The traditional and timeless Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu, is held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. In 2016, the festival falls on June 9th. The holiday honors Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself on the day in 278 BC to protest against government corruption. Aside from the Greater China, the festival is observed and celebrated in many countries around the world with significant ethnic Chinese population such as Singapore, Malaysia, United States and Canada.

In Canada, Dragon Boat Festival is generally known for the exciting annual dragon boat racing events held across major cities. This ancient custom has become a serious sport in many countries, involving athletes from different ethnicities and cultures. Every year in June, over 5000 paddlers from more than 180 teams gather at Toronto Centre Island to participate in the Toronto International Dagon Boat Race Festival. In a lively and vibrant spectacle, with the beat of drums at the front and a steersman at the back, teams race the beautifully painted and elaborately decorated canoes to the finish line. The celebrations share a lively aspect of Chinese culture with the country’s increasingly multicultural population.

Other activities and customs during the festival include hanging Mugwort Leaves and Calamus, drinking realgar wine, wearing perfume pouches and – the most commonly observed – eating zongzi, a pyramid-shaped glutinous rice with savory or sweet fillings wrapped in reed or bamboo leaf. According to legendary story, packets of rice were thrown into the river to protect Qu Yuan’s body from fish – this was believed to be the origin of zongzi. Dragon Boat Festival is a public holiday in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan when people gather with family and friends over the weekend, eat different kinds of zongzi as part of the celebration and visit Dragon Boat Festival celebration events in the community. Sending greeting messages through WeChat is another holiday “ritual” that has evolved as smartphones use became widespread.

There are estimated 1.5 million Chinese living in Canada (Statistics Canada). The number is expected to grow rapidly due to the recent shift in Canadian immigration policy that aims to welcome more new immigrants.  Larger Chinese communities across Canada invariably means more festival celebration activities, media coverage and of course more Chinese consumers for these festivals. For instance, zongzi sales during 2015 Dragon Boat Festival Promotion at T&T – the popular Chinese chain store under Loblaw’s – increased by 20% compared to the same period in 2014. A number of brands have also stepped up marketing to Chinese consumers during events, some of them regularly participating with booths and promotions during the Toronto Dragon Boat Race Festival.

Competition for the ethnic Chinese consumer share of mind is increasing as more and more brands are looking to build equity within this lucrative segment. However, with more competing brands and products entering the market, Chinese consumers are becoming more selective than before. In-language messaging is still a good idea:  48% of Chinese Canadians feel closer to the brands that talk to them in their ethnic language. They’re also changing the way they get information before buying a product. While print media is on decline, ethnic online media is playing an increasingly important role in the buying journey. Recent study shows that ethnic online media reached 51% of Chinese Canadians every week (IPG Mediabrands Multicultural Media Study 2016). For younger generations, reading and sharing articles from local ethnic media through WeChat is a popular way to follow recent trends.

Marketing to Chinese consumers around festivals still makes better sense than ethnic stereotype communications. With the right multicultural marketing partner, you can create a unique twist to the Dragon Boat Festival that aligns with your brand positioning and messaging that could get Chinese consumers to not only engage with your brand but also share their experience with friends and family.

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