The Chinese Year of the Pig and the Use of Zodiacs for Brand Marketing

Sami Wong (concept m China) & Dirk Ziems (concept m)

In China, the Chinese Zodiacs are taken very seriously. They affect people's daily lives and influence their perception on different areas of life. And what about the commercial aspects? This article provides deeper insight into how the Chinese consumers think about brands.

People are ready to take up new challenges and opportunities in the year of PIG. (Bild: MicroOne - Adobe Stock)

People are ready to take up new challenges and opportunities in the year of PIG. (Bild: MicroOne - Adobe Stock)

It is close to the end of Chinese Lunar New Year (also known as the Spring Festival - 春节) and people are ready to take up new challenges and opportunities in the year of PIG. In the west, the conversation of horoscopes might be a casual topic during coffee breaks or afternoon tea; but in China, the Chinese Zodiacs are taken very seriously. It is more than just a myth and has an interesting and yet, subtle influence on people's day-to-day life. As a result, we can't help but wonder how it affects people's daily lives and how it influences their perception on different areas of life. In this case, we want to focus on the commercial aspects - brands, products and services, and most importantly, their interaction with the population. A deeper understanding of the Chinese consumer has become a very important element for many international market researchers. This article provides deeper insight into how the Chinese consumers think about brands and helps to solve a range of difficult research objectives, such as identifying unique brand propositions and the symbolic meaning of product designs.

The cultural gap between China and the West

The cultural gap between China and the West has created some tremendous difficulties for market researchers. Contexts that are self-evident in western societies/cultures simply do not apply to the Chinese consumption culture. In many industries, such as automobile, luxury goods and high fashion, China has become the biggest and the most important market in the world. In order to dig a little deeper and get a better understanding of the motivations and perception of Chinese consumers, it is essential to apply specific research tools that are enrooted in the cultural context of the Chinese society. 

We have developed an innovative approach towards Zodiac brand research and it closely aligns to the typical Chinese way of dealing with various brands. The Mini brand is a good example for the application of our Chinese zodiac approach. In China, Mini Cooper is often strongly associated with the Rat zodiac. In the west, people will often associate disgust and fear with the mere mention of 'rat', but in Chinese culture, rat is often associated with charming, smart and innovative qualities. Both the Mini Cooper and the rat are considered to be the smallest in their own field. That is, Mini Cooper is a very small automobile and Rat is the smallest of the 12 zodiac signs. People who are born in the year of the Rat are considered to be excellent at finding opportunities and similarly, in this instance, the Mini Cooper is excellent for finding parking spots in the crowded Beijing CBD. Rat people are also known for their friendly and down to earth personalities, and similarly the Mini Cooper design is seen as friendly and un-pretentious. As you can see from this simple example, the Zodiac brand approach uses the methodology of hermeneutical exchange, derived from the scientific tradition of phenomenology. This methodology relates to specific phenomena of the brand to specific structural entities of the general zodiac. 

The persona and the shadow

However, it is important to know that all zodiacs have a positive side (the persona) and a negative side (the shadow). When we analyse the brands and its dispositions, the polarity of persona and shadow sides often help us to explore the very precise brand quality within. Sometimes a brand is embedded with more than one sign for its persona or shadow aspects. Another simple example for this is the beer brand Tsingtao (青岛啤酒). The persona of this brand is very consistent with the Tiger zodiac. According to the myth, Tiger characters treat the entire world as their own stage and love being at the centre of attention. At the same time, it also symbolizes power, passion and risk. Tiger characters will become restless if they do not achieve their goal. The characteristics of this sign can be described as adventurous, vivacious, and heavily reliant on confidence, charisma and boldness. On the flip side, the shadow of this brand surfaces when the Tiger character becomes overly daring and reckless. According to numerous respondents we have interviewed, the taste of Tsingtao can be rather rough and bitter. Such characteristics in its taste can be associated with harshness and restlessness. Also, the Tsingtao expansion to overseas markets can also appear to be overly aggressive and restless.

This clearly shows that the Chinese zodiacs are no longer just a myth, but have integrated nicely into Chinese everyday life. Several brands are often associated with the Pig zodiac and this has created a unique meaning for their products and services. However, let's be aware that personas and shadows co-exist and it is important for us to dig further into the symbolic meanings of these aspects. The unconscious message your brand sends to your target consumers can be subtle and yet, influence consumers' perception and interactions with the brand.

As we leave you to ponder about these interesting topics, Concept M China team would love to take this opportunity to wish you a very prosperous and fruitful PIG year. 

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