3 Huge Chinese New Year Advertising Fails from International Brands

A trio of Chinese commercial campaigns from big international brands that make us go "wtf?"

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7:24 PM HKT, Thu January 31, 2019 2 mins read

Lunar New Year is one of China’s most celebrated and long-standing holidays. But for international brands, it’s also seen as a massive commercial opportunity.

Targeting consumers in the world’s fastest growing economy is not an easy task however, when you factor in China’s deep culture and history, and the media’s sensitivity to how it’s portrayed. The massive whipping Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana received for its racist “DG Loves China” promo videos recently shows the public is not easily appeased — and that wasn’t even for Chinese New Year.

Almost as much of a Spring Festival tradition as red lanterns and fireworks now are ham-fisted attempts to lure in Chinese consumers — here are 3 brands that took an L with the Chinese market:

Burberry Creeps Out Consumers

Number one on our list is UK luxury fashion brand Burberry. In 2015 their attempt to print the Chinese character for luck on a signature patterned scarf was simply out of touch and low-effort. They didn’t even bother to print the character in the traditional way (up-side down 福倒了 to signify incoming fortune).

And they haven’t done any better this year: netizens were not pleased with their creepy Asian horror film-like family portrait.

burberry creepy advertisement china

The ad was supposedly part of a global campaign with the same aesthetic, but in China it fell flat for putting a washed out spin on the usually vibrant New Year period.

Bvlgari Goes for a Bizarre Play on Words

Perhaps the biggest fail of the 2019 Chinese New Year period goes to Bvlgari. Yet another Italian luxury brand missing the mark with the Chinese market, in this case the brand managed to offend international markets with a Chinese ad — which takes some doing. Their campaign hit all kinds of controversial red buttons with a Year of the Pig (猪 zhu meaning pig) play on words.

Yup. The brand’s “JEW” campaign was quickly removed from the internet, but that it got that far at all is pretty mind-blowing.

Pepsi Raises the Dead

An early Pepsi campaign to penetrate China was supposedly a mishap of uncultured advertising. The slogan “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” was apparently mistranslated to read “Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life” in Chinese characters (though Snopes says such claims are “unsubstantiated”).

Pause, my B if I’m underestimating a decades old formula, but that’s quite a bold statement to make for a carbonated beverage.

Still, if they did make that error, at least they’ve learnt from that kind of over-reach….


In fairness, Pepsi has upped their game in China and the brand’s “Bring Happiness Home” series is now a Spring Festival fixture:

Perhaps these brands need to take some cues from the likes of Chinese phonemaker OPPO, who released a set of awesome New Year-themed scrolls recently to plug a special Year of the Pig phone line:

oppo chinese new year 2019

Yes that is Einstein taking a selfie apparently.

International players can get it right too. Take for example LEGO, whose campaign around their Lunar New Year sets has been a big win. It certainly suckered us in:

And while they may have benefited from the zodiac animal for the incoming year (and Alibaba’s deep pockets), the Peppa Pig movie has undoubtedly been given a boost by this beautifully-judged, massively viral short film/extended advert:

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