Budweiser is bringing Chinese New Year to Times Square starting on Saturday with a campaign to usher in the Year of the Snake dubbed "Celebrate Chinese New Year Around The World."
A TV commercial [below], already airing in China, features fashionable urbanites from Beijing to New York to Paris, counting down with Budweisers in hand. It's not exactly the giant ball descending in Times Square at midnight on Dec. 31, but that spot, along with holiday greetings from Chinese fans, will run continuously on a LED screen in Times Square from Feb. 9 to 16 (Chinese New Year Day is Feb. 10).
As part of the campaign back in China, fans sending holiday meet-up invitations from Budweiser's Sina Weibo microblog and Facebook-like Renren can receive virtual "red envelopes," traditionally used in holiday gift-giving, containing coupons for karaoke or movie theaters. One pair will receive a trip to New York City, where they can see for themselves the holiday greetings broadcast in Times Square.
"That becomes branded content that (the opinion leaders) can viral out from their personal network" said Chris Tung, CEO of IM2.0, whose Shanghai office handled digital for the campaign.
The agency invited key Budweiser fans to send captioned photo greetings, then the 30 greetings that spread most widely on social media were edited into a video. The selected fans are grassroots opinion leaders, such as a fashion blogger with 260,000 followers.
Anomaly's New York office and the Shanghai offices of @PR and Mediacom also worked on the campaign.
"China is getting more and more strong as a country, and a lot of us really enjoy seeing China being a part of the world economy and world events," said Rex Wong, VP-marketing Asia Pacific for Anheuser-Busch InBev. Mr. Wong, a Hong Kong native, has been with A-B InBev for 14 years, mostly in marketing roles. "Why is Christmas celebrated around the world? Not everybody celebrates Christmas because they're Christian ... Chinese New Year should be celebrated as well (by non-Chinese)."
In China, the world's largest beer market, Budweiser costs more than twice as much as local brands, and ranks among the top foreign beer brands with a 1.2% market share, according to Euromonitor. Budweiser is positioned as an upscale brand, targeting beer drinkers with higher education and incomes.
One analyst noted that with the "Celebrate Chinese New Year Around the World" campaign, Budweiser has smartly tapped into a recent trend among Chinese consumers choosing to spend on experiences.
"Rather than going out and buying products, they're spending money on doing things, such as travel," said Ben Cavender, associate principal at the China Market Research Group in Shanghai. "Marketing around that does a good job of bolstering the brand and supporting the brand."
Budweiser also offers holiday gift packs this time of year. Gifting is an essential part of Chinese New Year, with everything from cooking oil to luxury products given to family and friends. This year's holiday Budweiser packaging features a red and gold snake design, with foil around the tops of the bottles for an upscale touch. A 12-pack of limited edition Buds is packaged in a red box, then placed in a festive gift bag.
Meanwhile, Chinese regulators have banned TV and radio ads that encourage gifting of high-end items like luxury watches, rare stamps and gold coins, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The government is in the midst of a campaign to fight corruption and taxpayer-funded extravagance as the country prepares to install a new class of top leaders next month. Typically, graft runs rampant during Chinese holidays as government officials collect gifts from those trying to curry favor.
"Radio and television channels should fully exert their role of educating the people, carrying forward good Chinese traditions and civilized lifestyles, and taking the lead to implement the requirements of the central authorities," Xinhua quoted a spokesman from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television as saying.
In the U.S., Tsingtao Lager, which bills itself as the No. 1 imported Chinese beer, is making a big marketing push around Chinese New Year that reinforces the brand's Asian heritage. Programs include special "Year of the Snake" packaging for 6, 12 and 24-packs as well as point-of-sale signage that offers helpful pronunciation tips with the words "Just say Ching-Dow" under a picture of the beer bottle. "We find that people want to celebrate this holiday with an authentic Chinese beer," said a spokesman for Crown Imports, the beer's U.S. importer.
Contributing: EJ Schultz