Tomorrow marks the start of Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations when people all over Asia, and Chinese communities throughout the world, will be welcoming in the year of the sheep/goat. CNY is considered an auspicious occasion - a time to celebrate with family and friends, a time of giving and wishing prosperity to others. It is perhaps the most important event in the Chinese calendar.

It is also a time when brands are most eager to speak to their Asian target audience. This creates a highly competitive and highly cluttered advertising environment which means brands must do something extra special if they are to stand out from the noisy crowd. Smart brands use the New Year festivities to recognise and appreciate Chinese culture and traditions. So which brands are succeeding in this space?

HSBC Australia used Chinese New Year to target Asian consumers in Australia and to reinforce the message that HSBC is a trustworthy bank. The brand affirmed its valued association with the Chinese community through a fully integrated campaign that featured e-DM and sponsorship of New Year festivals. HSBC also said ‘thank-you’ to its customers with a culturally relevant gift – a form of 'guanxi' – which would resonate with the target audience. This achieved a 463% YOY growth in term deposits, eclipsing the campaign target by 290%.

McDonald's, the fast food chain, wanted to celebrate the spirit of Chinese New Year with customers in Hong Kong (HK). Its goal was to make its new range of ‘prosperity’ themed burgers relevant at this special and festive period. The campaign specifically targeted the ‘unsung heroes of Hong Kong’; those who sacrifice time with their families to keep the country running during the busy holiday season. A TV spot invited consumers to download a special CNY Greetings App, which featured a special augmented reality TV spot containing a message from two of HK’s most loved comedians. The message thanked the people who sacrifice their time over CNY. The app enabled Hong Kongers to share greetings and blessings via a “blessing generator”. Looking above and beyond a commercial and corporate message, the sharing of goodwill among the HK community was a successful strategy. Sales goals exceeded expectations, footfall increased and 1.2m Prosperity Burgers were sold in just 4 weeks. What’s more, this highly successful campaign made it into the Warc 100.

Somersby Apple Cider took the opportunity offered by the occasion of Chinese New Year to reach out to potential business partners in Malaysia. Chinese New Year is inextricably linked to mandarin oranges, which symbolise wealth and prosperity. So Somersby delivered a bucket of mandarin oranges to each of its business partners, along with some simple instructions to enjoy the 'sweet surprise oranges', which once peeled revealed a sweet apple inside - an impactful way to communicate that the right partnerships will always deliver sweet results. Media and business partners were pleasantly surprised to receive something different from the usual ‘generic gift hamper’ with some recipients posting their fruity surprise on social media.

This case study describes the ‘Keep Walking’ campaign for Johnnie Walker, the whisky brand, which transformed the brand from a well-known whisky producer into a global icon. The campaign has run in over 120 countries, and has produced sales growth of around 48% in its first eight years, generating some $2.21 billion in incremental sales. The idea of ‘progress’ was at the heart of this campaign which helped Johnnie Walker transcend market idiosyncrasies and to inspire its male target audience throughout the world. The brand's Key Brand Benefit, its statement of intent, became 'Johnnie Walker Inspires Personal Progress'. When launching the brand in an emergent China, Keep Walking - the idea of progress - proved an excellent platform. The CNY provided a creative opportunity to celebrate the progress of an entire nation.

St.George, an Australian bank, hoped to repeat the new business success of its campaign targeting the Chinese/Vietnamese community during the mid-Autumn Moon Festival, with a new campaign during the Lunar New Year in 2012. The bank capitalised on 2012 being the year of the water dragon - expected to be a strong year for financial well-being - and geared communications towards linking the St. George Dragon with this sign of good fortune. Point of sale was a major marketing channel: bank branches in the most Chinese/Vietnamese areas were specially decorated with things like CNY lanterns to drive immediate festive impact and to make them feel like genuine Chinese/Vietnamese New Year homes – celebratory and inviting. This generated 12 times the return of the prior campaign, which equated to a ROMI of 972%.

This wacky (or barking mad?) campaign for Glamour Sales, a luxury e-commerce website in China, used stunt marketing to stand out among all of the competition's promotions during the biggest sales holiday for e-commerce of them all – the Chinese New Year. To create a big buzz online, the brand's "spokesperson" (a dog) took over the Glamour Sales official Sina Weibo site - posting crazy messages and even changing some of the prices on the website, too. In just two days, 22,167 reposts were generated, 8,693 comments were posted on Sina Weibo, and there were more than 150,000 visitors to the Glamour Sales Chinese New Year promotion website.

Looking beyond China, Mobile Telecommunications Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand's leading mobile network solution provider, wanted to raise awareness of its offer and position itself ahead of its competitors. So it launched a consumer engagement video "Wherever You Are, Our Love Will Find You – Happy New Year 2014” to spread goodwill during the celebratory New Year season. AIS invited consumers to share New Year wishes via Instagram #aisnewyear. A total of 413 video clips and photos were shared by consumers during the one-week campaign period, achieving more than 100,000 views in the first week following launch, and achieving the goal of building both brand image and a positive perception of the brand.

Johnnie Walker, the aforementioned whisky brand, used the Vietnamese New Year tradition of gift-giving to boost sales of its gift packs in Vietnam. The Lunar New Year' or Têt is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It's a time of celebration, family reunions, ancestor worship, gift giving and firework displays. Gift giving is a vital part of Vietnamese culture and at Têt people give 'lucky' presents to enhance their relationships. And imported whisky and cognac gifts send a strong message of respect, appreciation and gratitude. This design-led campaign led to an increase in sales of 63% YoY and accounted for 75% of Diageo’s Têt sales.

Finally, this TNS study, from March 2014, compares the success of TV ads by several companies including Carrefour, Cadbury, McDonald's, Lancôme and Coca-Cola around Chinese New Year, in China, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia. The study found consumers prefer positive ads, or ads with a happy ending. Distinctive and novel ads also do well, especially when they build on existing brand values. Symbols relating to the New Year can be used, but should be presented with a relevant message.

Want to know more about marketing in China. Warc subscribers can visit our Topic Page dedicated to Chinese marketing, consumers and brands.