How Brands Targeted China's International Travelers During the Lunar New Year

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From a Macy's promotion on microblogging platform Weibo during Chinese New Year
From a Macy's promotion on microblogging platform Weibo during Chinese New Year Credit: Macy's Weibo

During the Lunar New Year in China, people head to their hometowns for family reunions, piling into cars, buses, trains and planes and braving epic traffic jams and generalized chaos. Workers have seven days off, one of two annual "golden weeks," as they're called, and everyone's on the move at the same time.

But a new trend is emerging: Some people are getting away from it all and traveling abroad instead. And marketers are taking note.

This year, 6.15 million Chinese people made overseas trips, up 7% from last year, according to official statistics. China' international travelers are young (over a third are ages 25-34); about 69% say they prefer destinations where they can buy luxury goods, according to a study from Aviator, the travel marketing arm of WPP's Kinetic. The report also points out that 74 million "travel-ready millennials" will be graduating from Chinese universities over the next 10 years.

Chenyin Pan, China manager of independent local digital agency Fireworks, says young Chinese are curious about the world, have more disposable income and are keen to take advantage of the holiday to make longer trips. "There's always the idea (in the media) of big happy families getting together, but personally I think there's a fear of being bored" when you're sitting at home for the holiday, he said. Some people are taking their parents to travel abroad with them, he said, especially to easier destinations like Southeast Asia. Traveling with parents was just one of the themes that turned up in campaigns this holiday; here's a look at a few different ways marketers tapped the trends.

Credit cards: China's UnionPay has long had a monopoly on bank payment cards in China. Though Chinese regulators have cleared foreign card companies to apply for licenses to process domestic payments, the process is taking a while, and Visa said this month in an earnings call that it hadn't been able to formally apply yet.

In the meantime, Visa is marketing itself as a way to pay for travel overseas. A funny and touching video from BBDO Shanghai came out for the holiday. (Watch it here.) It's about a well-traveled adult daughter and her less worldly parents -- a common situation for the younger generation in China, who grew up during China's economic boom times. The parents are proud of their daughter and boast about all the imported products they own, but they've never actually traveled anywhere. "My world is bigger and bigger, but their world hasn't changed," the daughter says, before deciding to bring her parents to Australia. Her father makes the trip in a loud Hawaiian shirt, a straw hat and a camera around his neck.

Destinations: In the U.S., San Francisco Travel partnered with independent Chinese digital agency Hylink on a campaign targeting holiday travelers that included promotions through Ctrip but also live streaming of interesting places to visit in the area – charming neighborhoods, cafes, sites.

Live streaming is "a hidden gem for capturing audiences, increasing brand awareness, and growing the user base organically," said Humphrey Ho, Santa Monica-based U.S. managing director at Hylink, adding that many "aren't aware that there are 300 million active live streamers in China."

Live streaming is also cost-effective, though it's more of a brand-building experience and doesn't necessarily translate directly to booked trips, he said. The agency's first live cast in San Francisco, which far exceeded expectations, had 170,000 views and increased its followers on Weibo, a microblogging platform, by fourfold.

Department stores: For years, department stores have targeted Chinese travelers; they're an obvious one-stop shop for people fitting in shopping during an overseas trip. Macy's locations in the U.S. had cooking classes and traditional dance performances; Bloomingdale's had special merchandise, like a Year of the Rooster tote bag, and it dressed mannequins in red (a ubiquitous color for the festival) and gave them red mohawks.

Chinese brands: Chinese brands tried to catch the eye of Chinese tourists overseas and promote themselves as internationally-minded. New York's Times Square has become a hot place for Chinese brands to place ads in Chinese, partly in hopes that travelers will post about them on Chinese social media. Mengniu, a Chinese milk giant, put an ad there during the holiday, but so did some unexpectedly low-profile brands – including a local company that makes LED lights and another that sells buses.

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