As I write this, it is Valentine's Day in the West but also Lantern Festival in the lunar calendar. Today also marks the end of Chinese New Year celebrations.
CNY is all about family, reunion and well-wishes. Families having the last meal of the year and watching China Central Television’s CNY programme together have become rituals for the past 30 years.
Despite being the most criticised show in the country, the CNY variety programme boasts a viewership of more than one billion. Obviously, airtime has become very expensive. Advertisers have to bid to get spots on the show. Last year, CCTV dramatically cancelled all ads in the programme and produced so-called public-service announcements instead. Though quite emotional, the messages were rather predictable. CCTV invited all major agencies to pitch for the creation and production of these spots. I am sure there were lots of insightful and intriguing concepts, but the ones that got selected were rather ordinary.
Well-wishes and prosperity greetings are in order on New Year’s Day. Traditionally, people visit friends’ and relatives’ homes to do this. People chat, eat, fire a few crackers, present each other with candies and give red packets to children. When mobile phones became widely used, someone invented CNY text greetings. Overnight, everyone’s phones were flooded with greetings from close friends and mere acquaintances. The mobile networks went home laughing with trillions in text message revenue.
Over time, the messages became more sophisticated. With the development of social media, community-style greetings were sent over Sina Weibo (a Facebook/Twitter-type hybrid). Since foreign social sites are banned, Sina Weibo monopolised the social space and, in a few short years, registration exceeded 300 million.
Tencent’s WeChat, a latecomer, offers a more friendly mobile platform, providing more privacy and closed community interaction. During this CNY, WeChat launched a "grab red packet" event. The mechanism is simple: when you see the "red packet", you "grab" it. But in order to receive the money in the packet, users need to provide their bank account link – which automatically registers them as a payment-platform customer. Tencent succeeded in expanding its payment-platform user registration against the payment giant Alipay. WeChat became the market leader at Sina Weibo’s expense. While Sina Weibo dropped 10 per cent in users and usage frequency, WeChat secured 400 million-plus registrations.
The Year of the Horse has started at full throttle. It is going to be an interesting year to watch. At the end of the day (or year?), the idea remains king. Not the channel, not the technology – whoever has that great idea will win.
Kitty Lun is the chairman and chief executive at Lowe and Partners China
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