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China’s e-commerce giants digitise Spring Festival traditions to boost user engagement

2019-04-17 6 minute read UK


  • Tradition as a bridge to cross-generational marketing
  • O2O marketing in a new era of interactive campaigns
  • Chinese New Year traditions digitally transformed

Digital campaigns are modernising traditional celebrations as e-commerce businesses are taking a rare chance to appeal to Chinese consumers at large.

Chinese e-commerce companies are using digital technology to modernise traditional festivals. This year’s Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) celebrations were a good example of how the e-commerce marketing takes advantage of a rare chance to appeal to Chinese consumers at large with an interactive campaign.

China’s New Year festival includes the tradition of enticing five main blessings (福; fú; fu) into the home for the next year. These are health, virtue, wealth, a long life, and harmony.

In modern times, e-commerce companies have channelled this tradition into their marketing in order to change the way customers interact with their services.

As part of a cultural celebration, blessings, represented by characters, are used in decorations all around China’s public spaces during the Spring Festival.

With a mix of digital technology, the popularity of mobile payment and a little friendly competition, characters can now be digitally collected by scanning them with a mobile phone.

Digitising traditions

A person using a smartphone to scan a Chinese ’Fu’ (blessing) decoration — still from a QQ video

During China’s Spring Festival, nicknamed Golden Week, e-commerce giants and brands of all sizes are competing for consumer attention.

This year marks the fourth year of Alibaba’s Blessings Collection campaign: a modern O2O marketing strategy merging online rewards with offline interaction.

The aim is to scan the five Fu characters, which then turn into electronic blessing cards (福卡; fúkǎ; fuka) saved on the Alipay app, in exchange for prizes.

Those who complete their collection receive a red packet (红包; hóngbāo; hongbao), courtesy of Alipay, on New Year’s Eve. Each red packet contains a share from a pool of ¥500 million yuan (£56 million) worth of cash and coupons.

According to Ant Financial, Alibaba’s financial branch, more than 450 million people took part in the games between January 25 and New Year’s Eve (4 February) this year: a 40% increase compared to 2018.

Users passionately scanned characters they discovered, shared their progress on social media and exchanged characters with friends and family. It created an active, urgent need to have and use the Alipay app and resulted in seamless user engagement upsurge.

Using tradition, Alibaba leveraged the excitement of the campaign to serve as an organic, far-reaching, person-to-person promotion of Alipay.

Bringing everyone into the fold

Spring Festival Blessings are a cultural, cross-generation tradition. Brands with narrow target demographics can adapt the tradition to appeal to their Chinese consumers.

Tik Tok, the short-video platform aimed at Under-35 Millennials and Generation Z, launched a musical note collection campaign as its foray into the ’red packet war’ between China’s key e-commerce giants.

Directly through the app, users collected seven characters or notes through mutual activities with fellow users. They could get notes through a friend’s invitation or completing “special tasks” assigned by the app. As prizes, Tik Tok users also gained red packets.

In Xiamen, creative company Seeeklab released a video campaign focused on bridging modern Chinese communication with traditional customs.

An older person looking at a photograph of a young woman holding up her phone with the ’Fu’ character on its screen — still from a QQ video by Qian Chen, Seeeklab

Qian Chen, an interactive designer at Seeeklab, is at the heart of this campaign. It chronicles her team’s journey to creating an electronic ’mailbox’ that allowed physical blessings – that her grandmother cut out of newspapers and magazines – to be sent as digital messages.

The campaign taps into popular Spring Festival motifs of family and communication. It also highlights that, with a little technological push, brands, platforms and service providers can reach out to an often-forgotten demographic: the rural and older Chinese population.

The bottom line

Traditional customs in Spring Festival are changing with the development of the mobile internet. Digital red packets are playing an increasingly important role in Chinese New Year celebrations and social relations.

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Article by Ella — LetsDoChina.org Contributor

Currently studying at the University of Nottingham (China, Ningbo campus). Interested in marketing, enjoys writing short pieces about Chinese culture, traveling experience, corporate culture and international business. Enjoys travelling and reading books in her spare time.