15 MAR. 2013

Branding with Chinese Zodiac: The Year of Snake Embraced by Global Brands

In 2012, we witnessed several luxury brands leveraging the dragon, a symbol of nobleness and success, to enhance its brand equity in China. Such examples included Rolls Royce’s Phantom Dragon Edition and Ulysse Nardin’s Classico Dragon.

Panerai Luminor Sealand Year of the Snake Limited Edition & Judith Leibers Year of the Snake Clutch

It wasn’t a surprise to see brands catch up with the trend this year. Luxury brands continue to celebrate Chinese New Year by incorporating 2013’s Chinese Zodiac animal – the snake. Premium watchmakers including Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, Officine Panerai, Chopard, and Van Der Bauwede simultaneously launched their very own “special edition” timepieces to honor the snake. Moreover, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, and Judith Leiber have launched snakeskin handbags.

Given the prosperous meaning of dragon in the Chinese culture, brands’ adoption of this figure seems to be a great fit. But the snake might raise some eyebrows. In both Chinese and Western culture, snake is usually regarded as a cold blooded animal that is associated with “sneakiness” or “evil.”

In Chinese proverbs, snake is often related with rat or scorpion (“蛇鼠横行”, “蛇蝎心肠”) to imply vicious behaviors. For westerners, a few of the most famous snake figure include the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Greek mythology’s Medusa, and of course, the “modern” ultimate evil Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. So, one may wonder if it is necessarily a good choice for brands? Interestingly enough, serpent is the very icon of Roman jeweler Bulgari, who perceive the snake as an emblem of wisdom, life and eternal beauty.

Embracing the Chinese snake year, Bulgari took it to the next level and launched a global campaign to celebrate its legacy. Bulgari stores in Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, New York and Rome were decorated with Bulgari Serpenti Art Installation, a massive outdoor display constructed by dazzling LED lights.

Branding with Chinese Zodiac helps to enhance relevance with consumers. However brands should avoid jumping on the bandwagon just for the sake of it. The key to producing special editions with Chinese Zodiac is leveraging the animal’s attributes to your advantage. For example, the sassiness of the snake works well with certain fashion brands’ edginess. Adidas Originals and Vans all have leveraged the “coolness” of the snake and created feature products specially designed for 2013. The same goes for other animals in the Chinese Zodiac. At a first glance, animals such as pig or rat might carry negative associations. However, rat also symbolizes cleverness and acuteness, which would be appropriate for technology brands. Maybe we’ll see a Logitech Rat Year Special Edition Mouse in 2020?  

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