Thinking about China marketing campaign planning can be daunting. It seems like there’s a shopping festival or a promotion every month, so how can you manage your budgets effectively? Here’s my version of a China Marketing Calendar for the Year of the Dragon.

First things first

I decided to start this calendar “after” the Lunar New Year – but I’ll go through the year in order with some thoughts on what might be relevant and how you can use certain festivals to showcase your products. It won’t be an exhaustive list as China simply has too many festivals and occasions that in theory you might be able to celebrate. However, I’ll try to cover the main ones which are relevant for your campaigns and social media marketing in China. These are not all public holidays, and nor are all public holidays major shopping festivals relevant to foreign brands.

As traditional Chinese festivals are calculated based on the Lunar calendar, the exact dates in the gregorian calendar will vary from year to year, so check to make sure you’re up to date if you’re reading this after 2024!

Strategy wins the day!

Whilst there’s a competitive need to do your China marketing campaign planning as early as possible, you need to make sure that you’re taking a strategic approach. Running the right campaigns at the right festivals and events can make or break your year, so it’s important to carefully select where to invest your time, budgets and energy to get the best results.

It’s not just about offering always the lowest prices (in fact you’ll probably never make any profit at all if you try to do that!) but about rocket charging your brand’s visibility and listings in a sustainable way. And of course, occasionally you can throw a “killer deal” into the mix too. You need to keep your eyes open for the strategic opportunities that will allow you to bring your brand closer to your target audience though.

Lantern Festival for the Year of the Dragon

The Lantern festival is the last “part” of the lunar new year celebrations and is marked by colourful lanterns (well kind of obviously), dragon dances and riddles… It’s also a time to eat sweet sticky rice balls. For 2024, the Lantern Festival falls on 24th February.

Like with the rest of the Lunar New Year, you need to be careful to get the mix of cultural elements and commercial aims right. This is more a time to produce branding content to raise awareness amongst consumers, and perhaps to run an interactive campaign on social media. Either some kind of gamefied approach or user generated content can work well here.

make sure to incorporate a mix of traditional festivals and shopping events when China marketing campaign planning for your social media marketing in China and China social commerce plans
Image by Lili Shih from Pixabay

8th March (3.8) Women’s Day

Many parts of the world have a tradition of celebrating International Women’s Day, including China. It’s been especially celebrated in socialist countries, but in China has morphed into a way for men to pamper ladies.

What’s more, many companies give their female employees a half day off in China, which they can use to indulge themselves with shopping, spa time or perhaps fine dining.

So, if your brand is a product which caters to the females in the population, March 8th will be a cornerstone of your China marketing calendar. Or if you’re a service based business, you can offer discounts on that day to any ladies who want to spend their half day off in your facilities.

Just remember the themes here are indulgence, self care and pampering. Actually, many retailers have been trying to rebrand this day as “Goddess Day” or “Queen’s Day”, and it counts as an indicator for how 618 and Double 11 will be later in the year.

20th May – I love you day, or 520

You might be thinking “WTH…???” but the Chinese love a homophone. (Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings). In Mandarin, the words for 5-2-0 sound (kind of) similar to the words for “I love you”.

In today’s digital world, gen Z & millennial consumers apparently find it easier to confess their until now unspoken affections online. In the same way that a few decades ago, Valentine’s Day used to be more about secret admirers… It’s less for established relationships than those which are just starting out.

So, here products such as flowers, chocolate, jewellery and cosmetics are on trend.

China Marketing Calendar for the Year of the Dragon

18th June – 618 Mid Year Shopping Festival

This one may seem a bit random to an outsider, but is actually a key fixture in the China marketing calendar, and the 2nd largest ecommerce shopping festival after Double 11. It started out as a way for JD.com to commemorate their company jubilee (founded 18th June 1998) whilst at the same time boosting sales in the slower summer months. The date 618 is also a homophone for the word “flourishing” and was probably part of the original company founding considerations.

These days the festival isn’t limited to JD.com but is celebrated by almost the whole of Chinese retail, both on- & offline.

As with Double 11, there can be a lot of pressure on brands to offer deep promotional discounts, so when you are planning for this, think carefully about what you can afford, and what fits with your brand values. Remember it’s not just a case of offering a certain % of discount on your products – you probably will also be expected to finance shipping as well as discount coupons for the next purchase, possibly small additional gifts and potentially also a higher than usual level of returns…

Dragon Boat Festival

In 2024 this falls on 24th June, and isn’t specifically linked to the zodiac Year of the Dragon.

For me, this festival is about dragon boat racing and eating zongzi – a kind of rice dumpling, so any marketing should be more branding focused. Culture and history are in the foreground so it could be an opportunity to also talk about your brand’s history in China and how it fits into the big picture of your brand story.

8.8 International Brands on Tmall Global

The number 8 holds immense significance in Chinese culture, primarily because it’s associated with wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. The reason behind this stems from the phonetic similarity between the word for “eight” (八, bā) and the word for “wealth” or “prosper” (发, fā). This similarity in pronunciation has led to the belief that the number 8 brings financial success and abundance.

Moreover, the number 8 is considered lucky due to its symmetrical shape, representing balance and harmony in various aspects of life. In Chinese tradition, symmetry is often associated with positive energy flow and auspiciousness. (You will also see lots of prices ending in 8 in the Chinese culture.)

For many years, 8th August has been a festival for international brands focusing on education and brand awareness.

At the same time, it’s also an event for the Alibaba 88VIP members club, where if you’re invited to participate you have the opportunity to deepen brand loyalty and connect with a filtered audience.

Qixi – Chinese Valentine’s Day

…falls on 10th August in 2024. This is a time when couples might go for a short trip so could be an option if you have travel products, as well of course as being another opportunity to market chocolates, jewellery, luxury items, fashion etc.

9.9 – mostly an Alibaba (Tmall) festival

This is often effectively a test run for Double 11 – remember that these days the pre-sales start in mid-October. It allows the Alibaba team to see how well brands deal with the promotional environment.

Originally though this started out as an alcohol, especially spirits, category event. The word for 9 in Mandarin is a homophone for alcohol (are you seeing a pattern here already?). These days though, the promotion has been extended to include all categories of products.

This is not at the same time as the traditional Chinese double 9 (chung yeung) festival that falls on 11th October this year.

Mid Autumn Festival

In 2024, this falls on 17th September and is the day when the moon is at it’s “roundest”. Themes that you will see around this event include lanterns, family reunions and of course mooncakes! (yum!).

Many brands create special packaging around this time, or include the “moon rabbit” in their social media marketing in China. If you don’t have a product which can be adapted to promote during this time, consider whether your China social commerce strategy can enable you to leverage the themes of reunion to inspire some user generated content.

Double 11 – no longer just “Singles Day” but almost a month of shopping

This is now the biggest shopping event in the Chinese marketing calendar, although it has evolved considerably over the years. The name “Singles Day” comes from the fact that in spoken Chinese 11.11 is associated with the term “bare sticks” which is also used for bachelors, and the original idea was basically to have some “retail therapy” to help you celebrate your single existence.

That quickly morphed into a slash fest of discounts which broke records year after year. These days, things are mostly not so extreme (& there are so many other opportunities to buy products at a discount that consumers no longer have to wait for Double 11) and it’s become more of a brand building exercise, although there are still plenty of discounts around.

What started as an Alibaba event is now celebrated by all major online platforms and most offline channels too. Rather than being a single day of unbelievable sales, it’s now a festival lasting around 3 1/2 weeks which can represent up to 40% of annual turnover for many brands. It’s larger than Black Friday, making it the biggest shopping event in the world.

Double 11 Shopping FEstival 2022 using autonomous EVs for deliveries
Autonomous EV delivering Double 11 parcels in 2022

In most cases, it’s not a question IF you will participate in some form, but HOW. There’s no point moving enormous quantities of stock, only to discover you’ve made a massive loss (unless you near to clear inventory for some reason).

Because this is such an important event in the ecommerce marketing calendar, you need to start planning latest in Q1, especially if it’s your first season. If you are just opening on Tmall, your shop needs to be demonstrating results by August in order to receive an invite to participate. However, realistically you need to be in close discussion with the Alibaba team before that time to plan out how your participation will look as stock needs to be in the Cainiao warehouses by around 9th Sept for you to be allowed to participate (calculate backwards your shipping time from wherever you produce). Alibaba won’t allow you to just knock off a couple of % either – normally you need to run a certain level of promotional activity.

If those promotions should be supported by influencers, make sure you also book early as resources are tight during the festival.

This is an expensive promotion but can be highly visible and a great way to make a formal launch of a new store you soft launched earlier in the year, or to launch a new product line.

Year End Good Price Festival (年終好價節 replaced 12.12 in 2023)

Alibaba replaced their traditional 12.12 shopping extravaganza with this last year for the first time. Effectively it allowed brands who still had stocks left over from Double 11 (when it can be difficult to forecast how things will move) to clear some of their inventory.

Lunar New Year – Year of the Dragon ends and hands over to the Snake

The present year ends on 28th January 2025 and the next creature in the zodiac cycle is the snake. Lunar New Year is the most important cultural festival in China, and a peak in consumer spending in the same way that in Europe perhaps Christmas is. It’s a time for family reunions so gifts, food, new clothes, decorations are all on the list of purchases.

In terms of marketing it’s more a time for showing your cultural understanding, for hosting live events (to encourage consumer engagement with your brand) and other community creation type activities. Don’t put your commercial activities in the foreground here, but instead celebrate with your consumers at this important time of year.

Other Festivals you could consider

Whilst the festivals and marketing opportunities I’ve mentioned above are probably some of the most typical ones to focus on, there are a whole slew of alternative possibilities, ranging from industry sector events, special awareness days and of course retail jubilees and promotions of various kinds. So as I mentioned at the beginning, there’s no way this list can be fully exhaustive, but depending on what you are looking to promote, you might consider also these:

  • 14th February Valentines Day – yes, another one, but quite popular amongst younger consumers and of course etailers!
  • 12th May Mother’s Day – this has been gaining in popularity in China in recent years
  • 1st June Children’s Day – important if you are selling anything child related
  • 26th July Opening of the 2024 Olympic Games – not really normally a festival per se, but seeing as Alibaba is a major sponsor it’s likely to be a marketing event this year
  • 31st October Halloween – not traditionally something that is celebrated in China (the Chinese traditionally celebrated the Hungry Ghost festival (18th Aug. 2024) which is much more cultural rather than commercial) but is becoming more of a commercial event for small children
  • 28th November Thanksgiving – tends to be more of a “thing” for chains such as Starbucks or McDonalds to focus on, but still awareness is arising
  • 22nd December Dongzhi or Winter Solstice
  • 25th December Christmas – not a holiday in China although if you simply looked at retail you’d never think so…trees, decoration and cheesy carols from November onwards. Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday in Hong Kong though.
  • 1st January New Year

Your China Marketing Calendar is Individual

You can probably see that there is a tremendous range here from Chinese cultural events, through to ecommerce extravaganzas, industry sector events etc. Of course, other countries also have these kind of occasions, but China simply has a huge spread of possibilities.

Not every festival or event is going to be right for your brand though, so even if you are pressured by a major partner (such as Alibaba) you have to decide a) IF you are going to participate and b) if yes, to which extent are you going to invest. Make sure that you always calculate the full costs to see whether it’s worth it for you.

The big platforms such as Tmall, JDs, PinDuoDuo, Xiaohongshu or Douyin pretty much have monthly events so it will be rapidly obvious that you can’t always give huge discounts, however often you need to participate to some extent in order to get access to other opportunities which are perhaps more important for you. Just be sure to focus your budgets and energy as sometimes smaller industry events might actually bring you more traction.

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Kathryn

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