Panda Express celebrates Lunar New Year with digital red envelopes

Dive Brief:

  • Panda Express, the U.S. chain of 2,200 Chinese food restaurants, is turning its yearly celebration of Lunar New Year into a digital experience as the pandemic limits indoor dining in many parts of the country. Customers who visit the website on their mobile phones can send digital versions of traditional red envelopes with discounts on food to love ones until Feb. 28, per an announcement.
  • As part of its digital experiences, Panda released a three-minute film that dramatizes how an American child learns about the traditions of Lunar New Year from an Asian American family, and grows up to celebrate the occasion by sharing with others. The chain also transformed its in-classroom cultural education program, Let’s Explore!: Lunar New Year, into a digital experience for teachers and students.
  • Beyond tapping into the interest in remote ordering, Panda Express is also leveraging influencer marketing by partnering with influencer Joy Cho, founder and creative director of Oh Joy!, to create limited-edition kits to help families celebrate Lunar New Year. Customers can buy the kits at Panda’s online store while supplies last.

Dive Insight:

Panda Express has reworked its yearly Lunar New Year celebration for the pandemic age. It used to hand out the traditional red envelopes at restaurants, but the health crisis has led many people to avoid going out to eat, and order takeout or delivery instead. By emphasizing digital experiences, including its virtual red envelopes and heartwarming movie about sharing good fortunes with others, Panda aims to engage with consumers who are more likely to order food remotely. It is also tapping into interest around influencers and branded merchandise with its Lunar New Year kits, which include red envelopes, aprons, a recipe book, Panda Express coupons and more.

The restaurant chain isn’t a stranger to digital marketing efforts, as seen in its promotions last year that started weeks before the coronavirus reached pandemic proportions. At that time, Panda created a group of augmented reality (AR) filters that included video games, virtual red envelopes and digital decorations for selfies shared on Facebook and Instagram. Unlike last year, when Panda ran a sweepstakes to win a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood, the pandemic era has brought a greater focus on those digital experiences.

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Panda’s yearly celebration of Lunar New Year reflects the holiday’s roots in China, though the occasion is becoming more mainstream in the U.S. amid changing demographics. Asian Americans make up the fastest-growing segment of the country’s population, rising 29% in the past decade to 22.8 million by the end of 2019, according to a Census Bureau report last year.

As a sign of the growing popularity of Lunar New Year celebrations in the U.S., McDonald’s this month launched a multichannel campaign that also includes a variety of digital activations. McDonald’s will livestream a concert with Chinese hip-hop artist Masiwei in its app as part of the celebration. The company this week also hosted a mini-series on IGTV starring Korean American hip-hop artist and actor Dumbfoundead, and offered coupons for free food to visitors of the 88rising Night Market online store, which sells merchandise from Asian American artists.

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