The stretch of time between end-of-year celebrations and Valentine’s Day is usually a bleak period of the Western market because people are physically and financially drained from the holidays. Nevertheless, within the past decade, a spate of Western brands ranging from luxury to affordable have adopted a new holiday into their calendars: Lunar New Year.
What is Lunar New Year?
Lunar New Year is the celebration within a week around the 1st January under the lunisolar calendar — which is based on cycles of the moon. The holiday is generally referred to as Chinese New Year by Westerners, but lunar New Year seems like a more accurate description, given that the holiday is celebrated across multiple places like China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Besides, the increase of Asian immigrant populations, especially those of Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese descent, has entwined with the overall popularity and cultural awareness of this holiday.
An occasion to spend.
As with most holidays, Lunar New Year has become an opportunity for retailers to sell shoes, jackets, or handbags on the premise of being culturally observant. On the other hand, well-known Western brands like Apple, Gucci, Nike, and Sephora have launched new advertising campaigns and capsule collections overseas, primarily aimed at Chinese customers, sometimes also bled into the American market. According to Deb Gabor – a brands expert and CEO of Sol Marketing: “There’s this flattening of the world taking place in regards to marketing trends and themes. It mostly started with the luxury brands, but we’re seeing more and more mainstream brands doing this”. Lunar New Year appears to be yet another branded holiday where products are marketed with culturally specific colors, themes, and motifs — with the intention of courting an Asian market that holds significant spending power.
For instance, retailers annually have the opportunity to create new merchandise that correlates with the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac which symbolizes a given year. Let’s look back to 2020 – the Year of the Rat, Gucci and Adidas Originals have both partnered with Disney on capsule collections that feature Mickey Mouse, arguably the most famous rodent in the world. Meanwhile, Rag & Bone has a pizza rat sweater, and Moschino released products with its Mickey Rat logo (which looks like Mickey Mouse but with a long jagged snout)
Yet there’s a stark disconnect that emerges when Western brands try to commercialize an Eastern holiday like Lunar New Year. For the most part, Asian consumers abroad don’t appear to take issue with cultural marketing. Given that Eastern customers are quick to notice failed marketing ploys and point out where Western brands have erred.
Moreover, amid tensions between China and the US over trade and geopolitics, however, Chinese shoppers might not be as receptive to Western brands’ Lunar New Year efforts. They’ve become especially wary of American companies and critical of international retailers overall, according to a Wall Street Journal piece on how America is losing the Chinese customer. Analysts predict that Chinese shoppers alone are expected to spend as much as $156 billion on new year festivities. Still, it’s uncertain whether it’ll benefit the bottom line of Western companies.