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Year of the Pig Forecast

February 5th 2019 marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year of the Earth Pig 2019, the twelfth and last animal in the Chinese zodiac.

The pig is an auspicious animal in Chinese culture; with its round features representing wealth and good fortune, the pig is a symbol of success and happiness for those born in the zodiac year. While an outbreak of African swine flu in late 2018 caused the price of pork to drastically increase with warnings of pork shortages for the upcoming Year of the Pig, spending in this year Chinese New Year economy looks set to smash records yet again.

Chinese New Year (sometimes known as the Lunar New Year) is one of the world’s most widely celebrated festivals, and is responsible for the biggest annual mass migration across the world. It is a time for family festivities, exotic travel, sumptuous feasts and displays of national pride. A China Luxury Advisor’s report predicted an increase on global travel and shopping for luxury brands while abroad. According to figures from China Briefing’s China Market Watch, 2018 saw RMB 926 billion (USD 146 billion) worth of sales in the retail sector, a year-on-year growth rate of 10.2% according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. In 2018, 286 million domestic trips and 6.5 million overseas trips were made during the Chinese New Year period, an increase of 12.1% from 2017.

Maintaining cultural sensitivity

Chinese cultural pride and heritage should be at the forefront of any campaign. Appealing to new consumer lifestyles through influencer marketing and playing with different characteristics of the zodiac animals are all important ways to capture the Chinese audience. People aren’t necessarily paying for the symbols, but for high quality luxury products and anything looking less than what it says on the price tag won’t fly.

Gaudy, cliche branding and overuse of stereotypical symbols are best avoided. Chinese shoppers have developed a sophisticated taste and a ‘luxury attitude’, and Year of the Dog 2018 campaigns from Gucci, Prada and Giorgio Armani suffered at the hands of Chinese netizens, which failed to impress with diamanté compacts and furry trainers. Bvlgari’s controversial and Burberry’s bizarre Year of the Pig 2019 campaigns have already caused a stir on social media but for all the wrong reasons.

Bvlgari’s now infamous failed Chinese New Year 2019 campaign which has since been removed. The Chinese character for pig is ‘zhu’, pronounced close to ‘Jew’, an ill-thought out non-Kosher campaign.
Bvlgari’s now infamous failed Chinese New Year 2019 campaign which has since been removed. The Chinese character for pig is ‘zhu’, pronounced close to ‘Jew’, an ill-thought out non-Kosher campaign.

Chinese luxury consumers value the frictionless experience of ecommerce platforms. These platforms are booming with tech-savvy young consumers with high spending power and influence. Gen-Z consumers are taking over the luxury goods market and have different spending habits from the previous generation — they are data rich and data dependent thanks to China’s robust e-commerce infrastructure, and are quick to voice their opinions. Chinese travellers and overseas Chinese communities are important demographics for luxury brands, and the ‘nearby’ features in the Little Red Book app specifically targets travelling consumers, which is important for e-tailers to boost sales during the festive period.

Burberry’s campaign was branded creepy, one netizen writing: “what a creepy family portrait. It looks like a horror movie.”
Burberry’s campaign was branded creepy, one netizen writing: “what a creepy family portrait. It looks like a horror movie.”

Increasing mobile advertising by producing special edition items commemorating zodiac animals, WeChat games and digital red envelope initiatives a la Kate Spade help brands to stay relevant. Creating official WeChat accounts by pushing content and creating interactive user experiences that are on time and on trend is important for a successful campaign. Tapping into Chinese social media is also a way for brands to eliminate waste and to reduce their carbon footprint.

Screenshots from Kate Spade’s WeChat account and their Chinese New Year of the Monkey campaign.
Screenshots from Kate Spade’s WeChat account and their Chinese New Year of the Monkey campaign.

And whilst it wasn’t Chinese New Year themed, fashion powerhouse Dolce and Gabbana took a massive stumble with their failed Shanghai fashion show, hitting their sales and reputation hard in China. This serves as a to luxury brands marketing to China that cultural appropriation and bigoted Instagram rants are out, cultural sensitivity is in.

This article was originally published January 2019.

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