COVID-19 and CNY: Being relevant, creative and authentic

COVID-19 and CNY: Being relevant, creative and authentic

For many, Chinese New Year is a time associated with family reunions and holidays; it is also the time of the year when many spend lavishly on gifts for their loved ones back home. The Spring Festival has consequently become a vital moment in the annual marketing cycle.

However, with the resurgence of coronavirus outbreaks at the beginning of 2021, authorities urged Mainland Chinese to avoid “unnecessary” trips back home; with companies and local governments even providing local economic incentives to deter the world’s largest human migration. As customer spending is expected to decrease during these uncertain times, marketers and communicators need to pay extra attention to their CNY campaigns.

Making campaigns relevant
As this is the 2nd COVID-19 Chinese New Year, Elan Shou, Regional Director, EVP at Ruder Finn Asia, says that the key to a successful CNY campaign this year is to “understand and share the emotion of what Mainland Chinese audiences are experiencing.”

The 2021 Spring Festival may be emotional for those who are unable to celebrate the festivity with their family and loved ones in person. To relate to these target audiences, Nicky Wang, Managing Director, Head of Strategy, WE Red Bridge emphasises that campaigns “must show empathy and understand the difficulty of those affected.”

Looking into past campaigns, Nicky points out that Mainland Chinese marketers are starting to get the gist of “tapping into the underlying traditions, sentiments and emotions surrounding the festival.” Nike’s 2020 campaign “The Great Chase” demonstrated how the tradition of red envelope giving can be transformed into a playful, entertaining, not to mention very relevant story, and at the same time remind its audience to stay active even during the festivities.

According to Nicky, some campaigners may prefer “more visible representations of the holiday - the use of red and gold, red packets, Chinese zodiac signs, etc.” For example, the Adidas 2020 campaign featured an all-star cast dressed in red performing various martial arts and classical Chinese dancing techniques with very vibrant music rather than an apparent storyline.

While some believe that Mainland Chinese comms teams can create more relevant campaigns as they understand the Chinese culture more inherently, the 2019 campaign from Australian brand SunRice featuring a dinner scene between a Chinese family and their Western neighbours created by a group of Western marketers proves otherwise. The 30-second ad showed that rice could break the ice at the dining table and act as a bridge between different cultures.

COVID-19 considerations
Creativity is no doubt a big factor in campaign success, but as Ruben Rodriguez, PR & Consumer Marketing Manager at WOW Tech APAC puts it, apart from attractive creative assets, “meaningful promotional prices” are also helpful in driving sales during one of Mainland China’s biggest spending season.

While the pandemic may lead to more conservative consumer spending, Ruben is confident that consumer spending will remain robust, provided “the right promotions from the right brands arrive for their consideration through the right channels.” This can be made possible through the strategic engagement of local spending and online shopping trends.

Nicky observes that local spending is encouraged through staycation promotions and that “the renewed travel restrictions will likely again push spending from offline to e-commerce channels.” In terms of campaign practicality, Ruben suggests that during current times, campaigners should take store traffic and purchasing behaviour into careful consideration rather than merely putting out “a big-dollar campaign that tries to build massive awareness.”

In addition, this year’s CNY will stir up complex feelings and instead of putting out a simple and easy campaign, brands should “understand the complexity and leverage well these emotions” during COVID-19, according to Elan.

Singtel’s 2021 ad “My Grandmother’s House” recounts a story where the grandma was able to reacquaint with an old friend on the internet through the help of the children in the families. While the story is set in a mainly comedic tone, the ad touches on the misery of losing touch with a close one and the unspeakable joy of reconnection, as well as a witty reference to Singapore’s social distancing rule, making it relatable to the audiences' experiences.

As Ruben puts it, this is a time when “a good foothold in China and research into how big the market is for a particular brand, as well as a profile of the ideal consumer, can go a long way in assessing the effectivity of campaign investments."

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