Rules of the Game: Here’s Why Some WeChat Interactive and Gamification Campaigns Might Soon Disappear

Experienced WeChat marketers are all-too-familiar with the more typical campaigns put out by luxury brands: many of them start with a blog post detailing a new product or collection, but to get followers really hooked, they ask them to play a game inside an interactive HTML5 mini-website. In some cases, participants are incentivized to share their results on their WeChat Moments feed with their friends, opening up the opportunity for a brand to attract more followers. What’s possibly especially appealing to these brands and marketers is that this process doesn’t require buying an ad.

But if Tencent had its way, that would likely all change. In the past year, WeChat has been making moves to put a stop to brands incentivizing followers to share campaigns, and instead, giving them a reason to try out Moments ads.

In April, Tencent released a list of restrictions that prohibited brands from asking followers to “share” their campaigns, especially when it comes to any form of rewarding them for doing so, such as with “lucky money,” WeChat’s money-sharing feature, or a store discount. According to co-founder of WeChat marketing agency Walk the Chat, Thomas Graziani, the rules weren’t exactly new, but Tencent’s announcement essentially served as a reminder to brands and marketers to not break them, lest they risk getting their account deleted.

Of course, brands still push their limits, and Tencent likely knows this. They released this chart before Chinese New Year in 2015 to illustrate what consequences brands could expect if they gave followers “lucky money” in exchange for sharing a campaign depending on the scale of the brand’s offense:

A chart released in 2015 by Tencent illustrating what can happen if brands incentivize followers with money to share a campaign during Chinese New Year. (Courtesy of Walk the Chat)

A chart released in 2015 by Tencent illustrating what can happen if brands incentivize followers with money to share a campaign during Chinese New Year. (Courtesy of Walk the Chat)

But anyone who pays attention to the accounts of luxury brands in China knows that many brands are still—almost two years since this chart was published—looking the other way when it comes to Tencent’s rules.

“There’s not many workarounds, other than to flout the rules,” Jeremy Webb, vice president and head of Social at Ogilvy Asia Pacific, said in Jing Daily’s WeChat Report 2016. “The consequences of doing so, for first offenders, would probably just be a slap on the wrists—a warning. For repeat offenders, your account could get deleted. This is probably why you see quite a few campaigns like this, despite the rules. Most brands are happy to take the risk.”

So what are brands supposed to do if they can’t incentivize followers to share their posts? Tencent has not been so subtle about the fact that it wants its users to buy ads. For starters, the company has made ad costs much cheaper than it used to be, from 200,000 RMB, or about US$30,000, to 50,000 RMB. In a Moments ad, brands can post text and up to six photos or a video and target their ads to specific users, with filters like gender, age, and location. When people click on the ad, WeChat’s algorithm will also help target it to that person’s friends who are also likely to click on it.

Currently, Moments advertising is particularly popular with beauty brands like Dior and Lancôme, but as brands look for ways to diversify their marketing strategies, it’s likely more will jump on what Walk the Chat is calling a “booming trend.”

To learn more about Moments advertising, WeChat’s latest restrictions, and how brands can use WeChat marketing to optimize their sales in China, click here to download our new report.

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