The 紅包 ('hong bao') have been given out. The 'yu sheng' tossed. The 'wu shi' danced. That’s right, Lunar New Year has been and gone, and we’re ready for that time-honoured agency tradition of examining how different brands engaged with the festivities. Of course, at Ipsos we’re always trying to push ourselves one step further, and this year we’ve added some extra goodies to the 盆菜 ('pen cai').
We’re passionate about unpacking cultural phenomena and we enlisted our long-suffering colleagues across Southeast Asia to conduct an auto-ethnographic study of the festival. By documenting and reflecting upon the celebrations, we’ve unpacked its core meaning and spotted several new opportunities for brands across Singapore and Malaysia. What better way to wish you 年年有余 ('nian nian you yu')?
Fundamentally, all festivals are about strengthening communal bonds. Understanding the meaning of a specific festival therefore means examining how that universal need is expressed and where it sits in relation to other cultural concepts. ‘Welcoming good fortune’ is the central thread running through the entire Chinese New Year (the flipside of which is to avoid bad luck). Celebration itself is framed as a means of doing just that – by enjoying the previous year’s prosperity, celebrants can start on the right foot and ensure a bountiful year ahead. ‘Welcoming good fortune’ also underpins several facets of the social landscape, from the pressure to perform traditional roles (e.g. observing hierarchy) to maintaining family harmony, both of which are believed to ensure future success.
Emotional highs & lows
While nagging aunties and complex traditions are interesting new directions, they are only two of the many untapped marketing opportunities. To identify more of these, our colleagues conducted an auto-ethnographic study over the holidays – taking photos, recording video, and performing short tasks. What emerged is a picture of the emotional journey which celebrants go through, the highs and the lows, the challenges and the delights.
- Food - With many foods and ingredients chosen for consumption because of fortuitous Mandarin homophones, perhaps brands could emphasise any such similarities among their existing portfolio? For instance, the Mandarin for ‘cheese’ 'qi si' sounds similar to ‘knowledge’ 'zhi shi', and dairy brands could use this to develop a festive mental
development proposition for children and career-driven adults.
- Traditions - The loss of traditions and efforts to revive them is surely an emotive territory begging to be picked up by brands. This could tie in with the broader trend towards nostalgia which we see across Southeast Asia.
- Children - Brands could address the lack of appreciation and boredom among the next generation by launching edutainment campaigns that aim to help children learn about their culture (e.g. Chinese zodiac word games printed on packages).
- Traveling & exhaustion - There may be an opportunity for brands to help celebrants stay energised throughout the festivities, particularly for energy drinks or anyone who can offer long-lasting fullness.
There are of course many other countries celebrating Chinese New Year, not least China itself, and we can only claim to have scratched the surface of potential new initiatives. We’re currently developing a range of techniques to explore festivals across Southeast Asia, from auto-ethno to VR and semiotics,