Chinese New Year of the Snake hisses at social media

It’s that time of the year again when a third of the world’s population celebrates the biggest single event of the year, Chinese New Year (CNY) or Lunar New Year as it’s often called. You can’t go anywhere in Singapore without seeing the colour red (and that’s not just because they all support ManU and Liverpool although that does explain why Newcastle United are so poorly supported here….), lanterns,  orange trees, snake symbols and general celebratory decorations in every condo, mall and F&B outlet are everywhere and put xmas decorations to shame.

CNY is celebrated in all Chinese influenced countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines with holidays as long as a week as well as in some parts of the western world with large parades for example in San Francisco and Canada’s Vancouver, surprisingly not Sydney.

This year is the Year of the Snake, (a come down from the acclaimed Year of the Dragon that we have just enjoyed which is the most auspicious and lucky of all the Chinese years). Nevertheless brands in Singapore are using the celebration to market their brands for people to enjoy over the traditional reunion dinners and family get-togethers and other brands are just using the CNY association for that emotional connection to sell more product. Many are engaging with consumers through social media whereas others appear oblivious of it and are relying purely on of line and in store marketing.

Subway is piling in with a scratch card promotion giving away 200,000 prizes through a golden ticket promotion but funnily enough no snakes are mentioned…maybe the connection between snakes and sandwiches doesn’t quite work! Surprisingly their social media engagement lacks any real connection with CNY apart from relatively lazy promoting of the aforementioned which is being promoted in all channels but no real difference between on line to off.

The snake association doesn’t appear to have stopped both Starbucks who have created a special CNY gift cards as well as themed drinks and Gloria Jeans who have also created various themed drinks. Starbucks have gone the whole way and have branded cup holders which are promoted with glee on their social networks. Gloria Jeans merely give a cursory mention to their special drink and have just as many mentions about Valentine’s Day, bizarre as no one else in Singapore is even mentioning Valentine’s Day such is the overwhelming power of CNY! There’s no room for both when CNY is 9-12 Feb and goes on for weeks afterwards too!

Carlsberg have focused on their core older audience by giving away $1m of prizes including lots of gold the lucky number $888 in cash. Bizarrely the auspicious Carlsberg packaging design doesn’t include snakes just trees…I suppose they’re thinking that’s where snakes may live?! Apparently it’s the tree of abundance inspired by the money tree plant…’s all about wealth anyway.

Maybe with the target audience being older they have decided not to focus on digital and social media with a largely off line and in store marketing campaign, an opportunity missed. Their Malaysian facebook for example is promoting 2013 Earth Hour bizarrely but has minimal engagement.

Tiger Beer has made their traditionally terrible CNY advert which unfortunately I have had to endure as they sponsor the English Premier League on SingTel here in Singapore! They are also running various buy and win promotions that even involve winning a God of Fortune! They are also the ones who have done the most on social with a CNY takeover of their facebook site and plenty of activity on all platforms to engage the young and older drinker in the country with events and parties to celebrate the Year of the Snake.

Tiger at least has the cultural and regional connection with CNY which is more than can be said for Guinness who are are also trying to get into the act – every brand who wants to sell over CNY must have this connection – with some CNY branded packaging and giveaways…it just looks wrong! They are totally associated with St Patricks Day, they can’t have both! It would be like Tiger trying to run a St Paddy’s promo, it would just look wrong a real clash of brand values and imagery.

The banks are also desperately associating themselves with the Lunar New Year as the celebration is all about wealth and prosperity as well as the lucky colour red so they are looking to take full advantage of the way people are thinking about money and the future at this special celebratory time. Banks like ANZ and HSBC are creating special accounts and promotions linked with the number 8 although social engagement is minimal.

Every brand tries to connect themselves with CNY somehow, in Vietnam P&G are launching a campaign to tie in the holidays with a “give mum a hand” marketing campaign…no mention of wealth, money, trees or snakes! Any connection will do!

Social has some catching up on real creative engagement of CNY though, an opportunity missed.