As the Chinese New Year approaches, brands start to launch their limited edition collections. While many luxury firms know how to make the most of the Year of the Pig, many Chinese netizens criticize some tacky choices
All around China and Chinese marketplaces, it is a pink frenzy. The year that will start on February 5, the Chinese New Year, will be marked by the zodiac sign of the pig and a pink, soft and funny atmosphere is spreading not only among people who walk among streets full of lanterns and depictions of pigs but also among sellers which ideate and propose all the kind of objects with the color or the shape of the animal of the year.
During the Chinese Spring Festival, fireworks are lit to scare away demons and evil spirits but on the streets, the image of Lucky Pigs are everywhere except on TV, not to offend the sensitivity of the 18 million Muslims living in China.
Luxury brands cannot miss the chance to participate in the festival frenzy. With 500% growth in luxury products online since 2009 and the online sales expected to account for 19% of luxury sales by 2025, global brands and retailers are looking to the Lunar calendar to find opportunities to reach Chinese customers all around the world whose demand for themed products continues to grow year after year.
Cash is king during Chinese New Year, with gift-giving in the form of red envelopes a major driver. No wonder why luxury brands want to join the party.
However, the result is not always satisfying, sometimes pushing Chinese netizens to hilarity.
Therefore, while Alibaba marketplace is full of funny Lucky Pig plushes dressed in traditional red clothes, Chinese people share on Xiao Hong Shu pictures of their latest Louis Vuitton Pig-designed foulard, new pink Vans, the entire Starbucks capsule collection, and many funny pig-shaped products.
© Vans. To capitalize on the holiday season, a time when the giving of gifts is popular, many luxury brands have launched tailored digital campaigns.
The Italian fashion firm Gucci already launched its own limited collection composed of 35 items and promoted through Gucci digital channels and selected stores all over the world. Not only clothing items, footwear, luggage, and accessories are dyed pink or simply have represented the animal, but also patches of Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs are stitched on sneakers, backpacks, tote bags, and wallets.
© Gucci. Shot by photographer Frank Lebon, images from the Gucci campaign show people leading luxurious lives in the company of their domestic pigs.
To commemorate the National Holiday, Nike is instead releasing a limited-edition New Year collection that unifies patterns symbolic of all 12 signs onto classic Nike, Jordan Brand and Converse, joining them together in a form of traditional Chinese patchwork called Bai Jia Yi.
Cosmetics are not left behind and loads of makeup are now sold with special Year of the Pig’s patterns such as Etude House, which has collaborated with Disney to launch a complete makeup set with Piglet designs.
A loved makeup brand is also the Canadian MAC Cosmetics that applied China’s art of paper cutting to the favorite red lipstick, Ruby Woo.
© MAC Cosmetics. Not just representation of pigs, some brands prefer to propose New Years’ campaigns showing Chinese traditions and arts.
However, even this year some brands went too far. Starting with the Piaget watches, many users have ironically commented on the Weibo page of the make-up artist Kevin 文凯老师 if these watches were fake or are actually on the market.
Even Harry Winston presented a watch deemed too “showy” with a red scarlet dial, a highlighted pig, golden hands and Swarovski. Definitely too much for the Chinese public.
© Piaget. Some New Year’s luxury products are strongly criticized on Chinese social media such as Piaget watches, which are ironically called fake-looking by some Weibo users.
On Weibo, Chinese netizens are having fun criticizing some very expensive New Year fashions designed by big luxury brands. Many comments on the popular microblog show Chinese disappointment at the “cheap” representation of the Year of the Pig by foreign fashion leaders, who usually design unlikely accessories that carry unjustified high prices. In 2017, in fact, the average price of products increased by 68% to $ 421, compared to the previous year.
Some of the previously mentioned Gucci sweatshirts with pigs designed could cost $ 2,100 while a brooch of a pig with wings made of resin is sold for $ 820. If in terms of style the Italian brand seems to be the favorite, judging by the comments of users via Weibo, netizens seem to totally dislike the accessories.
“What’s wrong with these designers? So ugly and so costly,” is one of the multiple comments on Weibo.
The $ 880 Louis Vuitton’s key holder is also in the hot seat. The pink furry pig with the LV logo made of gold is considered tacky and corny.
© Luis Vuitton, Gucci. Some Year of the Pig luxury accessories are considered outrageously expensive by Chinese netizens.
Nevertheless, this year many brands seem to have taken into account the numerous critics received during the 2018 holiday season when items have been commented to be even worse than the previous year.
Last year, Armani was strongly criticized on social media because of the lack of originality of its New Year’s compact case. In fact, for three years in a row, the Italian brand launched almost identical powder cases with just a different animal pressed into the power.
A popular WeChat blogger sarcastically suggested putting Peppa Pig on the powder on the Year of the Pig to make it look more interesting, but Armani surprised everyone completely changing the entire packaging.
Dior previously criticized to have launched a bracelet that looked like a dog collar, this year it decided to change the theme of the bracelet into a hortensia instead of a pig.
However, even if some brands decided to change their line following the critics, some other luxury firms continue to propose the same style such as Estée Lauder whose New Year’s compacts always receive mixed reviews. Although many think the designers put too many diamonds on the case making it look gaudy and cheap, the firm continued with the same style launching a pig-shaped compact case completely covered by pink crystals at the cost of $ 337.
© Estée Lauder. Media and consumers have expressed disappointment in luxury designers’ lack of cultural sophistication.
Although it is true that limited edition holiday products can be an effective way of marketing to luxury buyers, many feel that foreign designers do not understand how to incorporate traditional Chinese elements and zodiac animals in a way that appeals to the increasingly sophisticated Chinese luxury customers.
Therefore, although Chinese consumers appreciate the luxury brand’s effort to make custom New Year items, the firms seem to lack a local understanding of culture and tradition as well as the modern Chinese buyers’ need for sophisticated designs.
Even if just putting a zodiac animal on an item and using the red color may have worked when brands started to create New Years’ collections, they now need to better understand the deeper meaning associated with the zodiac animal in order not to offer childish or tacky designs.
The rediscovery of the millennial Chinese culture is the game on which foreign brands must go all in to be competitive.
Chinese millennials are the most digitally advanced global consumers and Chinese retail experiences are among the best in the world. All these new buyers have a next-gen smartphone and they are the tow of China 2.0, a country that is being modernized, becoming a high-tech pole on the international stage.
Chinese millennials are a real superpower of consumption, divided between rediscovered ancient values, modernity, and nationalistic pride. In fact, in China, cultural rediscovery is reflected in consumption. An example above all? The sold-out of the new line of lipsticks launched by the Forbidden City Museum.
At least for this year, some companies seem to have improved their campaigns compared to last year, but still too many brands seem not to move with the times.
Beyond this calendar date, luxury brands need to grow their focus on this market, catering to customer values and cultural events with even greater sophistication. As many other foreign campaigns in China have demonstrated, cultural consultancy through in-market audience’s feedback is not only necessary but also a must.
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