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Shining Light on Lunar New Year

The Lunar New Year roared in on February 1, ushering in the Year of the Tiger that will be defined as a time to take risks, make big changes and pursue adventure. While Lunar New Year marks the most important day in the Chinese calendar (and is usually called Chinese New Year in that country), this event is celebrated by roughly a quarter of the world, including most of East Asia, where it’s often known as the Spring Festival. Traditionally a time for families to come together, in recent years brands have likewise gotten in on the action with various initiatives and campaigns. Here’s what you need to know.

What to Keep in Mind
The key to creating a successful Lunar New Year campaign starts by forging an authentic consumer connection to achieve a meaningful activation. Brands often rely on marketing teams in local communities that traditionally celebrate this event to avoid insensitive missteps or cultural appropriation. Prada, for example, faced social-media backlash following its 2019 Chinese New Year campaign that was criticized for overwhelming viewers with too many stereotypically Chinese symbols and images that were deemed “surface level” as opposed to sensitive, original or thoughtful. Nike, on the other hand, hit the sweet spot in their 2020 spot that showed a young girl refusing a traditional “Red Packet” gift from her auntie. As years pass, this tug-and-pull between growing niece and aunt continues, playing on the fact that it’s polite common practice to refuse generosity from relatives in China. The fresh, authentic film resonated well with Gen Z. Younger demographics are likewise losing interest in Spring Festival marketing tactics that are seen as overused, including themes that center on reunions, returning home or an overreliance on traditional cultural symbols. Instead, they favor campaigns that are deemed insightful, innovative or even strange.

Ads that Wowed in China
Coca-Cola paired with Ogilvy Shanghai for a beautifully animated spot directed by filmmaker Yves Geleyn. “Real Magic Lunar New Year” depicts a homecoming—but with a twist. A young tiger returns to his family—all of whom are preparing for the Lunar New Year celebration by hanging red paper lanterns and setting the table with rice, oranges and other festive dishes—only to encounter tension with his tiger father. Growls and nips ensue, but in the end Dad and Son come together over a shared bottle of Coke. Additional activations include an immersive 3D out-of-home initiative, mobile games and limited-edition packaging.

Apple went even bigger with a 23-minute film called “The Comeback,” directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Meng and shot entirely on iPhone devices. The multi-genre effort incorporates characteristics of sci-fi flicks, Kung Fu action films and feel-good Hollywood comedies, in a movie about making a movie. Apple’s synopsis starts with this description: “A young stunt-double, who dreams of being behind the camera not just in front of it, returns home for Chinese New Year to spend time with his father while nursing an injury and escaping his perceived failure.” The man’s neighbors eventually convince him to shoot a film set on Mars, with the goal of making their village internet famous—but in the end their effort has the greater benefit of bringing the community together as they build sets, practice stunts and design costumes.

Ads Rocking the Rest of the World
McDonald’s tapped into the metaverse to celebrate this year’s start of the lunar calendar. In partnership with fashion brand Opening Ceremony and its co-founder, Humberto Leon, the fast-food giant created a virtual space called “McDonald’s Hall of Zodiacs: 2022 Lunar New Year with Humberto Leon,” accessible via AltspaceVR and Spatial virtual reality platforms. The goal was to achieve a “bold and unconventional take” on the traditional holiday, realized through a metaverse space featuring Leon’s elaborate zodiac sculptures, which were inspired by Chinese cork carvings and intricate 3D wood puzzles. TV spots on select Asian news channels helped support the effort, along with an out-of-home activation wherein select McDonald’s restaurants handed out red envelope gifts to customers.

Glenfiddich also embraced a metaverse theme by creating 200 non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of their 21-year-old Gran Reserva Chinese New Year Limited Edition. The scotch brand also unveiled a multisensory exhibit known as “The Cosmic Voyage” on the rooftop of Singapore’s design and arts building, Design Orchard. The exhibit features works by Chinese illustrator Rlon Wang. In addition, specially designed bottles of the limited-edition whisky were made available for purchase on e-commerce sites Shopee and Lazada.

For those who celebrate Lunar New Year around the world, this holiday is typically defined as a time for renewal, reunions and renewed hope—with an added dash of feline ferocity thrown into 2022. Hoping all your Year of the Tiger festivities are joyful!