Did Luxury Brands Learn Their Lessons This CNY?

    As we approach Chinese New Year in 2021, Jing Daily asks: Has luxury learned its lessons for the Year of the Ox?
    As we approach Chinese New Year in 2021, Jing Daily asks: Has luxury learned its lessons for the Year of the Ox? Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga. Composite: Haitong Zheng.
    Jennifer ZhuangAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    Every year, luxury’s Chinese New Year marketing campaigns are a hit-or-miss group. From Burberry’s “horror film” to Bulgari’s disastrous WeChat advertisement that was deemed anti-Semitic, many of fashion’s attempts at leveraging the festival have been roundly ridiculed by Chinese netizens — more often than not.

    In Chinese culture, the Year of the Ox represents hard work. And this year, luxury marketing has seemingly matched the meaning of the season. Gucci, Prada, and Adidas have all done their homework and produced imagery and advertising that indicate positive steps in their cultural understanding while retaining a bold approach. Yet, outings from innovators like Gucci and Balenciaga, though daring, were met with lukewarm reactions online.

    Now, Jing Daily asks the question: Which brands have learned their lessons for the Year of the Ox?


    This year’s best campaign came from Prada, which went with an online short film titled "Enter 2021, New Possibilities." The video invited audiences to envision exciting prospects in the upcoming zodiac year.

    Starring China’s top celebrities from the entertainment and fashion industries, such as Cai Xukun and Zheng Shuang, many of the video’s scenes took place in high-rise urban buildings. Netizens reacted positively to the plot, which focused on friend and family gatherings. Deemed one of the more engaging efforts, it received a total of 1 million comments and shares, and Jiemian News complimented how the brand “successfully seeks resonance with consumers in traditional values.”


    In second place is Burberry, which, like Prada, opted for a video campaign. Although director Guoxiang Zeng’s micro-film "A New Awakening” did not explicitly mention the Spring Festival, it rather intriguingly explored the concept of reunions. Set in the countryside, the movie’s endearing scenes of family gatherings and walks in the woods touched on the theme of “hope.”

    Compounding the film’s allure was big-name appearances, such as actress Zhou Dongyu and actor Song Weilong, continuing to boost the Burberry hype. Some enthusiastic Weibo users stated that they watched the movie multiple times solely because of these celebrities. “The pretty guys and girls are so eye-catching,” said one comment.


    Adidas has been under the spotlight recently and is certainly a black horse on this list. In December of 2019, Liu Yifei, a Chinese actress who has publicly shown her support for the Hong Kong police, was announced Adidas’ womenswear ambassador. Many pro-Hong Kong independence groups condemned her on social media and even boycotted her latest Disney film, Mulan, by protesting at the Hong Kong store.

    However, netizens on Weibo have shown immense support for Liu’s year of the Ox commercial for the sportswear giant. In it, she holds a bulldog and parkours around Shanghai. Commenters praised her for being “stunning” and “youthful” in her red sportswear set. The positive feedback indicated that, despite the political backlash, Adidas is winning hearts in China with a celebrity halo effect and Gen Z’s love of cute pets.


    Design-wise, more and more luxury brands are breaking away from the obsession with zodiac images this time of year. After using cartoon zodiac symbols for three consecutive years, Gucci chose Doraemon as the protagonist of its Spring Festival series this year, and it fared well, taking the fourth spot on this list.

    The Spring Festival is an opportunity to inject the modern consciousness with nostalgia, and childhood related content was in line with consumer expectations. But Gucci’s choice to ride the wave of Doraemon’s 50th anniversary received mixed reactions, and some felt that appropriating a household manga figure was “lazy” marketing. WeChat user @Tina_WHX reflected many who were confused over the value of the partnership, saying, “Besides monograms, what is the difference between Doraemon’s collabs with Uniqlo and Gucci?”


    The “anti-aesthetic” look — also known as “ugly beauty” — has been trending on social media with Gen Zers. It refers to designs that are jarring or almost unappealing but leave a lasting impression. This year, Balenciaga bravely took on this concept with a collection that combined the Chinese character "牛(cow)" and the “B” logo from its accessories line to form a Chinese slang to drive visibility.

    Additionally, the brand’s advertisement was inspired by the famous Chinese mobile game Xiaoxiaole, borrowing from the game's "gold coin" mechanics as a way to convey "get rich" symbolism. Nonetheless, the “ugly beauty” look is controversial among young consumers. While the new release has achieved a degree of recognition among followers and has a special cultural connotation, many netizens simply found it tasteless and “casino-looking.” One user’s comment stated: “I think I just got a heart-attack from how low-class this campaign seems.”

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