Marketing Guide to Prosperity with Chinese New Year

By Yunus on 29 January 2021

Photo by @mrs_bermudez

What is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year is China’s most important annual celebration. It is not only celebrated in China, but also in countries such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam. It is gaining more popularity in the West, too. Chinese New Year is also referred to as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival – the Chinese calendar follows a 12-year cycle and each year is associated with one of 12 animal symbols such as the dragon, ox or tiger. 2021 is the year of the Ox.

What is the story behind Chinese New Year?

A long time ago, there was a monster called Nian. Every year, he would come to the village, eat the livestock and destroy all the crops. One year, an old man with white hair came to the village and helped the villagers drive away the monster. He used firecrackers and bright flares to startle the monster. Then, he stood in front of the monster wearing bright red clothes, which scared the monster away. The villagers realised this old man was, in fact, a celestial being who had arrived to help them. The old man parted three secret weapons with the villagers to scare Nian away: bright lights, items that are red in colour and firecrackers. From then on, on the last day of every lunar year, people celebrate Chinese New Year with fireworks and the colour red to scare away the monster, Nian.

When is Chinese New Year?

The date of Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar and so it varies each year. It’s usually between 21 January and 20 February. Calculations of the date are quite complicated, however it often falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice on 21 December.

How do people celebrate Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year is celebrated for 16 days, from Chinese New Year’s Eve through to the Lantern Festival. The preparations start seven days prior to CNY Eve.

Seven days prior to Chinese New Year Eve
Traditionally people carry out a deep cleaning of the house on the 28th day of the last month of the lunar year. This ritual, according to tradition, helps drive out evil spirits and sweeps away misfortune and bad luck. People take care not to sweep the house in the first few days after Chinese New Year as they could sweep away the good fortune the new year brings.

People also do a lot of new year shopping – they buy food, snacks, decorations, clothes and items for the house. Buying new items symbolises getting ready for a new start.

Chinese Near Year’s Eve
This is a time for families to be together and people are expected to celebrate at home with their families. Families gather round in the evening to enjoy a dinner called ‘reunion dinner’, widely considered to be the most important meal of the year. Usually, people travel long distances to be with their families. 

Chinese New Year Gifts
Chinese New Year is a time for giving. People exchange red envelopes containing money or gifts. Kids usually receive a red envelope from their parents, grandparents and others – red envelopes are exchanged between family, friends and colleagues as well. 

How can marketers prepare for the Chinese New Year?

Embrace the family theme 
Family is always the most important theme of the Chinese New Year. People often travel long distances to spend time with their families so reconnecting is a common theme. In 2021, of course, some people will not be able to travel, but family will still be an important theme.

Use warm, welcoming messaging
Following on from the family theme, happy and positive messaging resonates well during this time. 

Embrace red and gold
Red is a really important colour for the Chinese New Year. Not only does the colour red scare away the monster, Nian, it also symbolises good fortune and happiness. Using red in your marketing materials and social channels is not only encouraged, it is expected. Gold symbolises prosperity and nobility

Be aware of the lucky colour for each zodiac year
Each year has lucky colours associated with it. Lucky colours for the year of the Ox in 2021 are white/silver and aqua. 

Red envelopes
Red envelopes are a great way to give items of value, such as add-ons or promo codes, to your prospects and customers.

Use Chinese phrases
You can use your own greeting or use some of the common greetings such as “Guo Nian Hao” or “Gong Xi Fa Cai”

Embrace the lucky numbers

  • Usually, even numbers are luckier than odd numbers, except the number 4. So if you’re giving away a promo code, make sure the value is an even number – except 4 or 14.
  • 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture. The Mandarin pronunciation of “8” sounds similar to the pronunciation of the word “fortune."
  • 2 represents harmony and in Chinese culture people believe that good things come in pairs.
  • 6 represents things going smoothly as the Mandarin word for six sounds similar to the Mandarin word for “smooth.” 
  • 3 sounds like the Mandarin word for “birth” so it is considered to be lucky. 
  • 7 sounds like the Mandarin word for “even” so it is a good number for relationships.
  • 9 sounds like the Mandarin word for “forever” or “long-lasting” so it is usually used at weddings.

Beware of the unlucky numbers

  • 4 symbolises death as the Mandarin word for “death” sounds like the number 4. Avoid the numbers 4 and 14.

Lucky number combinations

  • 1988 symbolises good fortune forever. 19, in Mandarin, sounds like "forever" and 8 sounds like "good fortune."
  • 1366 represents a smooth life. 13 sounds like the Mandarin word for “lifetime” and 6 sounds like the word for “smooth.”
  • 1314 and 3344 sound like the words "whole life" and "forever" in Mandarin and so they are usually shared between couples.
  • 366, 666, 888 & 1666: these numbers are widely regarded as the lucky numbers for the Chinese New Year. 

Lucky numbers for the Chinese zodiac years
There are specific lucky numbers that are associated with each zodiac year:

  • year of the Rat: 2, 3
  • year of the Ox 1, 9
  • year of the Tiger: 1, 3, 4
  • year of the Rabbit: 3, 4, 9
  • year of the Dragon: 1, 6, 7
  • year of the Snake: 2, 8, 9
  • year of the Horse: 2, 3, 7
  • year of the Sheep: 3, 4, 9
  • year of the Monkey: 1, 7, 8
  • year of the Rooster: 5, 7, 8
  • year of the Dog: 3, 4, 9
  • year of the Pig: 2, 5, 8

Some of the Chinese New Year taboos you need to be aware of

  • If you take medicine on the first day of the lunar year, you’ll be ill for the rest of the year.
  • Do not clean any laundry on the first or second day of the Chinese New Year as these days are reserved for the celebration of Shuishen’s (the Water God), birthday.
  • Do not wash your hair on the first day, as otherwise you will wash away the good fortune the new year brings.
  • Women cannot go out on the first day as otherwise they may be plagued with bad luck. A married daughter cannot visit the house of her parents as otherwise the visit will cause economic hardship for the family.
  • Do not wear white or black – these colours are associated with mourning.
  • Do not give clocks, scissors or pears – they all have a bad meaning in Chinese culture.

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