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Western brands need more than roosters

News, 20 January 2017
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BEIJING: With Chinese New Year a week away, poultry-themed items are in abundance to celebrate the upcoming Year of the Rooster, but Western luxury brands hoping to tap into the annual holiday gifting bonanza need to tread carefully.

"Chinese customers don't like it when they feel designers misinterpret or misunderstand Chinese culture," according to Yiling Pan of Jing Daily, the luxury trends publication. She noted in Luxury Daily that the past two years have seen a social media backlash against brands failing this test.

Simply adding a cockerel to a product is not enough to attract younger buyers for whom such symbols are redolent of the bygone age of imperial China, and may even damage the brand.

The South China Morning Post noted that Western designers tend to interpret Chinese fashion through the lens of movie and literature stereotypes, with an over-reliance on symbols like dragons and the colours red and gold, rather than understanding the modern Chinese shopper.

Longchamp's Year of the Rooster bag, for example – a red handbag with a prominent white rooster on it – was described by one design commentator as "almost a cliché of itself, hoping to scrape by with the minimum of effort".

Katie Ewer, strategy director at JKR, added that "the most successful limited editions are those that start with their brand, then give it a playful seasonal twist".

Yiling Pan also noted that young luxury buyers will also avoid items with designs that look like counterfeits that anyone could buy cheaply on Taobao

"Some Western brands do have a very good sense, but many others still have a very shallow understanding of Chinese culture," said Zhou Ting, a director with Fortune Character Institute.

"After all, Chinese consumers are falling for Western brands for their Western appeal, while Chinese understand Chinese better."

Data sourced from Luxury Daily, South China Morning Post, Marketing Interactive; additional content by Warc staff

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