Digital Marketing Demystified | How Festive Marketing empties your pockets

Ever wondered where all your money vanished to during the festive seasons? It’s no Bermuda triangle mystery — in fact, you were more than happy to indulge in these guilty pleasures because of the tactics marketers use to tug with your heartstrings. Read on to find out how it’s done so you’ll become 1) an opportunistic marketer and 2) a savvy shopper.

Digital Marketing
Ally Koh

As 2020 came to a close, life returned to the malls and streets with the all-too-familiar decorations, jingles, and festival merchandise.

We are slowly getting back some semblance of normalcy in our island city-state (while still masked up and staying socially distant, of course).

Festivities such as Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year give us opportunities to commemorate long-standing practices and traditions. More importantly, we get to spend time and recharge with our loved ones.

For avid shoppers, these events are also the best times to snag exclusive festive deals.

Some companies can even create new occasions altogether to propagate their sales agenda. We're all but too familiar with birthday sales from Zalora to Pomelo, and even Lazada and Shopee.

From 1.1 Sales all the way to 12.12 Sales, we wonder if there's ever an end to this.

Over the years, consumers are becoming more tech-savvy. We learn about festive limited-edition goods through a phenomenon known asfestive marketing’. Companies cleverly peg their product or service to festivals and pump in crazy advertisement spending. This ensures that the deals we’ve been thinking about will persistently surface during our daily scroll through social media platforms.

Yet, festive marketing is not just about employing aggressive tactics that bombard a consumer across all fronts. Therein lies a deeper level of sophistication that taps into the psyche of consumers. This could look like the delicate crafting of messages that speaks to them on an emotional level during the festive hoo-ha.

In this article, we'll break down the magic behind why festive marketing works through the lens of tactics employed by marketers during Lunar New Year in Singapore.

Let's break it down: What is festive digital marketing?

McDonalds engaging in Festive Marketing through National Day advertisements on Facebook
Mixing up National Day with old school nostalgia | Credit: McDonalds

USS' Halloween Horror Night Marketing Advertisement
What's Halloween without USS's Halloween Horror Night? | Credit: RWS

You might have come across an exponential increase of promotional posts through your routine scroll on Instagram, or even receive huge promotional discounts on newsletters in your email especially when it's close to a festive season. That's the 'Digital' bit in Festive Digital Marketing.

Festive Marketing is the capitalisation of a festive season as an opportunity to market a company’s product or services. This is done through weaving in cultural elements and traditions directly into a company’s marketing efforts.

Businesses worldwide (including Singapore) love festive marketing. Aside from boosting company revenue, they are able to bring awareness to their brand through elevating consumers’ experiences with the product or service. They do so by relating with their consumers’ emotions, and reinforcing their brand name as a way to replicate the desired feeling associated with the festive occasion.

Disney's use of Festive Marketing during Christmas, through a brief 3 minute animation
The power of a Mickey Mouse doll in bridging generations | Credit: Disney UK

Take for example Disney UK’s "From Our Family To Yours" campaign launched in Christmas 2020. The short 3-minute animation tells the story of a relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter through their yearly ritual of making star lanterns every Christmas. Their bond is centered around a Mickey Mouse soft toy, which has been a consistent figure in the early years and even into adulthood of both the protagonist and her granddaughter. In doing so, Disney UK is associating its brand mascot, Mickey Mouse, as a symbol of enduring kinship that stands the test of time and transcends generations. This cements their brand message as “the happiest place on earth” to build lasting familial bonds.

Burger King's attempt at Festive Marketing through a Whopper promotion during DC's "Birds of Paradise" movie release
Bring a picture of your ex and get a free Whopper! | Credit: Burger King

Another successful example of festive marketing was Burger King New York’s partnership with Warner Bros. Valentine’s Day 2020 campaign. Burger King timed the release of DC’s new film Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) with an exclusive burger line-up. The twist comes in the release of flame-grilled Whopper burgers promoting Anti-Valentine’s day, true to the protagonist Harley Quinn’s psychotic nature. Customers can bring a printed photo of their ex, letters or even stuffed animals to selected Burger King restaurants to be exchanged for a Whopper. Burger King was able to put a playful and unconventional spin to their Valentine’s Day campaign by capitalising on the emotions of bitter lovers.

Do they work?

Despite the pandemic, nearly four in five (78%) of consumers in Singapore are expected to shop for the holidays according to a 2020 Visa Back to Business Study. A survey conducted by Nielson US studying the intentions behind holiday gift spending found that consumers are discerning when spending. This means even though consumer confidence is not shaken, they're expecting to take full advantage of flash deals, steep discounts, or limited offers that they deem worthy.

Around the Christmas season period in December 2020, some brick-and-mortar stores such as BHG and Harvey Norman and e-commerce platforms saw double-digit growth in sales. Some customers were even willing to travel to the store just to shop during the festive sales for the aggressive discounts. Many items previously priced as ‘expensive’ were now sold at a cheaper price, driving many to make full use of the offers and promotions.

The annual Single’s Day or better known as the ‘11.11’ sales was popularised by Alibaba after they picked up the trend of men celebrating their singlehood across China’s college campuses in the 1990s. It was formally launched on 11 November 2009, becoming a holiday celebrated by unmarried people encouraged to treat themselves with gifts. Since then, it has spread to the likes of all kinds of individuals and became the biggest online shopping day, winning over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined. In 2019, Singles Day saw a Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) of $38.3 billion in 2019 for Alibaba’s e-commerce platform, a shocking increase of 26% in 2018’s sales and making them one of the world’s biggest eCommerce players.

So, how do companies make full use of the Lunar New Year calendar?

Traditionally, Lunar New Year lasts for 15 days, with each day tied to a unique cultural significance. Due to the recent pandemic, these practices had to be improvised. Companies made full use of the celebratory period to push their marketing agendas. Common tactics could look like extending their sales period, increasing the time frame for the ‘offer’ deals, or even clearing their limited edition stocks that were exclusive to the season.

Take a look at both Bossini Singapore and Takashimaya Singapore who extended their ‘post Lunar New Year’ sales till the end of February in 2021.

Bossini holding Post-CNY sales to maintain demand for products
The sale continues | Credit: Bossini Singapore

Takashimaya CNY sales were extended to well after CNY
CNY sales never ends | Credit: Takashimaya

The History of Lunar New Year Marketing in Singapore

We’re all familiar with Lunar New Year advertisements — common visuals that come to mind include generous splashes of red to symbolise prosperity and the coming together and celebration of a family unit.

Song He CNY Promotion
Apt Rice Deals for CNY | Credit: SongHe Rice

Uniqlo's CNY Offers and giveaways
New Year Offers for Clothes | Credit: Uniqlo

Back in the day, many companies opted to promote their products and services directly (some even hard selling) through product placements in festive family films. Take a look at the numerous brand insertions in ‘Ah Boys to Men franchise’, blatantly weaving in the likes of StarHub, Toast Box Coffee, Bee Cheng Hiang into the storyline.

Another famous festive movie that slots in a great deal of Bee Cheng Hiang product placement was ‘I Not Stupid Too’. You might be able to catch a full advertisement moment in the movie, with the characters lamenting how delicious the product is and going as far as showing pools of people eager to make their purchase!

I Not Stupid Too including Marketing for Bakkwa
Bakkwa got a ton of screentime in "I Not Stupid Too"

With the advent of technology, many companies have since switched to predominantly online promotions of their products and services. It’s no surprise, after all, social media marketing provides a more personalised and efficient approach to reach the desired target audience. What’s more, it’s definitely much cheaper than buying a segment on the TV airtime.

Besides reaching out to consumers, marketers are also becoming smarter in understanding consumer behaviour. Product placements these days are a lot more muted and subtle, showing a product or service’s uniqueness rather than sharing them explicitly. Marketers are also able to tap into the consumer emotions that they can exploit best to reap the best sales outcomes.

Why does festive marketing work?

1. Selling an experience rather than the product

Festive marketing maximises the emotions elicited to motivate consumers to be involved in a purchase. This means consumers are able to relate to similar emotions felt from their personal experiences through purchasing or gifting festive products. Lunar New Year is a celebration of prosperity and ushering in the new year. Auspicious symbols in red and characters such as ‘吉’ (pronounced as ‘jí’) are plastered all over households as a sign of good fortune and luck. Different zodiacs in the Lunar calendar also have different projections projecting how the year would be like for them in terms of wealth, health, and relationships.

Pandora CNY Ad on Facebook
Zodiac-based Jewellery | Credit: Pandora

Pandora CNY Ox Charms
Symbols and colours fitting of the occasion | Credit: Pandora

8 types of Pandora CNY Charms on sale
Many variations in store | Credit: Pandora

This is central to jewellery retailer Pandora’s Lunar New Year marketing promotion. Pandora had integrated cultural symbols directly onto their products through the creation of zodiac animals and Chinese character charms. This establishes a direct link between their products and the festive ambience tied to Lunar New Year: Prosperity. In doing so, Pandora’s products take it further than a typical decorative accessory. They're also associated with symbols for luck, happiness, or even wealth.

2. Selling exclusivity and urgency

Pandora’s Lunar New Year collection also touches on the concept of exclusivity. A limited-edition collection increases the emotional and psychological value behind it, which creates more meaning tied to the product. For loyal customers in particular, these one-of-a-kind limited edition products fly off the shelves almost immediately as it brings something new to the table. Collectors invest a great deal of money and effort in their search for collectible items. In return, they derive genuine joy from collecting them.

Starbucks' CNY collection of tumblers and cups
Bringing an oriental twist to Starbucks | Credit: ZULA

Festive deals also carry the concept of ‘spend to save more’. We “save” costs by spending during the festive season, as it entails many discounts. This could also be in the form of “buy one, get one free” (BOGO) deals that exploit the consumers’ “kiasu mentality”, encouraging them to spend as products are usually sold at a higher price compared to non-festive occasions.

Godiva's Buy 1 Get 1 Free promo appeals to Singaporeans
BOGO is truly a typical Singaporean's greatest weakness | Credit:

The BOGO tactic appeals to shoppers using the word “free”. Behavioural Economist Dan Ariely explains that whenever we plan a purchase, we run a quick cost-benefit analysis to weigh the potential satisfaction against the price. Whenever the word “free” is introduced, we not only decrease the perceived cost of purchasing the product, we are also automatically wired to believe that the benefits of the free item are higher. As a result, we become almost immediate victims to the zero price effect, where we see the exponential demand for a product when it becomes free.

3. Appealing to future generations by giving a modern twist to old traditions

Even though companies are self-motivated to leverage festive marketing, they have a symbiotic relationship with cultural practices and traditions. Companies are able to increase the appeal of their products or services by pegging them to the values these cultural practices propagate, while simultaneously giving the long-standing rituals a breath of fresh air.

For example, Christmas is a festival that started with the Three Wise Men and the Magi who gave gifts to the infant Jesus. Though the first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was over a millennium ago in the year 336, today it's been commercialised as ‘the season of giving’, where traditional practices have evolved to encourage the spirit of generosity and giving to loved ones and people in need.  

In the context of Lunar New Year, we see more companies attempting to add their own modern spin to market their products while alluding to conventional cultural beliefs and practices.

A great example is Nike’s witty yet heartwarming 2020 Lunar New Year advertisement, “The Great Chase”. The short story features a relative’s persistent efforts to present her young niece with an annual gift of a red packet which signifies her well-wishes. Nike takes this chance to illustrate familiar mannerisms as the younger niece makes valiant attempts to reject her aunt but to no avail. Ultimately, the girl resorts to physically running away from her elder, wearing none other than Nike’s own products. In just under two minutes, Nike is able to pay respects to the old while integrating the new. The story consistently highlighted the Confucian virtue of filial piety that is the very essence of Lunar New Year and well, Nike shoes of course.

Hence, even though festive marketing was born out of a necessity to fulfill business objectives, it has also inadvertently created a new appeal for old traditions and practices for the consumers of today.

And… that’s a wrap!

With a better understanding of how festive marketing works, we as Digital Marketers are able to find innovative ways to market products and services through tapping on the festive and cultural values that we hold true. And as consumers, we're able to hold a deeper sense of appreciation for modern ways of honouring our roots!

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