Marketers need to be cautious with Chinese zodiac signs

We’re less than a month away from the year of the pig on February 5, 2018. Marketers need to be cautious with Chinese zodiac sign usage.

Chinese new year is a time of gifting. It may be red envelopes with cash, Christmas style gifts (like a new iPhone), or zodiac animal themed gifts. Shops often gift if you buy above a certain amount. I bought a sweatshirt in Decathalon and was given a Mickey Mouse towel free to celebrate the year of the rat.

If you have a premium bank account you might be given a zodiac ornament of some type. Coffee shops like Pacific Coffee and Starbucks get in on the act with zodiac animal themed merchandise and gift cards.

The pig presents some unique challenges for marketers.

On one hand it can be seen as a kawaii or cute looking creature, like the Hong Kong cartoon character McDull. A pig is also seen as gluttonous and fat. Chinese and other east Asian cultures are not shy about saying if someone is fat. This means that consumers can more be sensitive about their body image.

Year of the pig

Starbucks Hong Kong seems to have upset a small but significant number people who have shared their dislike on Facebook.

Starbucks Hong Kong year of the pig (2019) merchandise

They didn’t want a pig faced coffee tumbler because of what it implied about them whilst they used it.

Starbucks Hong Kong year of the pig (2019) merchandise

Hong Kong clothing brand Giordano have played with the concept of the pig in their promotions. Again the association between this design on clothing and the wearer could be an interesting one. The idea of a fat year, meaning a prosperous year maybe lost in translation for some Hong Kongers.

Giordano Chinese year of the pig 2019

The key takeout for brands should be to practice critical thinking. They need to go beyond the cute design and repetition of last years gift with a different animal design. Think about the context and interaction of the end user with the product. What does the symbolism say about them?