family members gather to celebrate. This is why Chinese New Year is one of the busiest travel times in China, both within its borders, and for those travelling home for the holidays.


Why is it important for marketers? 


Chinese New Year is a big day for Family, Shopping and Increasing Sales!

Chinese New Year is a big day for Family, Shopping and Increasing Sales!


You can read our Blog: Multicultural Marketing and The Changing Face of the Canadian Consumer about why tapping into the Asian markets can be a very lucrative business strategy. But, we can also give you a quick picture of why this emerging market is ripe with opportunity, if the right marketing strategies are applied.


  • According to the U.S. Census/American Community Survey and Statistics Canada, Asian markets are the largest and fastest growing, with geographically-concentrated populations:In the U.S., the Chinese population is the largest Asian population in the country, totaling 3.7 million people, with a strong population growth of 38 percent between 2000 and 2010.
  • In Canada, Chinese are one of the largest “visible minority” populations in the country, totaling 1.3 million, with correspondingly strong population growth of 29 percent between 2001 and 2011.
  • Asian consumers are educated and affluent: Chinese communities in North America demonstrate high levels of both educational attainment, and household affluence. For example, people of Asian descent are twice as likely to hold Bachelor’s degrees and more of them tend to hold advanced degrees (M.A. and beyond). This results in a median household income that often exceeds other cultural communities.
  • Chinese also tend to have larger families, often due to the presence of multiple generations under one roof. They have a higher percentage of married-couple families, and a higher percentage of married-couple families with children under the age of 18. Again, all compelling demographics that attract a wide range of brand marketers.
  • Asian families tend to make larger deposits in bank accounts and have a higher savings rates, but they tend to spend more money on new vehicle purchases, new technology products and services, and they have a higher frequency of international travel and per-trip spending.
  • Asian consumers have an interest in purchasing North American products.According to a study by China Market Research Group, one of the top concerns Chinese consumers have is product safety. This is likely because of the contamination issues that have been an ongoing problem for products manufactured in China. “[Asian] consumers were willing to spend 20% more for ingestible products they believed were safe.” Western firms and brands have a reputation for quality and safety and Chinese consumers are willing to spend that extra amount. A prime example is KFC (owned by Chinese company Yum! Brands). In China, it has 3,300 restaurants and opens a new location every day. Their success lies in their “ability to adapt KFC offerings to the Chinese palate. Instead of buckets of wings and coleslaw, they offer items like baked rice dishes and congee.”
  • Chinese consumers are greatly increasing their use of computers and mobile phones to shop. In the first nine months of 2009, China’s 380 million citizens spent $25 billion online, which was twice as much as 2008, according to the study by China Market Research Group. Additionally, Chinese consumers are increasingly being influenced by digital and social media marketing.


For all these reasons and many more, businesses can no longer afford to ignore the Asian consumer.

Chinese New Year is celebrated by over 1/3 of the World's population

Chinese New Year is celebrated by over 1/3 of the World’s population



Those who operate globally must take into consideration cultural differences, not only when dealing with clients, but when marketing to an international audience. Those who operate more locally must also be aware of the growing immigrant market and the widening Asian population in most large urban centers.


Back to Chinese New Year- Why is it important to my Business?


Much like Christmas, Chinese New Year is probably one of the biggest spending holidays for the Chinese. “Online shopping, catering, tourism, and entertainment all see a strong demand,” explains Bank of America’s Ting Lu. And if you think there’s nothing to be gained unless you’re a business operating in China, you would be wrong: Experts estimate that two thirds of Chinese consumer spending will be done outside of China.


Savvy retailers will know just how to tap into this market and some already schedule Chinese New Year into their annual marketing plans. Commemorative Chinese New Year products and collections have become popular in recent years, explain industry analysts, “with brands from Burberry, Hermes and Ralph Lauren capitalizing on their brand heritage in the 2014 Year of the Horse.”


What’s In Store for 2015- The Year of the Sheep?sheep-160041_640


The Year of The Sheep, also known as the Year of The Goat or Ram, has been more difficult to utilize, mainly because it is not always viewed as an auspicious time. For example, the Year of the Sheep is strictly avoided by couples wanting to conceive a child. This is because sheep are viewed as meek creatures, raised for nothing more than slaughter. According to Chinese beliefs, children born under this year are often expected to be worriers who are shy, pessimistic, moody, indecisive, over-sensitive, weak-willed and puzzled about life. They are easily inclined to be deeply religious and are timid in nature. They are followers, as sheep tend to be ‘herded’.


“Some brands might avoid the creatures,” explains Ad Age Online Magazine,” because of the message they send. A sheep is weak; it’s kind of bullied; it doesn’t really do anything — it gets shepherded.”


Sheep, along with snakes, often get snubbed by marketers. Even a pig has more positive connotations, because the pig means fortune, because he’s fat. “Of course, there’s no reason brands need to use zodiac animals in their campaigns for Lunar New Year,” explains Ad Age. “Using them can seem obvious and even tacky if campaigns aren’t done in a clever or authentic way.” A better strategy would be to stick to homecoming and reunion themes, especially given the massive amount of consumer travel during Chinese New Year.


Sheep and goats can also inspire a sense of playfulness or whimsy. Levi’s and FCB Shanghai had an appealing campaign, encouraging people to go out and celebrate the holiday instead of staying home, and one image was a young party-goer riding a toy sheep. Burberry put out a message on WeChat showing gold-wrapped boxes and a wooden sheep toy. And since “China’s version of Mickey Mouse is a cartoon character called ‘Pleasant Goat’,” says Ad Age, “we will probably see it used in many endorsements, especially for kid-related products.”


2015 is the Year of the Green or Wood Sheep!

2015 is the Year of the Green or Wood Sheep!

The Year of the Green Sheep. What Does that Mean?


The way Chinese astrology works, there are symbols associated with each birth year: Monkeys, Snakes, Horses etc. There are twelve signs in all, and the year you were born dictates your zodiac sign. But there are also elements that represent the year in question, usually one of five: either Earth, Water, Fire, Wood or Metal. 2015 corresponds to the element of Wood, so that is why we call this year the Wooden or ‘Green’ Sheep (which stands for trees and thus the element of wood). It might be useful to link the idea of ‘green’ or ‘Eco-friendly’ products to this celebration, as it will tap into this year’s theme of balance and harmony, ideal for businesses who are environmentally-friendly.


According to international Feng Shui expert Marites Allen, the Green Sheep is also a symbol of good fortune. Thus this year will be a period of good fortune, peace and abundance. Luck will be favorable to most Chinese animal signs in the Year of the Wood Sheep.


Tapping into this Important Cultural Festivity:


A number of brands have already promoted their limited edition Year of the Goat pieces, including: Chopard ‘Urushi Year of the Goat watch,’ Pandora ‘Year of the Ram pendant’ and Vacheron Constantine’s ‘Metiers d’Art’

Pandora's Year of the Sheep Pendant

Pandora’s Year of the Sheep Pendant

watches, which feature the legend of the Chinese Zodiac’- Goat edition.


There are also several other clever ways to capitalize on this special time of year. One way of directing marketing efforts would be to study the cultural traditions associated with the Lunar New Year. Here, we showcase a few ways to leverage those cultural insights:


Air China's busiest season- CNY

Air China’s busiest season- CNY


Of central importance to Chinese New Year is the gathering of family. In the weeks before Chinese New Year, people all across China travel back to their native towns and villages to be with their families. This movement of people, the chunyun, is the largest annual migration of people in the world, with approximately 2 billion passenger journeys taking place during the chunyun period.


Industries that stand to profit from this period of intense travel include train and plane operators, travel agencies and car rental companies. Hotels also have the opportunity to do fantastic business as many family homes will not have space to accommodate the entire extended family.


Destination-based targeting and seasonal re-targeting are tactics that work well for travel clients.



A CNY Feast

Special Foods/Meals:

On the evening before Chinese New Year, it is traditional for the entire family to gather together and to enjoy a large family meal. This meal is the most luxurious the family will eat all year. Typically, there are more than 10 courses, including foods such as dumplings and fish. Families also haul out the best wines they can afford. Many others choose to go out to a restaurant for a traditional family meal. If you’re in the restaurant industry or sell foodstuffs or wine, Chinese New Year is a time that you want to prepare for accordingly.


Red Envelopes containing money are given at CNY

Red Envelopes containing money are given at CNY

Red Envelopes (Hongbao):

During Chinese New Year, red envelopes are handed out to younger generations by their parents, grandparents, relatives, even close neighbors and friends. Some companies even hand workers a year-end cash bonus tucked inside a little red envelope. Red Envelopes are a great brand marketing tool, with many retailers utilizing them in marketing campaigns. You can stamp them with your corporate logo and hand them out to business contacts or customers. You can even use them as a special promotional tool, for instance, by enclosing promotional offers and exclusive discounts in red envelopes, redeemable at a later date. Last year many designer brands such as Hugo Boss and Gucci created luxury red envelopes for Chinese New Year, an initiative that made great strides from a marketing perspective.


Popular CNY clothes are usually red for Good Luck

Popular CNY clothes are usually red for Good Luck


From a retail perspective, you can make use of several other traditions that are commonly practiced at Chinese New Year. One of the main traditions is thoroughly cleaning the house. This symbolizes sweeping away the old year and any bad luck associated with it. Retailers who carry cleaning supplies would do well to incorporate some of these ideas into their marketing. They could introduce a new line of red-color products, such as Brita did, when they promoted a red Chinese New Year-inspired pitcher.


It is also common for Chinese people to decorate their houses with paper cut outs, new paintings, even Chinese couplets (a form of poetry) are written out and placed on the front door. These are usually red in color because red is associated with luck and happiness. Commercial businesses and city councils traditionally buy Chinese lanterns and hang these up outside for the 15th day of the Chinese New Year celebration known as Yuan Xiao Festival, meaning Lantern Festival.


Leading up to the Chinese New Year is also an important time for retailers, as Asian consumers traditionally buy new clothes and household goods as well as gifts for relatives.


The IPOS 2015 Luxury Forecast shows that personal consumption will be up in 2015, especially around Chinese New Year: 44% will spend on themselves, 21% on gifts for their spouse and 23% on family, which includes parents, grandparents and siblings, 5% on friends, and 7% on business partners. They will buy items such as red clothing, red underwear and red accessories or gifts, as this symbolizes prosperity and luck. It is also traditional for Chinese people to buy themselves a whole new set of clothes to welcome in the fresh start of a New Year, so it’s a good idea to market red where possible.


Acrobats like these are seen on CCTV's CNY Gala

Acrobats like these are seen on CCTV’s CNY Gala

TV/Media Channels:

One big tradition is gathering around the television to watch CCTV’s (China TV’s) New Year Gala. It is a custom for the Chinese people to watch the gala while having their dinner. Programs feature traditional Chinese folk songs and performances, as well as China’s best singers, musical groups, and acrobats. TV stations and programmers who give their viewers access to these resources and foreign entertainment programs, will earn valuable points for delivering content that is seasonal and relevant to the occasion.


Staying up late is also a family tradition in China. It’s called ‘Shou Sui’, which means, “after the New Year’s Eve dinner”, as family members will normally stay awake during the night. This is because, according to tales and legends, there was a mythical beast named the “Year”, who would prowl the streets, intent on harming any people, animals or proprieties that crossed his path. Later, people found out that the “Year” is afraid of the color red, fire, and loud sounds. Therefore, New Year’s Eve night, people will launch fireworks, light fires, and stay awake the whole night to fend off the “Year”.


Channels who deliver programming well into the night will also score points with customers who wish to follow this family tradition. To do this, it is important to provide creative content that appeals to families and a wide age-range. Family movies offered in various Asian languages would be a great place to start!


Advertising during this time is also crucial. There are a lot of potential customers who might be watching these television programs and since they’re often staying home, it really is a captive audience who will respond favorably if commercials are sincere and relevant. 


By embracing other cultures, you gain insight into a vast, emerging market of potential clients.



Asian Families are a fast-growing audience. It's important we learn about their culture.

Asian Families are a fast-growing audience. It’s important we learn about their culture.

It’s a whole new world out there, and as our globe shrinks even further, we must learn to reach out to new audiences and new communities. We must find a way to market to them; a way that will resonate with each distinct cultural climate. Whether doing business abroad or more locally, our world is becoming a mosaic of different cultures and if you know how to incorporate these cultural insights into your marketing strategy, you can boost your business and your sales.


To learn more, watch for our coming Blogs, where we will outline various ways to utilize Chinese New Year in your marketing strategy, including how to use social media to build your brand and reach new markets…



(Images: From Top to Bottom:  Ram greeting card courtesy of chinahighlights.comncburton白士 李Kenny Louie; openclipart.org; pandora.comBriYYZabc abcCliftonJuancho; Larry LamsaYouTubeScott & Elaine van der Chijs; sheep clipart from:Pixabay.com)