Rethink Chinese New Year - multicultural marketing for the modern business

Bastion Insights head of cross cultural insights Isabel Zhang
By Bastion Insights head of cross cultural insights Isabel Zhang | 17 January 2020

With over two billion people celebrating it globally, Chinese New Year is a festival of significant cultural importance to over a quarter of the world’s population. As a Chinese living in Australia, I am thrilled to see more enthusiasm from Australians celebrating Chinese New Year in 2020. Sydney has the largest celebration of its type outside Asia with one in two Chinese migrants in Australia claiming to have made a trip to Chinatown during the festival celebration last year.

With such a large portion of the population celebrating this festival now, how can businesses capitalise on this cultural event?

Traditionally, Chinese New Year celebrations begin on the final day of the Chinese calendar (New Year Eve, January 24, 2020) and end with the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month (February 8, 2020). However, did you know that in China, it isn't actually called Chinese New Year!? It’s called ‘Spring Festival’ or ‘春节’, which translates to 'celebration of the beginning of spring harvest’.

Given Australia is one of the world’s most multicultural nations, Chinese New Year is also celebrated by many other races and ethnicities here, such as migrants and locals from Japan, Korea, Tibet, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and more. These cultures are actually more likely to call it ‘Lunar New Year.’ So to be more inclusive, I think ‘Spring Festival’ captures the essence of this celebration more appropriately and meaningfully.

Culturally speaking, Spring Festival isn’t just an excuse to indulge with eating, gathering and buying new clothes and household items – it is a must. It symbolises a new beginning, which makes Spring Festival time the best opportunity for Australian retailers and businesses to tap in. Interestingly, this opportunity still hasn’t been fully activated by local businesses. Our research shows that those who celebrate would like to see more Chinese New Year (CNY) campaigns and promotions from brands in Australia.

Understanding Asian consumers is crucial to a successful campaign. 45% of the Chinese migrants in Australia claimed they have bought new clothes as part of their CNY celebrations. And over one third have bought items related to the zodiac of that year (i.e. pig year last year and rat this year).

The bulk of shopping is done in the last two weeks leading up to Spring Festival. Alcohol, red envelopes, decorations, food, snacks, and cooking supplies are also main purchases among Chinese in Australia. Vitamins, skincare, alcohol, confectionery and milk products are the primary choices for ones who have travelled back to Asia for a reunion.

The average spend is over $1000 AUD in these two weeks leading up to Spring Festival, with a good portion spending between $2000 to $5000 in this short period of time.

Six key things businesses should know about Spring Festival:

1. Be inclusive! Australia is a multicultural nation. While we have a substantial amount of Chinese living in Australia, Spring Festival isn’t unique to Chinese only. Show the effort to engage all.

2. It’s a celebration. Businesses need to understand the audience's perception of their campaign. From your marketing materials to the tone of your communications, ensure joy and new beginnings are encapsulated. A Spring Festival campaign that doesn’t celebrate is seen as a cash-grab.

3. It’s about family and unity as Chinese tend to do things together. The fundamental differences between western and eastern culture is about individualism vs. collectivism. Having said that, Australia does have a strong family value which is very similar to Chinese and many different parts of Asia. The differences of that collectivism and family value, however, is the Chinese social obligation between the generations.

4. Make those who celebrate feel appreciated. Culturally speaking, Asians generally are very grateful people and manners are of the utmost importance. When Asians sense that businesses are trying to engage with them in a way they resonate with, they are far more likely to attach to your brand and stay loyal.

5. Asians are smart consumers. They generally love a good bargain but this doesn’t mean they are cheap. Asian consumers use an ‘invisible ruler’ in their head when they purchase goods, they decide if the product or service is worth that price tag.
Understanding your consumers unique decision-making is the key to an effective marketing strategy.

6. Consult a multicultural marketing expert. A Spring Festival campaign that is executed poorly or accused of cultural appropriation is brand suicide. Talk to experts in multicultural marketing and consult the community.

One last piece of advice - your Chinese customers will be very pleased if you wish them ‘Happy New Year’ in Mandarin - 新年快乐"Xin nian kuai le", or Cantonese speakers - 恭喜发财 ‘Kung Hei Fat Choy’!

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