For Chinese people, Chinese New Year is when the air becomes charged with the anticipation of gifting, fostering connections, Red Packets and an overwhelming sense of excitement. This festive ambiance doesn’t just captivate; it triggers a collective surrender to the joy, emotion and enchantment that defines the spirit of this auspicious season. Every brand that wants to grow in China crafts themed campaigns, narratives and visual stories to leverage the festive spirit. The Year of the Dragon is no exception.
A profound shift is underway as the nation embraces a heightened sense of pride, turning inward to appreciate its rich cultural tapestry. In this transformative journey, individuals are not only (re)discovering Chinese heritage but also witnessing a redefinition of their values and identities. This evolution in mindset brings forth a new set of expectations. People now anticipate brands to connect in a deeper, nuanced way and reflect a more contemporary grasp of the dynamic cultural landscape. There’s a collective yearning for authentic representations of complex Chinese culture that resonate with the modern narrative – which is often overlooked by brands who have not done the work to truly understand both the rooted and emergent cultural context of Chinese society
We have decoded the Chinese New Year campaigns of two fragrance brands that have successfully captured this nuanced spirit of the nation – Byredo and To Summer.
Byredo’s campaign, themed “Coming Home,” skilfully weaves nostalgia and familiarity into a tapestry of traditional Chinese culture, all the while maintaining its distinct brand identity. The backdrop is the deepest of royal reds, evoking abundance, wealth and stature of historical China and its people. Saturated greens pop into the frame, associated with jade and reminiscent of royal courts. This colour palette stands out for its unapologetic richness of colours, while remaining clean and uncluttered, in keeping with their brand assets. In this campaign, the attention is drawn to the family and the key props in the setting.
Edginess is also introduced in the modern depiction of the people, juxtaposing the traditional backdrop. Through the sisters’ fan ban, half a dozen jade bracelets and exaggerated collars, the campaign provides a modern, yet familiar depiction of China’s modern aesthetics. The models exude a dignified aura, with luxury codes that firmly situate the brand in the luxury perfume landscape, competing with other international brands that now need to work harder to establish their relevance. This unconventional, unique and distinct Chinese New Year campaign feels both relevant to emergent Chinese pride and also distinctly bold, unapologetic and deeply sensorial.
In contrast, To Summer – a locally nurtured fragrance brand – has Chinese culture and craftsmanship intricately entwined in its essence. Their campaign unveils a warm and whimsical aspect to Chinese New Year. For To Summer, incorporating Chinese elements or referencing cultural nuances comes naturally. The brand draws inspiration from traditional New Year activities, and features props like dried persimmons, hairpins adorned with flowers and sugar paintings. The Grandma knitting, whilst her children cheekily play around her weaves classic symbols, colloquial expressions and family folklore into one. In the vibrant tableau spanning three generations, interactions exude vitality, vividness, and a carefree spirit. Hugs are exchanged, playful moments unfold and laughter resonates throughout. Filial piety feels less formal, more heartfelt. While embracing a lighthearted tone, To Summer encapsulates the essence of the Chinese New Year spirit: joy with family. At the same time the brand enriches this theme with a profound Oriental aesthetic.
Both brands harness Chinese elements to maintain cultural relevance, each taking a distinct approach. Byredo opts for an elevated, poised and ultra luxurious direction, utilizing symbols like dragons, jade, Jingdezhen porcelain — universally recognized elements — to reinforce its brand identity. On the contrary, To Summer embraces the warmth of a family and speaks almost in code to the Chinese audiences who inherently recognize the sentiment. Both brands tap into rooted cultural foundations, alongside emergent aesthetics and treatment. They forge a personal bond with the audience, while evoking the common theme of national pride.
We’ve seen many international brands trying to tap into Chinese New Year frenzy with campaigns that fail to capture this spirit due to its sheer superficial mirroring of cliched Chinese props.
In a country like China where cultural meaning is always in flux, even rooted cultural norms have many nuanced, modern design and executional codes. It is imperative to understand the nuance before launching familiar campaigns that at best will not be distinct and at worst will offend.
This is why studying culture is the best way to find the levers that can help you stay relevant while true to your brand’s distinct identity.