Chinese New Year – Lessons to be Learnt?

Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important holiday to the Chinese community – the equivalent to what Christmas means in western countries. Family gatherings, friends visiting, and gift giving make this festive season such a big shopping spree where many businesses are looking to cash in, and an array of foreign brands are trying hard to tap into this market as well.

Recent years has seen the rising demand for luxury goods from China – 31 percent of the total luxury goods market, which is expected to increase to 50 percent by 2020. So it seems smart for many foreign brands to market themselves to this huge market that has so much potential and purchasing power. In 2016, the year of the Monkey according to Chinese zodiac, has seen a lot more of such efforts.

As a Chinese national, I’m happy to see Chinese New Year is seriously celebrated all around the world, and I’m flattered to see so many foreign brands have made well-intended efforts in designing China-themed products to cater to this market. However, some of them have gone really wrong – their Chinese new year collection turned out to be a laughing stock and went viral in Chinese on-line community and social media. Nike’s limited edition of “Get Fat” shoes and Giorgio Armani’s compact powder with Chinese Character “Fu” in awkward font are just among the few to name. In Australia, the supermarket giant Coles has also been busted for their wrong use of Chinese characters on their goods. I can’t help wondering: Do they want to sell or do they just want to attract attention?

The launch of Nike’s controversial “Get Fat” shoes attracted over 2,500 comments and more than 8,000 shares as soon as it came out on the official Weibo site. So far, the Nike official Weibo account has gained nearly 600,000 fans.

By comparison, the hospitality industry is setting a good example of how to effectively engage with the Chinese community. With the boom of Chinese tourists to Australia, the Australian hospitality industry has changed their business models and strategies to attract more Chinese tourists or else risk losing this lucrative market. Hilton’s hotels are one of many that have already adopted this change. Today all Hilton hotels worldwide are providing a service called “Hilton Huanying” that caters to Chinese guests by providing them with Teapots and Chinese Tea in all the guestrooms. “Huangying” in Chinese means “Welcome”. Guests can also expect to see a greater selection of Chinese food on the menus. Starwood’s hotels around the world are now able to provide services in Mandarin, offer chopsticks to patrons, in-room instant noodles and Chinese-friendly menu items like congee, noodles and rice.

All in all, it takes insights into the culture and a well-considered communication strategy to understand the market; and therefore, engage this vast community. Nowadays, companies, hotels restaurants, government, and organisations are paying multicultural consultancy companies to provide professional training and develop tailored communication strategies. This is a smart move if you want to get it right. Providing a green hat to a Chinese male guest on St. Patrick’s Day may seem like a good gesture but to Chinese this carries the humiliating connotation that his wife has had an affair. In a similar fashion, you would never serve a bowl of rice to a Chinese patron with the chopsticks stuck in the rice, as it is the way to give offering of food to the deceased.

Bottom line, if you want to market to the Chinese community, make sure you know enough about them and get it right so you don’t end up like Nike, making shoes that wish the Chinese to get fat in the new year!

By Jie Cao, Account Manager at Cultural Perspectives