Chinese New Year – Learning from Asian Innovation
11 February 2021

Throughout the COVID-19 epidemic, Asia has been a guiding light.

Among the earliest hit by the epidemic, rapid and sophisticated containment and technical innovation meant that Asian economies began to recover swiftly from the epidemic. The actions Asian brands have taken to maintain and grow under these conditions hold lessons for advertisers the world over, and much of that innovation is on display around holidays like Chinese New Year, which will kick off at midnight on February 12th and last for sixteen days.

In addition to being one of the largest festivals across APAC, CNY (or Lunar New Year) reverberates across the world due to the Chinese diaspora. The United States has the fourth largest number of ethnic Chinese in the world after Thailand, Malaysia and China itself, and has been growing quickly. Looking northward, Canada has one of the highest levels per capita of ethnic Chinese in the world at nearly 5% of its population. In Europe, France represents the largest overseas Chinese population, followed closely by the UK.

As these populations are also anticipated to grow, this is a massive opportunity for advertisers every year to capitalise on opportunities to gain the attention of consumers preparing for the festive season as many Chinese, across many different countries, hold fast to this hallowed tradition. There are auspicious traditions that must be honoured to usher in prosperity and success in the year to come.  Whether it is parades, shouting, traveling, or simply sharing meal after meal, each market has seen its fair share of adaptation to mitigate COVID-19’s risk.

Throughout APAC markets, advertisers are continuing to find innovative ways to digitise and modernise the festivities with a simple yet beautiful aim: to keep the festival’s joy and warmth alive.


1 – Tuning into the many livestreams on offer

Following Singapore’s Phase 3 COVID-19 restrictions, the yearly Chinese New Year Bazaar, countdown party, and incense ceremony will be cancelled due to concerns over crowd control. Diners will not be allowed to shout during the lohei tossing and will have to don face masks while doing the toss.

While the celebrations for this year are a little more subdued, businesses and consumers are finding creative and safe ways to spread the festive mood. For example, the iconic Light Up ceremony in Chinatown and Chingay Parade will be streamed live on Facebook. The decorations of the light up ceremony are symbolic of the theme, “Usher in Good Health, Prosperity and Happiness”.

2 – Taking more time off

In December of 2020, mass transmission of COVID-19 in Samut Sakhon marked a new wave of infections in Thailand and many businesses have been affected by the outbreak. As tourism is an important driver of Thailand’s economic growth, the impacts have substantially reduced both foreign and domestic tourism. These declines are expected to spill over – both directly and indirectly – to many other key sectors.

As a result, the Thai government has, for the first time in history, declared Chinese New Year an official government holiday for 2021 with the goal to support local tourism and the economy. It is meant to be a one-time experimental addition exclusive to 2021, and not to reoccur in the following years. Also, Thailand’s Tourism Minister has proposed a plan to allow foreigners with specific medical certificates to quarantine in some of the country’s many golf resorts to boost the ailing tourism sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

3 – New spin on old favourites

For Gen Z, the platforms that gained their highest engagement in the past 3 months were: Music (59%), Short Video (58%), Long Video (55%), and Games (53%). TV will still be the main screen at home; however, people will be consuming more on-demand content and livestream content rather than the yearly televised Lunar New Year Gala event – one of the biggest televised events of the year.

Beyond TV stations and video platforms, new entrants to the gala event are social platforms such as Bilibili and Douyin (known the rest of the world as Tiktok). The success of Bilibili’s 2021 New Year’s Eve Gala is a prime example of what we can expect to be replicated for their Lunar New Year gala show. A celebration and a melting pot of youth sub-cultures, mixed with traditional Chinese art forms, will encapsulate the essence of the new generation.

​4 – Dining out… at home

Reunions at home are expected to accelerate EC potential business opportunities. However, in recent years, dining out on New Year’s Eve has become a new trend. This year, due to the impact of the pandemic, many families have cancelled the tradition of dining at restaurants to enjoy New Year’s Eve dinner at home, as well as switched to online food services for ready-to-eat dishes at home. As the Chinese New Year approaches, people ordering ready-to-eat dishes will be more actively using their phones and other web-based interfaces. E-commerce companies have started to seize this new year’s trend for ready-to-eat dishes as well.

According to friDay’s (an EC site) internal data, the pre-order sales of ready-to-eat dishes in 2021 have increased by nearly 30% compared with the same period in 2020 and it’s estimated that the annual sales will be increased by 50%. This allows advertisers to identify short-term opportunities on associated platforms, all while balancing flexibility with the agility to create innovative messages to help them stand out.

5 – Quality over quantity

Nian Huo Festival is a Chinese eCommerce Festival that refers to the period when people are shopping and preparing for Lunar New Year. Research shows that the post-90s-born cohort has been growing as the main force of Nian Huo consumption. Chinese consumer spending has changed markedly in the wake of COVID-19, especially for people between the ages of 20 and 30 years-old, who are usually known for spending rather than saving. The sudden pandemic drastically altered their spending behaviour, as it is likely that this is their first time to feel any level of economic recession in their adult lives.

In a survey by China News in April 2020, 42% of respondents indicated they had more saving intentions after experiencing the pandemic. At the same time, more than 60% of young consumers intended to plan their consumption and reduce impulse spending. They are becoming more cautious and trying to spend less, but also trying to buy more valuable products. With the resurgence of COVID-19 in recent weeks, we anticipate a continued shift towards saving and more value-based purchase decisions. There is also an anticipated expansion in product categories purchased for Nian Huo in 2021.


Overall, the global efforts to curb social gatherings, coupled with public fear, have led to widespread changes in media planning surrounding Chinese New Year celebrations.

As we enter the Year of the Ox in 2021, although this celebration will be quieter and calmer than any year in recent memory, many brands are already preparing for the moment when COVID-19 will no longer be the ever-present face of daily reality. Indeed, while there is still imminent danger in the form of virus mutations and public scrutiny over the proposed vaccines, brands see an immense opportunity to be first-to-market the moment the pandemic dies down.

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