In the Year of the Dragon, brands can lend a hand to bridge generational gaps

Words by Rachel Barton
Date 2024-02-07

Ah, Chinese New Year — a tradition long-celebrated and much-loved in every part of Southeast Asia and China. Whether you’re in the booming metropolis of Shanghai or in the smaller provinces of Cambodia, CNY’s festive feel has made its mark in the hearts of Chinese communities everywhere; and gifting is an especially important part of the occasion.

But although spirits are high, so are stress levels — for consumers and marketeers alike. For consumers, the gifting occasion is a tricky minefield to navigate, as they seek to please their elders and avoid losing face. For marketeers, nailing pack designs and campaigns means brands avoid losing face, while enjoying higher sales, brand equity building, recruitment and stellar PR. In China alone, consumers reportedly spent RMB 840 billion for the 2023 festive season, with that number expected to increase this year due to the boom in luxury gifting, according to Vogue Business. The opportunity for gift packs, then, is a no-brainer for any brand wanting a slice of the pie.

First things first: brands have to understand the market landscape and consumer challenges that lie ahead. They must contend with the fact that there are “definitive changes” in the way different age groups celebrate the holiday, with some netizens on social media claiming that these generational gaps are turning CNY into a disjointed occasion. For instance, in China, the younger generations pride themselves on being worldly citizens, travelling and living in big foreign cities with shining lights. They delight in customised, limited-edition whisky bottles with QR codes they can access via their smartphones and find themselves drawn to more novel, unexpected expressions of Chinese culture.

Meanwhile, the older generations living in rural areas back home value time-honoured traditions, lacking exposure to the same kind of modern cosmopolitan influence. In their eyes, the CNY atmosphere is a homely one, as they prioritise intimate family gatherings over large bashes with friends. As Professor David Goh of the National University of Singapore states, there is a “social change” happening in the region, whereby youths prefer connecting with friends and celebrating CNY in new and exciting ways; they don’t always see the importance of traditions like the reunion dinner.

Consequently, the older generations find it difficult to face the empty seats at the table, with some elderly Chinese folk calling youths “culturally bankrupt”. This difference in the manner of CNY celebration, then, has given rise to a generational barrier that reinforces a sense of separation, rather than connection.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Brands have the opportunity to help bridge this gap via the CNY gifting occasion. The key is a return to the shared values that both the young and mature have in common. Whether it involves the value of ushering in new beginnings, togetherness, good fortune or appreciation for Chinese culture, brands can find ways to make CNY gifting an experience that appeals to both generations.

1. New beginnings — Hitting “refresh” on beloved festive icons

Across generations, certain hallmark CNY elements are instantly recognisable and universally loved. Think CNY couplets, sharable snacks, fireworks and more. However, the same items, used year after year, can become routine and expected — the exact opposite of the CNY spirit, which celebrates new beginnings. This year, Asahi Super Dry’s exclusive Pixel Art Exhibition cans reimagined traditional dragon artwork. The brand collaborated with renowned Japan-based pixel artist Hermippe, known for his complex illustrations, to feature a shape-shifting pixel dragon in vibrant red on pack, thereby depicting a familiar Chinese cultural symbol in a fresh way.

2. Togetherness — Shared experiences with loved ones

CNY has always been about coming together with the most important people in your life. This year, brands have gamified the experience, making it an activity for the whole family. Ferrero Rocher, for instance, brings the classic “good blessing” fortune — “wishing you a mountain of gold” — to life with a towering chocolate display that you can build together with family and friends. The shared activity thus symbolises the essence of unity that CNY brings. And in chocolate form, no less.

3. Blessings — Wishing each other good fortune in style

During CNY, wishing each other good fortune and blessings is customary. Creating a high-end way to exchange such blessings with your loved ones, Loewe partnered with three master jade carvers to craft five pendants in the form of a cabbage, an eggplant and a pea pod, each mounted on an 18-karat gold chain. Each is a symbol of luck, success and abundance — key components of any CNY blessing, done in style.

4. Heritage — Celebrating Chinese culture in contemporary ways

In recent years, consumers have shown a deeper curiosity about Chinese culture and history. Arnold & Sun’s newest 2024 release satisfies this curiosity by creating a carefully crafted tribute to Chinese folklore, with their watch depicting an encounter between the moon and the dragon. Inspired by Chinese legends where the dragon ceaselessly attempts to chase the moon as they are destined to be bound together, the watch tells a story of culture in a sleek and modern way.

Beyond producing shiny tokens for the festive season, brands can inject intention and meaning into the gifting occasion by crafting gifts that are made for all. Through gifting, the younger and older generations can return to common ground, savouring the holiday that makes coming together a joyous occasion — regardless of the year on your birth certificate.

First published in WARC.