Chinese New Year forges new links
Mainstream brands are known for commemorative ads acknowledging cultural events such as Diwali and Chinese New Year. However, some companies are beginning to develop or curate products tied specifically to such celebrations in an effort to form stronger bonds with increasingly valuable ethnic consumers.
Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has debuted a new Chinese style sausage product just in time for Chinese New Year which kicks off this Thursday. It’s the latest ethically aligned foray for the meat processor which has been selling halal chicken under their Mina label since 2007.
Recognizing and targeting the diversity of Canadian consumers obviously “is the right thing to do,” said Bobby Sahni, a partner in Ethnicity Multicultural Marketing + Advertising, but it’s also “an opportunity to drive new growth, sales and revenue.”
Besides, he said, “Chinese New Year is no longer just a Chinese or Asian holiday. It’s starting to be celebrated more and more by the masses. A lot of the schools now are celebrating the holiday or raising awareness of the holiday for the students, all the way down to kindergarten, where kids are learning to say ‘gong hei fat choy! ’ ”
Since 2012, Brita’s limited edition (lucky) red water filter has been a top Chinese New Year seller. And this year, Scotties Facial Tissues has produced a striking Chinese New Year tissue box that will be available through March.
“It’s a growing demographic that’s an important consumer base and Scotties is all about great box designs, so we thought that we would introduce a box design that’s geared specifically towards Chinese New Year,” said Oliver Bukvic, category director, Facial Tissue, Kruger Products L.P.
The box, which was introduced last November at mass merchandisers like Walmart, as part of Scotties’ winter lineup, along with new snowman and penguin designs, tested well with all consumers, he said.
Although the Maple Leaf sausages will be available year round, in selected mainstream supermarkets, and are meant to also appeal to non-Chinese buyers, the food and family focused Lunar New Year was the ideal launching pad, said Stella Law, the company’s marketing manager, ethnic innovation.
She described the product, which comes in pork and pork and chicken varieties, as “a sweet and savoury sausage” with “a wine note.
“It’s a very distinct, key ingredient in cooking,” said Law. “Either you have this sausage or you don’t have it in a meal. If it’s missing this element, you’ve missed the mark completely.”
Developed in-house at Maple Leaf’s Mississauga headquarters, the sausages were created by a team that included Hong Kong-born Law and two other staffers with Chinese heritage, product developer Kristine Sung and marketing associate, innovation, Brandon Wong.
“Obviously with any category having experience in the category is beneficial,” said first generation Chinese Canadian Wong. Through a market research firm, the team got feedback from 50 Chinese Canadian consumers on taste, as well as the packaging which includes the product name in simplified Chinese.
Such consultation or in-depth research is advisable to avoid cultural gaffes, said Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s University, who self-describes as “half Chinese.
“While this is a holiday period for the Chinese and therefore marketers and people in the West are tempted to think about it the way we think about Christmas, it’s more like Thanksgiving. Gifts aren’t a big thing; what’s more important is the notion of family time; and it is considered a time to confer respect and status on those who deserve it, elders and so on.
“The event is distinct. It has its distinct cultures. And it’s not that hard to find out what they are if you go on the Internet. Respect the event; respect the day; respect the culture; and then just find a tie into it.
“You’re not going to see people giving colour TVs or anything of that ilk. (People may give) a little red envelope with some cash inside. The banks could be making available those red envelopes.”
Brands have found various ways to associate themselves with the celebration.
RBC is advertising a limited edition Visa gift card with imagery reflecting 2015’s Year of the Goat (also denoted as Year of Sheep or Ram). Starbucks Coffee Canada, which is bringing back its blossoming peach tea latte, also sells red Chinese New Year gift cards and matching envelopes.
Other brands refocus the marketing of existing products.
Kit Kat, for example, has repositioned its orange and white and milk flavours as Chinese New Year treats.
“What they’ve done is actually quite smart from a business standpoint,” said Sahni. “They’ve taken their existing ‘mainstream’ product and just put a celebratory sleeve on it, positing the product as the perfect Chinese New Year gift to share.
“It creates relevancy with a whole new audience, but post Chinese New Year that sleeve can come off and be replaced with another one and the product isn’t dead stock; they can reuse it for other purposes. It’s great evidence of how companies are getting smarter in use of their multicultural marketing dollars.”
Sears Canada has assembled a Chinese New Year sale of regularly stocked merchandise, around the themes of food, cooking, family-time and housecleaning for a fresh start, such as bedding, jewelry and a red vacuum cleaner.
The retailer will also be featuring in-store events and giveaways at the Scarborough Town Centre, Fairview Mall and Erin Mills Town Centre locations.
“There’s definitely a piece of this where we’re looking at ‘What are the sales results?’ but we’re also looking at engagement, and in what we saw last year, we did see a high level of engagement from our customers,” said Sears marketing executive Zara Lam.
“This year’s execution is a little bit different in that we’ve tried to be more inclusive of the Canadian population, given the mosaic that we operate in. So we’re introducing some cultural nuances and traditions of Chinese New Year, but making it more accessible to Canadians and all the consumers that might be coming into our stores.”
TORONTO STAR | BUSINESS