Western advertisers tailor efforts to Chinese New Year

By Published on .

[Hong Kong] Chinese New Year has long been a significant holiday in Asia, but Western marketers have given this traditional family break some Christmas-style hype.

The Asian holiday is "at least as important as Christmas and [Western] New Year are for businesses around the world," said Richard Pinder, regional director, Asia/Pacific at Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, in Hong Kong. Chinese New Year in 2004 (the year of the monkey) starts Jan. 22.

"Chinese want to both reward themselves for hard work during the previous year and start the year with something fresh and new," added Tom Doctoroff, Shanghai-based CEO, China, and area director for Northeast Asia at WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co.

Even though Asia's expanding middle class needs little persuasion to hit the stores during Chinese New Year, media buying peaks during the holiday in countries such as China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, sending ad rates to their highest levels.

Boutiques and department stores capitalize on a desire by Chinese women and men to ring in the New Year with new clothes. Travel agencies promote travel packages. Manufacturers promote everything from expensive white goods, electronics and cellphones to gift favorites such as health supplements, food, soft drinks and alcohol.

world stands still

Asia Pacific Breweries, for example, highlights Chinese New Year in a Tiger Beer ad airing throughout Southeast Asia. The spot, created by Leo Burnett, Singapore, reflects the reality that Asian businesses come to a standstill during the lunar holiday. A rapper tries to drop off dirty clothes at a Chinese laundry in midtown Manhattan, but it is closed. A Paris investment banker attempts to call an empty trading floor at the Hang Seng stock exchange. And impatient tourists wait for never-arriving taxis outside a Hong Kong museum, because all Chinese are at home drinking Tiger Beer with friends.

Asian retailers such as Hutchison Whampoa's ParkNshop supermarket chain also give away envelopes, usually printed in red and gold, which consumers use to conduct a holiday ritual, doling out cash to family and staff.

Consumer retail sales in Singapore, Hong Kong and China climb about 10% during Chinese New Year, according to ACNielsen, while food and beverages sales grow as much as 70%.

However, some cautious Western marketers hold back during the actual three-day event to avoid clutter and potential backlash.

The holiday is still intensely personal and traditional, particularly for older Chinese, who revere the annual event as an expression of clan loyalty, a building block of Confucian society. Chinese also tend to be fatalistic, so they want to start off the New Year with luck.

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