Originally published Nov 25, 2020. Updated Jan 20, 2021.
With this Chinese New Year (CNY) the first major retail event disrupted by coronavirus, there are hopes for a more prosperous 2021 as we enter the Year of the Ox. Discover the trends slated to influence capsule collections and how to make the event a virtual success.
What does the Ox represent?
The Ox might not seem as cute and commercial as their Chinese zodiac stablemates, however, the bovine is symbolic of many qualities that’ll usher in a fresh, new year after a turbulent 2020.
The Ox’s association with agriculture makes them highly respected in Chinese culture and are symbolic of hard work, strength and earnestness. Each cycle, an element sign is attributed to each Chinese zodiac creature. The Ox for 2021 will be metal, associating metal accessories with luck.
According to the calendar, the year should hold positive energy with no catastrophic events on the horizon, making 2021 a prosperous foundation for economic recovery and growth.
The uncertainty of international travel
Travel restrictions mean retailers need to take a localized approach to their promotions as major cities won’t be experiencing the usual influx of Chinese tourists. The Year of the Ox will offer a glimpse into the future of CNY post-pandemic, which may become a more pared-back affair globally. A recent study discovered up to 83% of global passengers are hesitant to travel at their pre-pandemic rate with 31% saying they will travel less often by air.
With the pandemic halting the event in China, the State Council extended the 2020 Lunar New Year holiday. Retailers should be prepared in case something similar happens this year to avoid any disruptions to deliveries.
Celebrations may not resume
San Francisco has already canceled its annual CNY parade as cases continue to rise in the US. The full status of global 2021 celebrations is not yet known. However, safety will undoubtedly be of the utmost priority, with experimentation in digital activations paramount to customer engagement.
According to Bain & Co, global luxury sales are set to fall by 23% this year – the first and largest drop since 2009. They are only expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022-23 buoyed by the purchasing power of the luxury Chinese consumer. This makes it crucial for luxury brands to nail their CNY product and pricing strategies to bounce back from 2020’s economic blowout.
Look to the lucky colors and flowers traditionally associated with Chinese New Year – reds, golds, orchids, chrysanthemums, narcissus and blossoms. Brands may want to differentiate their ranges to stand out from the crowd, but there is a lot of mixed information online regarding zodiac colors. Ensure you have someone signing off ranges with a deep understanding of the traditions and superstitions.
The products and campaigns from the Year of the Rat that saw viral success featured more palatable versions of the animal, such as Gucci’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse collection. Think outside the box and look to fun retro characters for inspiration such as Ferdinand, Clarabelle Cow, Toro the Looney Tunes Bull and Cow & Chicken.
The delayed NBA season will run over the start of CNY, providing an opportunity to involve sportswear through Chicago Bulls licensing and merch.
For more playful interpretations, tap into the bovine theme through cow print or motifs of bells or milk bottles and cartons.
With comfort dressing showing no signs of slowing down, loungewear capsules are ideal for CNY collections. Look at adding fuzzy horns to the hoods of sweaters or bathrobes as a cozy way to target all ages.
The Year of the Metal Ox will put a spotlight on this material, enabling retailers to ramp up homewares promotions in addition to accessories and jewelry.
What are retailers dropping?
Hugo Boss has dropped 10 items since mid-October as part of a capsule collection celebrating Lunar New Year. The line is anchored by a classic red and black palette, and a repeat motif of an Ox’s head.
Diesel’s selection of products is limited to accessories and the uses Ox references subtly, focusing on the shape of horns. The phrase “only the brave” is printed onto bags while “brave” is attached to labels.
Coach’s efforts for 2021 are also currently exclusive to accessories, in particular watches. Two are stocked at Macy’s with one noteworthy design detail, where the number two on the clock’s face is replaced by a small Ox head as an homage to the Ox’ ranking as the second sign in the Zodiac.
While most products are specific to the luxury market, adidas is one mass market retailer that has CNY inspired products on the market. European football is big news in China, major teams such as Manchester United and Juventus have a large following in the region. Pro:Direct Soccer (UK) have picked up some 2019/20 Chinese New Year sweatshirts specific to a range of clubs. Although these products are from last year, we expect interesting moves from the brand around celebrations for 2021 and to perhaps blend cultures together again. Rival Nike has already revealed a SB Dunk Low shoe that celebrates the holiday, while Reebok dropped a series of long sleeved T-shirts in October.
*check back as retailers continue to drop Year of the Ox merchandise
How can the event be a success?
2020 has been an opportunity for brands to fine-tune their digital voice in lieu of physical capacity limitations. For this holiday of such global importance, offering a seamless digital experience is essential and lessons learned should come into practice here. A strong example of digital endeavors from recent years is Burberry’s Ratberry game to celebrate the Year of the Rat. Make it exciting, make it engaging, but above all, check with colleagues who are culturally in tune and aware.
Brands need to understand cultural practices and sensitivities when promoting any holiday. Earlier in the year, Ashley McDonnell, Account Executive at Google joined the unEDITED podcast, discussing how important it is for brands to be respectful of cultural codes during CNY, as well as ensuring your message will reach the Chinese audience on the right social platforms. To further understand the different ways luxury brands have tapped into the lucrative Chinese market, tune in to the conversation.
Dates for your calendar:
- Little Year: February 4 – 11, 2021
- Chinese New Year: February 12, 2021
- Spring Festival: February 12 – 22, 2021
- Lantern Festival: February 23 – 26, 2021
- Holiday period in China: February 11 – 17, 2021
- Year Of The Ox: February 12, 2021 – January 30, 2022
- Year Of The Tiger: In 2022
Contributions by Kayla Marci & Rebecca Milne.
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