Advertising Chinese New Year How Do You Solve a Problem Like...

How do you solve a problem like... getting Chinese New Year messaging right in a pandemic?


By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

February 16, 2021 | 9 min read

Each week, we ask readers of The Drum, from brands, agencies and everything in between, for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

asset 7

How can brands get their tone and messaging right this Chinese New Year?

This year’s Chinese New Year has been rather different from celebrations past. But that hasn’t stopped brands and marketers from using the occasion to reach out to consumers.

While we’ve seen some interesting work created for Coca-Cola and Beats by Dr Dre, activating around CNY this year has come with challenges. So, we asked a selection of experts from across APAC whether or not brands should engage – and if so, how?

How do you solve a problem like... getting Chinese New Year brand messaging right in a pandemic year?

sheung yan lo

SheungYan Lo, chief creative officer APAC, Wunderman Thompson

CNY is a time for everyone to take a break and celebrate with family and friends. For brands that consider themselves as part of this greater Chinese family, there is no reason for not ’showing up’, even when Covid-19 is still around. The question is whether you are finding the most inspiring and relevant message to share with your ’family’.

Given the robust social and video platforms in China, celebrations can take many different forms. Although the situation in China has calmed down tremendously compared to last year, sporadic outbreaks have urged the government to encourage everyone to stay where they are, instead of going back to their home towns to celebrate. This tension also provides richness to the message the brand could send.

malcolm poynton

Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer, Cheil Worldwide

Chinese New Year – it’s bigger than Super Bowl, and more meaningful too. Brands play a huge role in the fabric of Chinese culture today.

Getting the tone right is as nuanced as it is for holiday and Christmas ads. This year, it was made all the more difficult with the uncertainty over travel restrictions at a time campaigns were being planned and produced.

As a younger generation of consumers emerges with greater ambitions than being swept along by the ’996’ ethic, brands have a real opportunity to play a more meaningful role. To positively impact their everyday. From tech and entertainment brands to homewares and automotive.

Chinese New Year is when brands can celebrate their relevance beyond the well-worn journey back to the family home. It’s an opportunity to build a stronger bond with its consumers. And that’s an opportunity not to be missed.

craig mapleston

Craig Mapleston, chief executive officer, VCCP Singapore

Brands absolutely should be celebrating and activating this Lunar New Year. After such a bleak previous 12 months, we’re all looking for some optimism, and we’ve seen the brands embracing positivity are the ones succeeding right now.

Lunar New Year embodies the promise of a new beginning and fresh opportunities that we’re all looking for. And the importance of family unity and support at the heart of the New Year celebrations has never been more important.

Brands that align their values with the needs and hopes of their audiences will always stand a good chance of success – and Lunar New Year is the perfect time to deliver on that.

jacob wright

Jacob Wright, chief strategy officer, BBH Singapore

Chinese New Year is a time of connecting with other generations and about simple acts that show mutual respect and love. It’s a time of traditions and continuity, where people go out of their way to affirm their collective identity. Brands that contribute meaningfully to this, by respectfully referencing traditions or creating traditions of their own, can be a joyful part of the whole experience.

From Google Pay’s viral ’Huat Pals’ activation to iconic food brands like New Moon Abalone, dark times are an opportunity for people and brands to create even more powerful memories. Marketers can win by focusing on making things that have an honest beauty and a sense of fun rather than cheap grabs at relevance.

huiwen tow

Huiwen Tow, APAC head of strategy, Virtue

It’s only understandable how brands would want to shy away from associating themselves with an occasion built on reunions in a socially-distanced world, especially when the previous CNY has been inauspiciously associated with the start of Covid.

But take a moment and you will find CNY 2021 is a special one and will be one to be remembered for years to come.

While big multi-generational reunions are discouraged, therein lies the opportunity for small intimate gatherings between the people that really count. While CNY advertising in recent years has built a narrative on outsmarting tradition to appeal to young modern Chinese, this year’s opportunity is to embrace and accept tradition and family for everything that they are. For a long time, CNY has lost its emotional significance of renewal – it used to be the only time of year when new clothes were bought or feasts were had, but 2021 will be the big emotional reset we all need, and CNY being the occasion to kick this off in this part of the world.

Brands that make subtle nods at the impact of Covid but take an ultimately positive and forward-looking approach to CNY will resonate with a world that needs some revelry and light-heartedness to get on with the rest of the year.

kate fahie

Kate Fahie, senior strategist, Stormbrands

Before deciding on any activity related to Chinese New Year, brands must ask themselves why they’re doing it and where they’re doing it. Is it what their audience needs and wants to see right now? And will this have any impact on brand equity?

Traditionally, this cultural celebration has been a time for gifting and for loved ones to come together but naturally, this ritual has now evolved and brands must adjust accordingly.

Over this last year, the majority of brands have become more introspective and are focused on hyper localization – as required by their audience. Faced with less people movement and a more reflective consumer, how can, and should, brands still have an impact around Chinese New Year?

Think audience-first. Be empathetic and sensitive to your consumer’s new normal. Find opportunity in this temporary change in ritual, or invest elsewhere for now.

tory yang

Troy Yang, north Asia managing director, Hivestack

Chinese New Year is an optimal time for customer connection and that hasn’t changed. In fact, the challenges of 2020 have only made it more important to reinforce consumer relationships with positive messages. What has changed, however, is campaign focus: celebrations won’t be quite the same as usual, and brands must adapt to offer audiences maximum value.

We’ve already seen WeChat promote Red Packets and ZA Bank publicize an online and e-payment solution in Hong Kong to cater to families ringing in CNY virtually, while P&G and Unilever focus on e-commerce sales. With some brands still feeling cautious about spending, there are opportunities to utilize measurable media like DOOH and programmatic technology to ensure ROI and prosper in the year of the ox.

andy edmonds

Andy Edmonds, APAC growth director, MediaMonks

For brands, this is the year to be thoughtful and mindful of the current global crisis and how their customers are currently feeling. Coca-Cola and Beats have used storytelling well to remind us of the meaning of Chinese New Year and also how the year of the rat changed perspectives away from money and into experiences. Importantly, brands shouldn’t use this opportunity to be self-indulgent, pushing the hard sell, but to be considerate and sensitive to their audiences’ needs, wants and feelings during this prolonged tough period.

Digital is on the up – besides the shiny TVC, brands are building digital experiences from digitalized red packets with customizable greetings to virtual parties helping to bring festive cheer to those insides. Here at MediaMonks, we’re using AR to provide our clients with a personalized lion dance. Our hope is to remind people that this is only temporary and we can still interact and engage, with technology as the enabler this year.

chaojie miao

Chaojie Miao, brand strategy partner, L’Atelier China

Recent years have seen brands launch Chinese New Year ads with the intent to ‘modernize’ the holiday to target young consumers. This year, however, brands have gone back to focus on more traditional Chinese New Year messages and themes, opting to focus on family as well as togetherness with a touch of nostalgia.

In Chinese culture, the year of the ox represents strength and hard work. Brands have taken the opportunity this year to match this symbolism while casting hope for a better year ahead by honoring everyday hardworking individuals. Pepsi and Snickers, for example, featured delivery men, while Dongfeng Nissan featured nurses in a micro-movie, directed by renowned film director Yibai Zhang. Similarly, Nike told the story of a father-daughter duo taking small steps in life to achieve their big dreams.

Want to join the discussion? Email me at to be included in future editions of this series.

Advertising Chinese New Year How Do You Solve a Problem Like...

More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +