HOW (NOT) TO SELL LUNAR NEW YEAR

HOW (NOT) TO SELL LUNAR NEW YEAR

Feature photo courtesy of @ragandbone

The greatest hits and misses of 2020’s Lunar New Year releases.

WEN HSIAO

With Lunar New Year right around the corner, we’ve officially arrived at the time when a burst of brands that have largely and historically ignored us becomes suddenly fascinated with the Chinese market (*eyeroll*). With China still reigning as the most populated country and the ethnically Sino diaspora dispersed around the world, our collective spending power has attracted the attention of brands as they try to capitalize on how we celebrate our biggest holiday of the year.

Here’s the thing, though: they’re not getting us that easily. “LNY collections” shouldn’t simply slap unimaginative red packaging on existing products to market themselves as a ‘special edition’ (MAC Cosmetics really doesn’t need to sell me the same Ruby Woo year after year), or to showcase advertisements that supposedly ‘celebrate’ Chinese culture, but are ultimately executed in poor taste.

2020 is the year of the rat. In the tale of the race for zodiacal place, the rat came in first by riding stealthily and steadily on the ox’s back (who graciously yielded itself to second place). Rats are seen as intelligent, self-sustainable and hardworking. These values are crucial to the proper representation of the year of the rat, and we expect more than strange, uncompelling imageries of Jerry from Tom and Jerry. If a brand wants to cater to us, we expect to be *catered* to. 

So here I am, the connoisseur of all things Lunar New Year-related (especially the food served at the reunion dinner), to discuss the greatest hits and misses of the current Lunar New Year releases.


Hit: Nike’s “新年不承讓” Advertisement

Nike truly broke the Sino-facing internet with the release of its first advertisement produced in celebration of the Lunar New Year. The advertisement, titled “Hold Nothing Back This New Year,” centers around the Chinese tradition of red envelopes and the more important, hidden Chinese tradition of refusing red envelopes. The two characters play cat and mouse (pun intended) whenever Lunar New Year rolls around in the constant back and forth of giving and denying the red envelopes.

Growing up, I played part in this hidden tradition as well, playing coy when my grandmother’s sister’s husband (whom I only saw once a year) tried to shove a generously-filled red envelope in my hands, while my mother mouthed the words “don’t take it” from across the room.

You can watch the advertisement here.


Hit: Longchamp x Mr. Bags’ “吃貨” Inspired Collection

If you don’t know who Mr. Bags is, you should. He plays a critical role in providing esteemed luxury brands with insight into the Chinese luxury market. Having previously collaborated with Longchamp in 2019 for a Lunar New Year collection, this collaboration with Longchamp came as no surprise. 

Mr. Bags described this collection as inspired by the concept of being a “吃貨,” a connoisseur of and devotee to food. The designs opt away from predictable rat prints, but instead exercise their creative choice with a not-so-subtle subtle take on the rat motif via a vibrant cheese print and cheeky bite marks. 

It’s refreshing when brands choose to work directly with Chinese influencers that truly understand the Chinese market, rather than sit in an office and speculate what the market would like. Oh, and it shows: the collection made 5 million RMB ($725,000) within two hours.

You can shop the collection here.


Hit: Rag & Bone’s “Pizza Rat” Capsule Collection

In Rag & Bone’s Lunar New Year capsule collection, the brand chose to highlight what New York City and 2020’s Lunar New Year have in common: a full-blown rat infestation. 

It’s a *great* hit. I love the originality of the pizza rat imagery also serving as fitting social commentary of the rat problem in New York City, but also as an adoring throwback to when the rat went viral in 2015. When I saw this collection, I could already picture fashion design juniors at Parsons showing up to their workshop in this.

 

You can shop the collection here.


Hit: Apple’s “Daughter” Advertisement

Apple shot the entirety of the advertisement for its iPhone 11 on, appropriately, an iPhone 11. It takes the form of a short film titled Daughter. Daughter depicts the story of a single mother, estranged from her own mother, struggling to make a living whilst raising her daughter. The three generations of Chinese women reunite and come together on Lunar New Year.

As single parenthood is considered taboo in Chinese culture, the advertisement reframes this dynamic as respectable and applauds the hard work required to sustain such a family. Family is inherently treasured, and there is no formula for what makes the ‘perfect’ family or the ‘right’ kind of family; what bonds a family together is the unconditional love they have for each other.

You can watch the advertisement here.


Miss: Nike’s Air Jordan 1 Low “Chinese New Year 2020” Release

While Nike’s marketing department nailed the mark, it seems that their design department missed the memo. 

I do appreciate the concept of mix-and-match on the classic Air Jordan 1 silhouette, but the execution is poor. It’s trying to be too many things at once. There doesn’t seem to be an explicit theme to the design, and the rose accents threw me off as it doesn’t have a direct correlation to Lunar New Year. Although there are hints of traditions integrated into the design, such as paper cutting and fireworks, the cluster of patterns and fabric robs them of the attention they could have.

At the time of writing, there is yet to be an official release date.

 

Miss: Disney x Gucci’s “Mickey Mouse” Collection

In continuation of last year’s collaboration with Gucci for the year of the pig, Disney returns by bringing its most iconic character, Mickey Mouse, onto Gucci’s canvases. While I was expecting an appearance by Remy from Ratatouille, I felt like choosing Mickey Mouse cheapened the product and felt more like memorabilia from Shanghai Disneyland.

You can (not) shop the collection here.


Miss: Off-White’s “Lunar New Year” Capsule Collection

In many ways, I was looking forward to Off-White’s Lunar Year collection more than any other release. It has become a staple of the international student stereotype. It only made sense for them to release a collection to cater to that market. However, the red and black designs feel unimaginative and lazy. While it’s dotted with peach flowers and the words “good luck” for a flare of Lunar New Year, the capsule collection feels lackluster and betrays only a surface level understanding of Lunar New Year. 

Virgil Abloah’s directions (or the lack of) can be seen in Louis Vuitton’s Lunar New year Collection as well.

You can (not) shop the collection here.


Miss: Too Faced’s Lunar New Year Diamond Light Highlighter

I’ll admit, it probably is very difficult to create cosmetic packaging with the rat motif. Who wants rats all over their makeup? So I understand why a brand might minimize the visuals of rats and focus on other aspects of the Lunar New Year with motifs like the lunisolar cycles and calligraphy

Too Faced did not release any new products for Lunar New Year, but rather repackaged their Diamond Light Highlighter in a Cartier-but-make-it-dollar-store-chic packaging.

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You can (not) shop the collection here.

In order to resonate with their audience, brands should not commodify an entire culture and instead focus on humanizing their brand to reflect the holiday that holds bolsters the importance of family, togetherness, and traditions. 

When brands want to insert themselves into the narrative by creating representations of the holiday, they should take note of the important virtues and values in Chinese culture. Moving beyond that, in product design, capture the essence of each of the zodiacs and what it signifies for the new year. To all the brands listed above, please note that I am available for consultations on future LNY collaborations. 


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