Businesses take 'hong' out of hongbao

SINGAPORE - The hong (red) in hongbao is increasingly a misnomer. Major red packet makers here say they are taking more orders this year for hongbao in colours like gold, purple, sky blue, or even neon pink, as companies look to stand out and dazzle.

At leading red packet maker Caston, a third of its products now come in colours other than red, compared with nearly none two decades ago, said co-founder and creative director Alvin Tan.

Only 10 per cent of its 40 million Singapore orders this year are in standard bright "hongbao red", with other hues of red like magenta making up about 50 per cent.

Likewise, printing firm Vivopress has received nearly 50 per cent more orders for packets in purple this year compared with almost none in the past, said its sales manager Tan Zhao Rong.

It also sent prospective clients samples in shades of blue and yellow for the first time this year. "We expected strong demand for contemporary colours," said Ms Tan.

"Major brands have been using these, and other businesses tend to take reference from them," she said, declining to name the brands.

The Chinese have traditionally associated red with good luck. Red envelopes containing gifts of cash, called hongbao, are given out during the Chinese New Year for good luck and to ward off evil.

But companies are now going for different colours to boost their branding, noted Caston's Mr Tan. "More companies want to think out of the box and have their own personality in the hongbao," he added. Take OCBC Bank for example.

It aims to cater to the "modern, contemporary generation" this year with red packets that come in neon pink and yellow for "visual impact", said a spokesman. "While red is the primary colour because of its auspicious connotation, from time to time, we balance it with matching shades such as pink, peach and orange," she added.

The Seafood International Market & Restaurant is giving out purple hongbao this year. "We wanted an active, cheerful colour because it's the Year of the Horse," said a spokesman. A unique colour raises not only its own profile but also that of its customers, she added.

Even government agencies are getting in on the act. National water agency PUB, for instance, has issued a red packet in magenta, which it said had been "well-received". Not everyone is for the "rebellion" against red though. Dr Kang Ger-Wen, a Chinese studies course manager at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, was concerned that young Chinese risk forgetting the festival's roots.

"Nowadays people tend to do things regardless of tradition. For the new year, the colour red is very important." Caston's Mr Tan also wants red to continue its reign. His firm will resist the trend and still design and promote red-coloured packets, he said. "Red hongbao means red. Tradition should be kept. We cannot throw it away," he said.

Others say the changing trends are no big deal. "The only colours you can't use are black or white," said Chinese studies researcher Su Jui- Lung of the National University of Singapore, citing the colours seen as unlucky in Chinese culture. Ms Tan of Vivopress is all for change: "It would be boring to always have the same colours."

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