Why are so many companies marketing the Chinese Zodiac calendar?
It started in 2011 with Davidoff, who saw a big marketing opportunity to tap into the huge Chinese market if they would incorporate something from the Chinese culture into a limited edition. The marketing geniuses came up with an annual limited edition based on the Chinese zodiac calendar, a calendar with 12 animals. It was a success and now many other companies follow the idea of Davidoff and release an annual ‘year of the….’ Cigar. Companies like Drew Estate, Maya Selva, Plasencia, Brun del Re and even Habanos have joined. Ernesto Perez Carrillo too, but slightly different. He simply created a 12-cigar sampler, each blended to the characteristics of the animal, and brought them to the market instead of releasing them per blend in the right year. Why do cigar brands target this event, more than any other holiday anywhere in the world?
What is lunar new year?
To answer that question, let’s talk about what lunar new year or Chinese new year actually is. Chinese New Year, also called Lunar New Year, annual 15-day festival in China and Chinese communities around the world that begins with the new moon that occurs sometime between January 21 and February 20 according to Western calendars. Festivities last until the following full moon
The holiday is sometimes called the Lunar New Year because the dates of celebration follow the phases of the moon. Since the mid-1990s people in China have been given seven consecutive days off work during the Chinese New Year. This week of relaxation has been designated Spring Festival, a term that is sometimes used to refer to the Chinese New Year in general. Chinese New Year triggers the largest mass migration of people in the world, every year over. Chinese people from all over the world travel to see family, mostly from Chinese cities to their small hometowns.
A tradition is to give ang bao, also known as ‘red packages’. You give those to children and unmarried people younger than yourself. Those packages contain money, preferably unused notes. In many Asian countries, people queue up at banks or specially installed temporary ATM machines to change money into new notes in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year. Chinese Malaysian comedian Ronnie Chieng used the tradition in his Netflix special. The traditional new year wish is gong xi fa cai in Mandarin or gong hei fat choi in Cantonese (the Chinese dialect spoken in Hong Kong) which translates to ‘I hope you get rich’. That’s why the colour red and gold, which stand for prosperity and wealth come into play. If you know something about the Chinese culture, you will also understand why boxes of ‘year of the’ cigars often have 8 or 16 cigars, as the Chinese word for 8 sounds a lot like prosperous. You will never see a box of 4, and numbered boxes ending with the number 4 are the last to sell as 4 sounds like death.
The Zodiac Calendar
This ties directly to the zodiac calendar. The Chinese zodiac, or shengxiao, refers to the circle of 12 animals that measure the cycles of time. Signs or animals are determined by the lunar year in which you were born. Legend has it that a god beckoned all animals to bid him farewell before his departure from Earth. Chinese New Year is the moment where the year changes from one animal to the other. The twelve animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each of the animals has its own character and the Chinese claim that you see those characteristics in each person born in that year. It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called “inner animals”), by day (called “true animals”) and hours (called “secret animals”).
Why use this for a limited edition?
The answer is quite simple. Sales. China has become one of the biggest cigar markets in the world, with more and more cigar smokers. True, the market in China is dominated by Cuban cigars due to a lack of cigar culture. New markets always flog to the best-known brands before a culture can develop. China had that with wine as well, first everything had to be Bordeaux wine but after several years people started to understand wines and explore other wines. It’s the same with cigars, first it is all Cuban and then mainly Cohiba, before other brands get a foot in the door. Marketing towards the Chinese demographic helps to get a foot in that door, plus people born in a certain year tend to buy those cigars. For example, last year was the year of the rabbit, and all my Chinese friends born in the year of the rabbit bought boxes from several brands with the rabbit decorations.
Then you might ask, why not make it a Chinese regional edition? Well, China is an emigration country. Chinese people have emigrated from their home country in search of better living conditions and educational chances. Currently there are almost 50 million Chinese living outside of China. Only the United States alone has a population of 5.5 million Chinese citizens. If you wonder how that number of 50 million people compares, just realize that the most populated American State is California with 39 million people. And if the number of Chinese outside of China would be a country, it would rank 30th in the world, above countries such as Spain. So that is a significant population, and a large part of that population is a demographic with money to spend. Money cigar manufacturers love to get their hands on.
So there you have it; this is the reason why Davidoff started using the Chinese zodiac calendar and why others followed suit. I don’t expect to see the number of companies targeting the Chinese New Year slow down, I actually expect more ‘year of the’ cigars to appear in the near future.