AKA Brand Design



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Western brands have been balancing fear and desire regarding associations to Chinese New Year for years. There is a desire to be part of the $146 billion spending spree, but a fear that getting it wrong could cause permanent damage to a brand in such a large market. Until recently, the fear had been winning and Western brands had been cautious, even too slow in jumping on board. 

Chinese New Year is far more multilayered than Christmas or Thanksgiving, with an array of nuances, protocols and etiquette involved. The distinct and quite rigid set of visual ID codes has made it challenging for brands to engage Chinese New Year in a meaningful way. Now many Western brands are starting to dabble. 

Many have resorted to covering packaging in red and gold, or introduce Chinese Zodiac animal imagery, running ads that show happy families together. No brand really has the deep association with Chinese New Year in the way John Lewis have with Christmas in the UK, or Ocean Spray with Thanksgiving in the USA.

This year is particularly sensitive. Asia has a large Chinese heritage population, but also 1.2 billion Muslims, making use of the ‘Year of the pig’ imagery problematic, primarily for food and drink brands.

In 2007, the last year of the pig, the Chinese national broadcaster banned adverts that featured pigs “to avoid conflicts with ethnic minorities”. In China, Muslims are 2% of the population which means not being able to use a pig for the ‘Year of the Pig’, is similar to banning Father Christmas in December. Starbucks in typical, subtle fashion, has launched a pig mug in Malaysia. To be fair though, they have a zodiac themed mug every year.


Burberrys Chinese New Year campaign featured a family in a modern and serious way (fashion is very serious business!), but the images were widely felt to look like a horror film, or a family at a funeral, “who died over Christmas?” or “Lunar New Year Adams family”. Burberry have since adjusted the campaign. 

The Arsenal Football Club have jumped on too. Their ad launched last week with players dressed in traditional clothes and mangling Chinese New Year phrases was an absolute car crash. It’s hard to understand what it was for.


Those brands that have an affinity and true understanding of the celebration, including its messages and values, inject these into their campaigns and packs. Chinese New Year is about family, harmony, reflection, sharing and coming together.

If your brand is hip, super cool, tough, adventurous etc., then this probably isn’t the right festival to be aligning with. There needs to be an authentic connection between brand and the festival, otherwise it’s going to feel forced.

The Lego Chinese New Year set is a perfect example of how to do it well. It’s kids, it’s adults, it’s family engagement and it’s done in a truly respectful way

Obviously Coke does a fantastic job every year with Chinese New Year packs. So does Budweiser, with its ‘Limited Edition’ packs. They feel premium, collectable and special.

This years winner has to be Peppa Pig, with the ‘Peppa Pig Celebrates New Year’ movie which launches in China this week. The film will be huge. The 5 minute promotional film of real people asking “Who is Pepper Pig?” is beautifully done. It has had 340 million views in its first day!

AKA are experienced brand experts within Asia regions. We understand how brands need to adopt cultural differences, both sympathetically and respectfully, in order to create effective branding. For more information drop us an email and we will be happy to take you through our approach in more detail.