CNY campaigns: Getting brand messaging right when China is reeling under Covid

Our Co-founder Jo Painter recently wrote some top tips for brands to navigate messaging for this Lunar New year in a precarious time of Covid for China and global unrest.

Originally published in Campaign Asia, read the full blog below.

The Lunar New Year is more than an annual event in the Chinese calendar: it is a global festival that brings together billions of people in hundreds of countries.

Its cultural, social and economic significance is enormous – considerations that are particularly acute in 2023 amid the growing COVID crisis in China, global economic uncertainty and the war in Ukraine.

So, as we prepare to welcome in the Year of the Rabbit on 22 January, it’s important that brands strike the right tone and approach when celebrating the Lunar New Year while acknowledging they are doing so in a time of near-unprecedented challenges and threats.

At Icon we not only have many employees for whom Lunar New Year is an important cultural and community festival, but many clients as well.

For them and ourselves, it’s an opportunity to focus on what brings us together; what gives hope for the future.

After all, the Lunar New Year festival is in part about removing the bad and the old, and welcoming the new and the good. It’s a time to reflect on the past, honour those who have come before, and reset for the year ahead.

This is the spirit in which brands should approach Lunar New Year 2023. Noting that for many in China, this New Year will be particularly difficult, a more measured and nuanced approach to events and messaging is essential.

Getting it right will depend on where brands are headquartered and have their operations – and the level of COVID, economic or other hardships currently being experienced. Here are a few ideas we’ve shared with our clients:

  1. Link New Year Celebrations with a fundraising or charity event, with funds going to assist people impacted by COVID, war or economic hardship
  2. Make COVID safety the #1 priority for all events (and where feasible avoid encouraging live events completely in areas of high COVID infection rates)
  3. Encourage global/regional teams to rally behind their Mainland China colleagues by focussing Lunar New Year celebrations around virtual events; send messages of support and hope
  4. Avoid excessive displays of spending this year; in a global economic downturn nobody wants to be the brand that becomes synonymous with tone-deaf excess
  5. Tailor communications to the country and prevailing mood: what works in Australia won’t suit all markets.

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