Digital Marketing Redux   //   February 9, 2024

How U.S. startups are marketing around Lunar New Year

Major brands with a global customer base typically unveil campaigns as Lunar New Year rolls around. But this year, more U.S.-based startups are joining in on the buzz too. 

Sparkling water brand Sanzo is giving away red envelopes and a sampler pack for the Lunar New Year. Condiment brand Fly By Jing collaborated with cookware brand Our Place to release a limited edition wok and chili condiment set. Kitchenware brand Material, on the other hand, has been releasing newsletters that include recipes traditionally served for Lunar New Year.

Leading up to the Lunar New Year, which happens on Feb. 10, a large chunk of retail ads around the holiday come from large brands like Apple or luxury brands like Bottega Veneta. Abbey Bruggeworth, owner of marketing agency The All In Haus, said that some U.S. brands are hesitant to spend money on marketing during Lunar New Year because it happens right at the beginning of the year — after they’ve likely already spent a significant chunk of money on holiday marketing. But without the noise from other brands, startups are seeing Lunar New Year as a chance to stand out from the crowd and showcase their brand identity.

“Because you are starting the year off… I think people are hesitant to go ahead and start spending money right off the bat,” Bruggeworth said. “My argument to that would be you need to be spending money on your marketing efforts throughout the year.” She also added that some brands could be hesitant to touch on an event with high cultural significance. 

Competing with some brands’ flashy ads around Lunar New Year can be daunting. Apple, for example, tapped filmmaker Marc Webb, who directed films like The Amazing Spiderman, to direct a 15-minute Lunar New Year film. Bottega Veneta’s ad, in collaboration with Chinese director Jess Jing Zou, featured award-winning actress Shu Qi.

For Sanzo, rolling out marketing initiatives around the holiday has been beneficial. Kimberly Lam, senior marketing director for Sanzo, said that the company’s social media engagement has “spiked” thanks to the social media posts it has been making around the holiday. She added that Sanzo’s marketing investments around Lunar New Year grow every year. Last year, Sanzo launched a pomelo flavor around — a fruit typically consumed during Lunar New Year.

“Even if there was no buzz around Lunar New Year at this moment or this time, we would still be celebrating Lunar New Year because it’s integral to who we are as a brand,” Lam said. 

Sanzo is approaching Lunar New Year marketing from different angles. The company teamed up with Los Angeles gift shop Chunky to create red envelopes that are designed to look like Sanzo’s cans for a giveaway. It has also been posting more content around Lunar New Year. For example, Sanzo posted an Instagram Reel of a Lunar New Year-inspired mocktail.

In physical stores around the New York and Los Angeles area where Sanzo is sold in, the brand has added instant redeemable coupons shaped like red envelopes. Lam said the coupons have so far had high redemption rates. 

“We’re trying to figure out how to make it bigger and better,” Lam said. “We’re only four years old so every year we’re just trying to build it and make it bigger and more meaningful.”  

Much like Sanzo, Fly By Jing is also leveraging collaborations to celebrate Lunar New Year. It released a limited edition Wok set with Our Place, which includes a carbon steel wok, glass lid, spatula, chopsticks and three of Fly By Jing’s sauces, among other accessories. Additionally, Fly By Jing also put its XL Sichuan chili crisp on sale through Feb. 11 at Northeast Costco locations.

Food is central to Lunar New Year celebrations. Different regions across Asia have their unique iteration of Lunar New Year cuisines that symbolize luck and prosperity — and Material’s marketing initiative takes inspiration from that. This past weekend, Material released a number of recipes typically served during different Lunar New Year cultures in its newsletter. For example, the newsletter featured a recipe for Cha giò, Vietnamese fried spring rolls, and Ddukgook, Korean beef broth soup with rice cakes. 

“It’s just a great way I think, for people to learn about the different foods that are traditionally a part of the celebration,” said Eunice Byun, co-founder and CEO of Material. “We’re supporting all of that with additional social content.” 

All In Haus’s Bruggeworth said retail sales typically drop during February after the Christmas shopping season. However, it can also be an opportunity for brands to stay relevant as shopping slows. 

“People need to see things seven or eight times before they’re going to buy into it,” Bruggeworth said. “It’s a great time to really latch on to your client base and turn over clients for the next couple of months into spring and summer.”