Visitors to Apple's Chinese homepage lately have been greeted by artwork of vibrantly colored roosters. Apple hired Chinese contemporary artists to use its computers, tablets and other products to create digital paintings for Chinese New Year, and artist Ni Chuan Jing celebrated this year's zodiac animal, the rooster. People can download the digital paintings to use as wallpaper on their iPhone, iPad or MacBook.
The Lunar New Year begins Saturday, and brands are paying homage to local traditions – some with roosters, and some with sweet commercials showing family reunions around the dinner table. (Apple did one of those too; watch it here.) For Western companies, it's about creating messages to show how locally resonant they are in China, a market of over 1.37 billion people.
The rooster can be a symbol of a good start. It "crows at dawn, so people appreciate that the rooster wakes them up -- it's a symbol of people getting up early and working hard, it's a symbol of diligence," said Sapphire Zhang, PR director for local independent agency 180China. While the zodiac symbol is often depicted as a rooster, it can also be a hen, and brands are celebrating chicken of all sorts, with everything from social media stickers to art to luxury goods emblazoned with roosters.
On WeChat, China's ubiquitous and all-purpose mobile app, chicken emojis are popping up everywhere. Taco Bell, which just re-entered China and opened its first store in Shanghai, used a tiny chicken-head emoji as a play on words to wish people a happy new year. A "jinian," or rooster year, sounds similar to the words meaning a "lucky year."
We Are Social's China office did cute animated hen stickers for Oysho, a brand owned by Zara parent Inditex. One of them shows a plump white chicken popping out of an Oysho shopping bag; another shows a hen being showered with red envelopes, which are stuffed with cash and given as gifts for the festival.
In Hong Kong, KFC's holiday campaign from the local Ogilvy & Mather office included several facets, including a chicken-themed mobile game called the "Golden Fortune Bucket." People scan a QR code and place their smartphones around a KFC chicken bucket; a cartoon chicken darts between the phones, and players can win prizes. One of those prizes is lucky red underwear from a Hong Kong manufacturer called, not coincidentally, "Chicks." On the mainland at KFC, there were fewer roosters involved in the marketing effort, but chicken buckets did have the bird on them.
Many brands besides Apple hired artists. Vans bought ads on WeChat users' feeds promoting its collaboration with a comic book artist, Dick Ng, who did comics featuring rooster characters for the holiday.
In Hong Kong, artist Pauline Yau created roosters and other colorful paper birds for a campaign for Hong Kong premium mall Pacific Place. Why not focus on roosters alone? The team didn't want it to be too on-the-nose, said David Ko, senior VP of Ruder Finn's RFI Studios Asia, who worked on the campaign, which included social and online aspects as well. "The campaign theme is really around the color and energy and variety of all kinds of different birds," he said.
Every year, luxury brands release limited edition products with the zodiac animal on them. They often get a lot of attention online, with some people on social media poking fun of the more obvious or poorly executed attempts to court big-spending Chinese consumers. Dolce & Gabbana released a satin bomber jacket with large roosters on it. Louis Vuitton had cute wallets with a cartoonish, big-eyed bird face on them. Chopard and Piaget were among the many watch brands to release designs with a rooster on the face. There didn't appear to be any big blunders akin to Burberry's two years ago, when it embroidered a large character meaning prosperity onto a tartan scarf for the new year. The result was roundly branded as cheap-looking, even fake.