Your Small Businesses Can Learn from Chinese Lantern Festival Marketing

By John R. Aberle | heart centered marketing

Feb 05
Picture of the lighted float for the Magical Chinese Lantern Festival

You can learn much about winning business from marketing mistakes of your competition by looking at two Chinese lantern festivals. Both the LA County Arboretum and the Pomona Fairplex put on spectacular Chinese Lantern Festivals this past December and first week of January. When you plan an outstanding, several week-long event that you want and need lots of people attending, you really need to make it spectacular enough to standout amid all the chaff – and they did. Nevertheless, there are some marketing lessons your small business can gather from these events.


 We originally wanted to go to the Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival at the LA Arboretum because its display at the Santa Anita Westfield Mall in Arcadia grabbed our attention. Now alert to the idea of a lantern festival where these art pieces or sculptures are lit up, we also saw a billboard for a lantern festival at the Pomona Fairplex.  

Overall, the arboretum’s Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival website was great and very thorough. In fact, it was far more attractive than the Pomona Fairplex’s Magical Chinese Lantern Festival site.  Yet when the arboretum site made it harder to register, the Pomona Fairplex won the toss for our purchase.

Picture of Magical Chinese Lantern Festival map and directional signs

It made the following mistakes which made the difference:

  1. It was unclear how much time we had to wander the Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival displays
  2. They lacked a consumer-friendly bad weather policy as the Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival was a “rain or shine” event
  3. Information on the discount for members of the LA Arboretum was hard to find despite being prominently mentioned in some of the promotional areas
  4. Therewas no place on the order site to enter a discount code
Any experienced marketer will tell you to test everything you do in marketing. Someone, maybe a prospective customer who was a member, would have caught these mistakes when trying to order.

Tickets were for 5:30 PM, 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM. Notice how there is a 1.5-hour gap between the first two times and a one-hour gap between the second two times. At any other event, like a movie or concert, when I purchase a ticket for a set time, at the end of that performance, I must leave so the next group can get in. There was no one to ask in the evening when I was ready to buy – and it was one of the questions that the FAQs failed to answer.

In contrast, at the Magical Chinese Lantern Festival at the Pomona Fairplex, I could enter at any time and stay until closing.

After I made my purchase, the next day, I found out that I could have entered at 5:30 PM and stayed until closing. This begs the question, why did the LA Arboretum restricted entry to those three times in the first place?

By the way, you could enter at anytime if you chose to use Lyft or Uber to bring you to the arboretum. While some of you might think that is a great thing, Dorothy and I resented it. The LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a quasi-governmental service to the community. My impression is that Lyft and Uber operate without paying the licensing fees regular taxi cab companies must pay. Giving an incentive to use one of these companies over registered taxi companies seems like biting the hand that feeds you.

FAQs from the LA Arboretum’s Site

The date I want is sold out. Can I buy tickets at the box office, day of?

If the date you want to attend is sold out, cheer up! Because you can still visit the festival if you use a rideshare app such as LYFT or UBER to get to the Arboretum. All you need to do is to present your ride receipt showing the date and time of your visit at the box office and you can purchase up to 4 tickets.

What if a friend or family member drops me off? Can I still buy a ticket?

No. Sold-Out Day Sales are only available for rideshare apps.

From <> 

2.  Poor Bad Weather Policy

This past December had a lot of rain, so we were naturally concerned about being rained out. As it turns out, these two Chinese Lantern Festivals treated rain differently.

·      LA Arboretum’s Moonlight Forest was a rain or shine event.

·      The Pomona Fairplex canceled in the event of high winds and rain allowing you to use your tickets at another time.

LA Arboretum Policy

What if I can’t use my ticket?

Moonlight Forest tickets and Arboretum memberships are not refundable. In the event you are unable to use your ticket, please consider your purchase a donation to the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Federal Tax ID 95-1582650. Moonlight is a rain or shine event. (Highlight mine – JRA)

Can I change the date of my tickets?

Choose your date carefully!

If you are not able to attend your initial date you can still change the date of your tickets. Please note regular transaction and ticketing fees apply to transfers. Instructions for changing ticket dates are available here.

From <>

Fairplex Policy

Weather Conditions - Rain and strong wind can affect everyone's plans. When rain or high wind comes, we will close the festival and patrons will be allowed to use their tickets for another time. 


I love supporting the LA Arboretum, but I lack the financial resources to just donate the cost of entry to this event if it rained out. The Fairplex policy was definitely more attractive.

The discount for members was mentioned in occasionally on the site. but it was located way down on the page ( after two other "Buy tickets" buttons:    

MEMBERS of the Arboretum

Enjoy 15% off tickets

Arboretum members get first choice for the best Moonlight Forest tickets and the exclusive discount. For member discount code, please call the membership office at 626.821.3233 or email

When I went to the purchase screen from the Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival site, there was no place to enter the discount code that I was to get from the membership department. (Why did I need that extra step anyway when I should have merely entered my membership number and their software could have checked the validity of it. As we have a senior membership, our membership would have even accounted for our being seniors.)

Equality of Features of the Chinese Lantern Festivals

The Fairplex gave specific information on other entertainment times plus shopping options. While the LA Arboretum had entertainment, I did not find times mentioned. Nevertheless, I feel that the Moonlight Forest had more food options because of the variety of food trucks.

Cost Comparisons

The parking was more at the Fairplex, i.e. $12 versus free at the Arboretum. However, the tickets were less: $19 with no fee versus $25 (less the member discount of 15%, so $21.25) plus the fee from the ticketing site – Dorothy got a price of $58 when she checked the LA Arboretum originally. So, $38 plus $12 equals $50. Additionally, the Fairplex is closer to us, and we could enter anytime between 5:30 PM and 9:20 PM.

Refund Policies

Additionally, you can cancel your tickets for a refund up to one day before the event. With the LA Arboretum, if you need to cancel, you just donated to the LA Arboretum Foundation because there is no refund possible.

Picture of Come Play 2018 Fairplex lighted sign at the Magical Chinese Lantern Festival at the Pomona Fairplex

Come Play 2018 Fairplex Lighted Sign

Final Decision

Interestingly, the two events seemed to be about equal in overall value. As the cliché goes, “All things being equal…” In the end, we were finally ready to order our tickets and didn’t want to wait to call for answers:

  1. The uncertainty about how long we had in the event
  2. The discount code for members 
  3. No place to enter the discount code even if we had it

Also, we did not like the bad weather policy at the LA Arboretum. 

Picture of lanterns of an underwater world with jellyfish and a whale reflecting in the pond at the Magical Chinese Lantern Festival at the Pomona Fairplex

Lanterns of an Underwater World with Jellyfish at the Pomona Fairplex Magical Chinese Lantern Festival

Despite these disappointments with the LA Arboretum’s marketing decisions this year, we look forward to next year’s Chinese Lantern Festival at the LA Arboretum.


When all other things are equal, the marketing mistakes your opponent makes can mean additional sales for you. As a small business, you can ensure that it is your opponents mistakes and not yours deciding who wins by thoroughly testing your marketing materials to ensure that it is easy for the prospect to buy. And while you are at it, make decisions in setting up your program that make sense to your prospects.

As a small business, you can ensure that it is your opponents mistakes and not yours deciding who wins by thoroughly testing your marketing materials to ensure that it is easy for the prospect to buy. 

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These experiences with the two competing Chinese Lantern Festivals provide powerful marketing lessons for small businesses.  As both had similar additional attractions and food, the final decision came down to who made it easiest to purchase including discounts, such as for being seniors or for being members. The ambiguity about the time to wander and enjoy the extra attractions as well as concerns about weather made the Magical Chinese Lantern Festival at the Pomona Fairplex the winner over the LA Arboretum’s Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival.

Open your heart in selling,

John's signature in Rage Italic script

John R. Aberle

Aberle Enterprises


Do you love taking care of your customers and prospects? If you yearn to build more long-term business connections with your customers, get your copy of the Amazon Kindle eBook:

More by this Author about Viewing Events Through the Eyes of a Marketer

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About the Author

I have a strong love for small businesses, especially brick and mortar companies. After an 18-year career in sales and marketing, I started my own service company, which I grew in both sales and profits for the first five years. In my sixth year, the bottom dropped out of the printer market such that it made more sense to sell my assets and return to Southern California. There I went to work for an international small business consulting company. I spent over three years on the road with them helping small businesses to become more profitable and better managed. I then started my own company specializing in sales and marketing consulting, coaching and training. My emphasis is on heart-centered, relationship selling that empowers prospects to make their own choices.