Chinese New Year – A Global Affair For Luxury By K magazine

Chinese New Year red lanterns (image courtesy of CNN)

Chinese New Year red lanterns (image courtesy of CNN)

One of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world, Chinese New Year has established itself as more than just a day – it’s become a booming season. As Chinese customers have become crucial to global luxury consumption, what will the Year of the Goat mean to them and to local and international brands? K magazine explores….

Characterised by wild imagination and forward momentum, the Year of the Horse is skidding to a halt. It’s that time of year again – magnificent fireworks, thrilling dragon dances, and Chinese dumplings, or jiaozi, steaming up for another New Year. Luxury brands are targeting Chinese alpha consumers with every ounce of force: ram embroidered tote bags, Mandarin-speaking staff, and gift certificates delivered as red money envelopes or hong bao.

With the advent of Chinese New Year abroad, it’s sometimes hard to remember that this holiday has deep roots on the mainland. Similar to Western astrology, Chinese tradition asserts that a person’s characteristics are directly influenced by their lunar birth year’s animal sign and element.

Each of the 12 shengxiao, or zodiac signs (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig), which rotates in as many years, is associated with one of the five Chinese elements, or wuxing. From 19th February 2015, the legacy and narrative of the goat will mark the coming twelve months.

Chinese Zodiac Calendar

Chinese Zodiac Calendar

Even for the non-traditionalists, one’s zodiac year may warrant subtle superstitious inklings – for example, the wearing of red bracelets or underwear for good luck.

Perhaps after the demanding pace of the Year of the Horse, 2015 will give way to the
more easy-going nature of the goat. Despite a gentle demeanour, goats are considered tough with strong, inner resilience and excellent defensive instincts. With no need to be the centre of attention, goats prefer to be in groups, but they are intelligent on their own. People born in the Year of the Goat are often creative – idea generators – and empathetic decision-makers.

Chinese consumers embody an individual curiosity and pursuit for satisfaction, coupled with an unprecedented power in numbers. When all this can be ignited and engaged, consumer loyalty and brand advocacy can further transform the market.

Brands want to build credibility with Chinese consumers, and anyone else who is just curious or already loves Chinese culture. In fact, 18th February will mark the eve of Chinese New Year and the first time China Central Television will make rights available to foreign broadcasters for the annual Spring Festival Gala. With the number of viewers last year reaching over 700 million, the world’s longest-running and most-watched variety show will provide global brands with a context for their marketing initiatives.

CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2014 (image courtesy of CCTV)

CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2014 (image courtesy of CCTV)

China’s push towards a “new normal” is prompting insiders and onlookers alike to speculate what the future focus on consumption, services and innovation will look like. Despite the domestic economic slowdown, Chinese consumers have become pivotal to global luxury consumption. Over 70% of all luxury goods purchased by Chinese consumers are purchased outside of the mainland.

It’s no surprise, then, that Chinese New Year has been adopted by global brands as a requisite platform to speak to a global audience.

Yet an interesting dichotomy has emerged amongst the younger Chinese generations in both China and abroad. Although reuniting with the family remains paramount to the New Year, many young people are finding other facets of the holiday outdated.

A big bite

Apple has recently emerged as the top luxury brand for gifting, according to the Hurun Research Institute. The company has seemingly merged the importance of cultural antiquity (to appease older generations) with what’s modern and cool (to feed the curiosity of the young).

Take, for example, its New Year marketing campaign “Start A New Chapter,” kaiqi yifen xinyi 开启一分新意。 A young girl uses her technological savvy to reinvigorate her grandmother’s old music – and memories. The message is powerful because it is “localised” and put into a familiar context for Chinese consumers.

Apple Ad

Luxury brands can create value by engaging consumers to want to relate to, and identify with, their products, thereby transcending mere consumption by also boasting a special culture. In other words, savvy brands can develop more than just consumers, but brand advocates. It’s this kind of group advocacy that brands are seeking to develop for both the domestic and international Chinese consumer base, and one that appreciates storytelling.

In turn, Chinese consumers are asking more from the market, wanting to know why and how. They want a story and an ethos to attach themselves to. Companies that strive for congruency between their brand and their products allow consumers to relate; and consumers can pick and choose pieces to create their own identity.

Advocates who are most willing to align their lifestyle with brands have become a creative source of inspiration for brands, which are often directly engaging followers via social media. It’s within the group of brand advocates that leaders form; often with a sense of responsibility they are incapable of ignoring. Hence the developing marketplace for luxury brands that embody purpose, history and timeless facets of culture.

Chinese Red Lanterns (image courtesy of CNN)

Chinese Red Lanterns (image courtesy of CNN)

The third way

Grace Chen, a leading couturier based in Beijing and Shanghai, addresses her on-going challenge to craft products for her Chinese audience. Her clients are celebrities and high-calibre businesswomen who don’t have the time to shop overseas, so she designs in a Chinese style with a global view.

“There are two perspectives when looking at Chinese culture – from the Chinese themselves and one from foreigners,” she says. “I’m looking at this in a third way. If you look at [some luxury brands], they use Chinese influence in their clothes, but you feel like it’s some kind of decoration or exotic embellishment. But domestic Chinese designers, we emphasise carrying on a tradition….it’s a big responsibility.”

Consider New York-based trend forecasting group, K-Hole’s term Normcore and what it means for individual identity. It’s a word that encourages adaptability, non-linear personal style and even interplays with the possibility of misinterpretation as “an opportunity for connection — not as a threat to authenticity.”

Chinese New Year (image courtesy of CNN)

Chinese New Year (image courtesy of CNN)

China’s landscape naturally attracts this kind of mind-set, particularly in the quest for personal style. But does this more individual pursuit of the authentic “self” through fashion and lifestyle clash with the big brand campaigns to grasp and sell “Chinese-ness?”

It’s possible that the market will be drastically transformed by a more organic sense of luxury; one that boasts Chinese characteristics as an honoured responsibility, rather than accepting “Chinese-ness” as embellishment.

If characteristics of the goat ring true, perhaps this year will reveal a new trend, one that encourages collective advocacy among consumers and authenticity within luxury brands.

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