For a sizeable chunk of the world’s population, 28th January 2017 was not just a day like all the others. On that day, almost two billion people celebrated the beginning of the Spring Festival, better known as Chinese New Year. China, Korea, Mongolia, Bhutan, Nepal, Vietnam and parts of Japan celebrate the beginning of the lunisolar calendar. The Spring Festival is comparable to Christmas here: a celebration where people exchange gifts, usually money in red envelopes known as hongbao. The celebrations last for fifteen days and end with the Lantern Festival.
Chinese New Year 2017 further underlined the emergence of the Hongbao 2.0 trend, which achieved astounding results compared to 2016: the number of virtual hongbao sent between 27th January and 1st February 2017 was $46 billion, more than $14.2 billion in one day, an increase of 75% over the previous Chinese New Year. The number of red envelopes sent in the first second of the new year was a truly staggering 760,000. The Guangdong region sent and received the most hongbao with 5.84 billion, but the capital Beijing holds the record in this special ranking with 81M red envelopes sent and 405M received. But what exactly are hongbao? And when did they originate? The so-called red envelopes, or hongbao in Mandarin, are packets containing money. They are very traditional in China and are given for weddings and graduations, to celebrate a birth, or during festivities such as the aforementioned Chinese New Year. Historically, the red colour of the envelope symbolised good luck and was intended to ward off evil spirits. More recently, money begin to be included in the envelopes as a sign of gratitude. Nowadays, hongbao containing money have become the real symbol of Chinese New Year, and even a thousand-year-old tradition such as the red envelope has adapted to the technological innovation that WeChat has brought to the Chinese market. This is how the idea of virtual hongbao, or hongbao 2.0, was born. For those who aren’t yet aware, the multi-service platform WeChat recently added an online mobile payment feature. During Chinese New Year 2014, it introduced the option of sending virtual red envelopes to contacts and groups. The system immediately become very popular as the Chinese population enthusiastically embraced this modern interpretation of their custom.
The new year is the most important retail holiday of the year in China: most Chinese companies and foreign companies working with China engage in an all-out commercial battle with promotions, incentives and loyalty messages aimed at increasing sales volumes on every channel possible. In line with the trends of recent years, WeChat has naturally become the main advertising channel. Of course, there is no single right way to communicate; strategies always vary depending on the specific industry to which the brand belongs, the positioning that it wants to achieve in the eyes of the consumer, the message that it wants to convey and the result that it wants to obtain, whether this is the acquisition of followers or contacts, the promotion of a special product line, or so-called “drive to store” marketing. To explain the possible strategies available to companies, three success stories from different brands and sectors are presented below. Starting with the fashion industry, Levi’s opted for a data acquisition campaign during New Year 2016. To do so, it used its official account to promote a lottery with prizes ranging from clothes to phone cases and from towels to T-shirts and wallets. To participate in the lottery, users simply had to enter their personal details: first name, last name, and email address. Although it was very traditional and lacked interactive elements, the campaign was extremely successful. Sticking with the fashion sector, Louis Vuitton created a very engaging campaign for the start of the Year of the Rooster. This aimed to increase brand awareness and promote a special product range developed for the occasion. In addition to the traditional best wishes video, users who clicked on “read more” in the New Year broadcast saw a hongbao appear. By shaking the phone, a specific product from the New Year range appeared on the screen. Users could zoom in, personalise the colours and buy the product.
Our last example is Unilever, the large Dutch-British holding company. For New Year 2016, UFS (Unilever Food Solutions), the branch of the company that oversees all its food & beverage brands, opted for an innovative and targeted strategy that aimed to promote B2B food products directly to chefs. The spot played on viewers’ emotions, focusing on the convivial spirit of New Year’s Eve and on families coming together to cook and celebrate with a special dinner, just like Christmas in the West. The video was dedicated to those who were unable to spend New Year’s Eve with their families. Thanks to WeChat’s targeted marketing capabilities, it was aimed at a specific market niche: chefs who could relieve the suffering and sadness of these people. Along with the video, UFS provided discounts on certain products via QR codes, promoted interactive web sites, and sent hongbao and personalised messages. The campaign, which ended with the promotion of a Moments video, was exceptionally successful, with more than a million followers gained over the course of a month.