WeChat Mobile Payments: What 1 billion people know that you don’t

As many of you know, Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) has finished.  WeChat capitalised on the festivities by taking an old Chinese custom and combining it with 21st Century technology.

At this time of the year the Chinese give family members 红包 (hongbao, red envelopes) filled with money.  However, WeChat transformed the custom by allowing users to send virtual envelopes and although the envelopes were virtual, the cash wasn’t.

Red Envelopes Go Virtual

The ingenious idea became the focal point of this year’s Spring Festival, with the Chinese exchanging more than 1 billion red envelopes on Chinese New Years Eve alone.  Not only did this marketing tool creatively engage WeChat users, but it also bound their bank cards to the app itself.

WeChat 红包Users could send a maximum amount of 100 RMB (20 NZD) to individual friends or they could send money to a group of friends, which is then distributed randomly – lottery style.  For example, if I open a group envelope I may receive 1 RMB or 22.30 RMB.

With more than 1.1 billion registered accounts and 468 million active users, WeChat is one of the most popular, social media applications in the world (albeit the majority of users are Chinese).  

WeChat, or 微信 (weixin, micro message) as it’s known in China, is primarily a messaging-based application.

The users of WeChat have been using the app for much more than just communication since March of last year, when WeChat’s creators, Tencent, opened the doors for users to begin purchasing products and services.

Tencent gave away 500 million RMB (more than 100 million NZD) during the Spring Festival’s most watched TV show, the Chunwan.  Anyone on WeChat could use “Shake” (normally used for finding random people nearby to chat with) for a chance to win a portion of the money.

At one point, Tencent recorded more than 7 billion shakes, peaking at 800 million shakes per second from WeChat users.

If that wasn’t enough, big brands also wanted in on this crazed, envelope frenzy.

Brands join the Festivities

Brands including the cosmetic companies, Max Factor and Proya, created their own red envelopes on Weibo (Chinese twitter). Netizens need only share the branded envelopes for a chance to win prizes from the companies.

Weibo users could also send red envelopes to their favourite celebrities and some were even lucky enough to receive replies.

Many saw this as an attempt by Weibo, WeChat’s main Chinese rival, to counteract WeChat‘s previously successful marketing campaigns.

Sponsored Wechat Moments an early experiment in ads

Other recent developments on WeChat include its introduction of “sponsored moments“.  Similarly to when FB originally launched advertisements, adverts appear in users’ moments (news feeds).

Sponsored moments are a trial for advertising in the future.  However, it seems that only the biggest brands have been given the opportunity to advertise, with the likes of BMW and Coca-Cola making the cut.

What’s more, only those users WeChat perceived as eligible (in other words, rich) saw the adverts appear on their moments, with many users (including all of us here at syENGAGE) not seeing any advertisements at all!

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