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Shenan Chuang, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Group China, shares her insights on marketing to Chinese consumers during the rapidly approaching Chinese New Year period and gives advise on how brands can capture a bit of the holiday magic.

1. Planes, trains and automobiles. In China, each year’s ChunYun, or Spring Festival travel season, sees hundreds of millions of people crisscrossing the country to reunite with their families. During this 40-day frenzy, three distinct groups of travellers can be spotted based on their choice of transportation. Migrant workers and students flood the trains; office workers, expatriates and overseas travellers form the core of the air travel segment while short-distance travellers take to the streets in automobiles. This mass migration means most consumers deviate from their normal media consumption habits and channels for up to a month or more - not an insignificant amount of time. Buses, transit zones, and outdoor media often become the primary communication channels for a country on the move.
 
2. Know your (often unlikely) brand ambassadors. As scores of migrant workers and students temporarily trade in the bright lights of the big cities for their hometowns in the countryside, they arrive loaded with gifts, products and information from their big city lives. Viewed as successful returnees, their attitudes and opinions on brands and products are very influential on old friends and family. For brands seeking to penetrate lower tier Chinese cities and rural markets, word-of-mouth endorsements from these (often unlikely) brand ambassadors are your best - and most effective - bet.
 
3. The New Year’s Eve dinner. The New Year’s Eve dinner is always a highlight of the holiday celebration and family reunions. But the format has changed over the years. First it was a must to gather at home for the annual feast. That tradition eventually gave way to eating out as many families chose restaurants for their convenience and ambiance. Nowadays staying at home for the once-a-year indulgence is back in vogue – but with a twist. Rather than slaving over a hot wok or battling for a reservation at a hotel, more families are choosing to order ready-made meals that can be enjoyed at home without the hassle of fighting for a taxi only to be stuck in holiday gridlock. This shift signals big business potential for brands that can enhance those dinners at home with tableware, gift sets of holiday spirits, sweets and snacks or even jumbo family packs for the three generations reuniting over this special event.
 
4. CCTV New Year's Gala – who’s watching? The CCTV New Year's Gala (or ChunWan) is the premier mainland Chinese television event of the year, comparable to the Super Bowl in America. As the most influential and highly rated TV show in China, the Gala attracts marketers eager to buy airtime at any cost. But be forewarned: audience ratings drop as you move from the north of the country to the south. The highest ratings can be found in Northeast China where 85 per cent of residents tune in. This percentage drops to 70 per cent for Beijing and Tianjin, 60 percent for Shandong/ Shanxi/ Henan/ Shaanxi, 20 per cent for Shanghai/ Jiangsu/ Anhui/ Hubei/ Sichuan, 10 per cent for Zhejiang/ Fujian, and below 5 per cent for Guangdong/ Guangxi/ Hainan. So before you burn through your budget, think hard about your target audience… and where they live.
 
5. Home (and nowhere else) for the holidays. While some sightsee during the holiday, others prefer to “ZhaiNan,” which essentially means hibernating at home doing three things: eating, sleeping and surfing the web. Surfers are primarily engaged in online shopping, SNS and gaming. In 2009, online retailer Taobao.com reported a 195 per cent increase over 2008 in the number of products exchanged by consumers during the CNY period. Bestsellers were mobile phones, digital products, household appliances and gift packs with health supplements. Another trend of recent years is the younger generation’s preference for sending New Year greetings by SMS rather than paying a visit to relatives and friends.  As the internet and mobile applications make their mark on millennia-old traditions, it’s time for marketers to make inroads into the CNY “ZhaiNan” phenomenon.

This article is republished with express permission of Media Asia, which originally published it on January 28, 2010.

Date: February 04, 2010