Do’s and Don’ts During Chinese New Year

December 18, 2019

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Chinese New Year (CNY) is quietly approaching. Observed by one fourth of the world’s population, CNY is a celebration of another year of prosperity and a time of gathering. The holiday is typically celebrated for sixteen days from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival – each day with different activities and taboos, as observers try to avoid bringing any bad luck into the new year.

When preparing for CNY, the most significant holiday for many, brands need to consider the historical and cultural backgrounds of Chinese consumers in order to succeed.

China is a country with more than 5,000 years of history. Its people are very proud of their rich culture and rocketing economic development in recent years. However, in many people’s hearts there is still a deep-seated fear and distrust of western power as a result of the 1840 Opium War and subsequent century-long invasion. Therefore, foreign brands need to be extra sensitive of the culture and history when communicating to Chinese consumers. CNY is a great opportunity for brands to share their messages authentically and appropriately, if they can successfully navigate the cultural and political sensitivities.

These do’s and don’ts will not only help brands celebrate CNY successfully, but are useful pointers year-round. Abiding by these rules will help companies avoid negative media attention and comments from Chinese netizens.

Do’s:

  1. Location: Check the map on your official website – does it have China’s officially recognized territory? If not, change it. Also, check if you are calling any regions, provinces or districts of China a country (e.g., Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan or Tibet), or are mentioning them in parallel with countries. Not using proper titles is a huge red flag for Chinese media and consumers.
  2. Messaging: If you want to celebrate CNY, customize a video or a poster with your best wishes. If you are not sure whether every detail is appropriate, keep it simple and just say “Happy Chinese New Year” on your social account.
  3. Colors: To play it safe, always use red as the primary color. For secondary colors, you can use gold, silver, yellow and green. Other colors are not appropriate for the season.
  4. Culture and Traditions: Show respect by admiring traditional Chinese food, clothing, buildings or the traditions for celebrating the festival, such as fireworks or red pockets (money given to younger relations in red envelopes during CNY). Other traditions include travelling across the country to get home and watching the China Central Television (CCTV) show on CNY eve with family.
  5. Chinese Greetings: The Chinese language is very challenging to learn, and Chinese people appreciate people from other parts of the world addressing them in Chinese. A short greeting video from a company’s CEO or spokesperson in Chinese would be well-received.
  6. Tone and Voice: Keep consistent voices on all your social channels. Though there is the Great Firewall, Chinese people are able to visit your Facebook account. You don’t want to celebrate CNY on Sina Weibo in an appropriate tone while using a different voice on Facebook or other channels.

Don’ts:

  1. Politics: Never comment on any political incidents related to China – officially or unofficially – and discourage your employees from doing so.
  2. Humor: Be careful when using humor to portray a tradition. Due to cultural differences, Chinese consumers may think you are making fun of their cultural practices. Rule of thumb? Avoid making jokes and appreciate from a distance.
  3. Colors: Never use black or white colors during CNY. Traditionally, these are the colors of funerals.
  4. Social Media Content: Do not post anything that may cause sadness or other negative emotions on your Chinese social accounts during CNY. During CNY, the whole country is reuniting with family and friends – any negative voices are seen as bringing bad luck to the next year.
  5. Visuals: There are several images that have a negative connotation among the Chinese – do not use them in any of your visuals during CNY:
    1. Clocks are related to funerals.
    2. Chrysanthemums are a flower to remember someone who has died.
    3. A green hat means the receiver’s spouse or partner is having an affair.
    4. Knives, swords and needles are considered lethal weapons that cannot be seen during CNY.
    5. Umbrellas and pears are a sign of separation.
  6. Western Aesthetics: Do not simply merge western aesthetics with the Chinese zodiac – we have 12 animals that each represent a year in the 12-year cycle. In recent years, many brands have launched Chinese zodiac products during CNY, but many have not gone down well because of their design. If brands are lucky, they will only get mocked – but if they offend people, expect major complaints.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice is this: When you decide to do anything in China or related to the Chinese culture, consult your Chinese colleagues.