How Brands Can Win the Festival Game in China

By Wendy Wu


Festivals hold great cultural significance for Chinese consumers, but it doesn’t end there. Over the past few decades, a rise in economic growth, increase in purchasing power and changing attitudes have seen Chinese consumers and brands alike embrace festivals as a vehicle to express new social values. 

To meet consumers in conversation about the things they care about, festivals have become a strategic platform for brands to immerse themselves in the cultural zeitgeist. By aligning with established festivals like Chinese New Year or Dragon Boat Festival, or participating in conversation-starters like Youth Day, or even by creating brand-new festivals such as Double Eleven, brands can tap into the cultural power of existing conversations, boost brand awareness, and drive sales. 

Here are 4 ways brands can leverage festival power: 

1. Spark values-based conversations 

Festivals have become powerful platforms for Chinese consumers to express their values and create a sense of belonging. And if you want them to open up their wallets, you need to do more than just communicate. You need to speak their language and to their values a unique tone of voice. And importantly, you need to stand for something meaningful. Do this, and you’ll pull the trigger on consumption, boosting brand recognition and loyalty. 

Chinese skincare brand PROYA took a bold stance against gender stereotypes on International Women’s Day. The impactful campaign challenged common beliefs and prejudices, with the powerful message "It is prejudice, not gender, that draws the boundary". This resonated deeply with Chinese consumers, and the campaign’s video quickly became the most widely shared on WeChat, resulting in an incredible 200% increase in year-on-year sales on popular retail platform Tmall. By standing up against outdated gender norms, PROYA successfully connected with their audience on a deeper level. 

Image source

2. Hijack the moment 

To stay relevant and capture attention, brands need to move at the speed of culture, reacting to and taking a stance on topical trends. By leveraging existing conversations, you can create a natural connection between consumers and your products. 

That’s exactly what Budweiser did with its game-changing “Uncaging Freedom” campaign, released at a time when people were craving liberation after three months of gruelling lockdown. The campaign spread the music video "Grr" (representing the sound of satisfaction after savouring a beer) in the local Shanghai dialect online, while inviting everyone to come together and enjoy their newfound freedom through offline activities. By hijacking the moment and resonating with consumers' desire for liberation, Budweiser successfully captured attention, generated engagement, and amplified the enjoyment of their products. 

Image source

3. Stir ‘FOMO’ 

Festivals may only come around once a year – and consumers know it, too. This provides brands with the ideal opportunity to create innovative offerings with a sense of scarcity and time-sensitivity. By tapping into consumers' fear of missing out (FOMO), brands can supercharge conversions and drive sales. 

Take Dunkin’ Donut, for example. In today's visual culture, desire is often elicited by how “Instagrammable” a product is. No stranger to this trend, Dunkin’ Donuts capitalises on it by creating themed donuts for festivals, whether it's Chinese New Year or Halloween. Their highly aesthetic and cute designs are made to be shared, spreading on social media like wildfire in our visually-driven society. 

And then there’s the ABSOLUT and M.A.C co-brand collaboration during Halloween. With a burgeoning tradition to put on makeup and hit the party scene during Halloween, their joint gift box not only captures the essence of each brand's tone and festival spirit, but also taps into existing consumer behaviour. 

4. Add perceived value 

Around festival periods, consumers have come to expect more from brands they love. Whether they’re craving that premium touch that comes with limited edition gift boxes, flash sales, or enticing freebies, festivals are prime time to step up your game. By delivering added value that truly appeals to your market you can create a buzz, earn the chance to be trialled and deepen customer loyalty. 

One popular way to stir curiosity and encourage trial is the “blind box” or mystery box concept. Festivals offer a unique chance for consumers to explore new brands and experiences, and leveraging the element of surprise through blind boxes can be a game-changer. For example, skincare brands often include free samples or travel packs with each consumer purchase, allowing customers to try out hero or new products at no extra cost. 

In a similar vein, China-based food company Pinlive made a splash during Chinese New Year by creating a special edition gift box for its dairy product, celebrating the Year of the Ox. This iconic red gift box not only enhanced the consumer's perception of the product through thoughtful packaging design but also included a free silk scarf designed by a renowned artist known for collaborating with Dior.  

Putting festival power into practice 

To effectively leverage the power of festivals, brands need to: 

1. Resonate through brand values: Festivals provide a unique opportunity to communicate your brand values and build a strong brand image. The real key here to ensure that your brand's values align with the meaning and significance of the festival. Achieve this, and you can genuinely resonate with consumers and create a lasting impression. 

2. Speak to trends and social interest: Show your brand understands and cares about what matters to your consumers during the festival. By actively engaging in conversations that are relevant to your target audience, you can build brand awareness and demonstrate your social responsibility.  

3. Inject a little freshness and surprise: In a sea of same-old discounts and offerings during festivals, stand out by offering something fresh and unexpected. Embrace creativity, innovation, and novelty to capture consumers' attention and stimulate festival sales. By going beyond the ordinary, you can create a sense of excitement and curiosity among your target market. 

4. Create a shareable social buzz: In today's social media-driven world, word-of-mouth marketing is more important than ever. Relying more heavily on other people’s comments before they “add to cart”, brands need to go beyond simply having a media strategy. To attract consumers, focus on creating shareable content, social hot topics, and unique brand rituals. Generate buzz around your brand during the festival – remember, we live in an era where anyone can be a brand spokesperson.  

Festivals offer fantastic platforms to showcase your brand's uniqueness, relevance, and ability to create memorable experiences. Seize the opportunity with these strategies, and you can win over new consumers, propel sales and foster brand loyalty with deeper, more emotional connections. 

About Wendy Wu 

Wendy is a Taiwanese native who has lived in Shanghai for almost 10 years. She possesses nearly 7 years of experience in the commercial field, bringing business objectives to life through her expertise in brand strategy and creative advertising. From a background working in AI technology industry to the branding and marketing field, Wendy is able to combine rational logic with emotional creativity, resulting in campaigns that resonate with target audiences and expand brand reach. 

She has localized brand meaning for THAT BOUTIQUE-Y WHISKY COMPANY, Wines of Chile; crafted content strategy for Woolworths, Kempinski Hotels; crafted campaigns for Lay’s, Skinceuticals, Lamer,New Balance and Lego. 

Currently, Wendy is responsible for brand strategy and communication campaigns for the China market.