Malaysia, 24 February 2021 – The pandemic stricken Chinese New Year celebrations were muted as many families were not able to completely reunite. As a result, the wish to be together resonated louder than ever amid the people. Many brands wanted to echo these sentiments, and as such their CNY ads showed us of how it is to celebrate together, while reminding us of the good times when the entire family was together. These memories and brand stories went viral and were widely shared on social media news walls, individual stories, and of course through traditional media channels like TV commercials.

Figure 1: plots the popularity of the brands against their unpopularity. The vertical Y-axis indicates the percentage of Invitations (“likes”) a brand had received, whereas the horizontal X-axis shows the number of un-invitations (“dislikes”) a brand received, not to join the CNY celebrations.

“With consumers spending more time online but with limited attention spans, brands that focus on capturing the ‘mind space’ of the consumer will be the ones that grow faster,” said Julie Ng, Researcher & Co-Founder of Vase.ai.

All the more, these commercials were instrumental in promoting the CNY celebrative spirit. It looked as if the brands themselves, were inviting us to their own CNY open houses.

Asia School of Business and market research company Vase.ai were curious to see whether people would think of offering a counter-invitation: Should brands became persons, would they be invited to join our CNY open house celebrations?

In opening this question, Vase.ai conducted a large-scale study among 462 ethnic-Chinese Malaysians. The study presented a choice of 29 brands that heavily advertised during the last month in conjunction with CNY to this representative sample.

The questions posed to the pool were:

“If these brands were persons, which brands would be invited to your CNY open house? And which ones would not be?”

Asking people to view brands as a person is a very common practice, the company notes. Consumers often attribute human features to brands on a daily basis. Many people project selected personality characteristics on the brands they are familiar with and favour. As an example, the car brand Volvo projects a responsible, trustworthy, reliable, and a family-man personality.

The Twelve Invited brands:

This study uncovered that on average, a brand receives a CNY open house invitation from 27% Chinese Malaysian consumers. Some brands are more welcomed than others.

3 Most Invited Brands – McDonalds, KFC and Shopee

Three brands – McDonalds, KFC and Shopee – made the most wanted guest at CNY open houses. As the nation’s favourite cousins, they won over a 50% popularity vote.

Followed by 9 Invited Brands

The nine brands that follow in getting invitations from 30% or more from the people, but not by a majority are “good family friends”: Foodpanda, Lazada, Grab, Maybank, Watson, Tesco, Eu Yan Sang, Nescafe, and Yakult.

The Nine Un-invited brands

Six of the 29 brands included in the study were grouped in those that would not receive invitations. For one of the brands that were categorised as a non-invite, there was an obvious reason: it is a strong-branded medicine. Generally, it is considered inauspicious to welcome medication to a CNY open house as it may introduce bad luck.

A fourth group consists of three brands with a certain “double-bind.” The relationship is a mix of positivity and negativity. For instance people are uncertain if they should invite brands of an insurance company, an airlines, and an energy company. In a relational sense, “it’s complicated” as the number of CNY open house invitations is as large as the number of non-invites.

“No happy new year for brands that are ignored. A brand caught in the silent and uneventful zone of indifference may have a hard time to survive a roller-coaster year like 2021.” Said Willem Smit, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Asia School of Business and International Faculty Fellow at MIT Sloan.

The Eight Brands in the “Danger Zone of Indifference”

This study grouped a fifth group of brands – those that people don’t really care about. Eight brands were classified as those that do not have a significant connection with the people, and are not even important enough to be disliked.

Being placed in the “Zone of indifference” category would be a nightmare scenario for the marketer, as there is no existing cloud to start a conversation and sharpen the brands’ positioning.

It means it’s all the way back to the drawing board: thinking of the ideal target audience and crafting a better value proposition. Being in the category also means they are way below most people’s radar and results in an even worse start for them this year. There is no consolation for brands in the Zone of Indifference as it means hard work – if not the end is near, and they might well be unlikely to be part of the CNY celebrations in 2022.

Full report can be found on https://vase.ai/resources/brands-should-stay-out-of-the-danger-zone-of-indifference/

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