3 Things to Know About Advertising on WeChat
Tencent’s mobile messaging app WeChat has amassed a staggering user base with more than one billion monthly active users in Q3 of 2018. In the app’s early stages, it appeared to be a Chinese replica of Facebook, but in its current state, WeChat transformed from a social messaging app to more of an ‘everything’ app for its primary user base in China.
The app has changed the landscape of how transactions take place in the country as cash and card payments have become obsolete with WeChat Pay becoming the new norm. Whether users want to buy a new pair of jeans, comment on their best friend’s new dog picture, or transfer money between bank accounts; they can do it all without leaving the app.
With such a diverse array of services, WeChat accounts for about 30% of all the time spent by Chinese citizens on mobile.
It should come as no surprise that an app with the ability to conjoin e-commerce, banking, and social media has captured the attention of advertisers. Major retail brands like Levi’s, Chanel, and Coach were all reported to have a presence on the app in 2017. But advertising on WeChat comes with a few unique caveats, and not all brands are permitted.
In Sheng Li’s guide to WeChat Advertising, it is noted that there are restrictions for almost every industry. Retail brands that fall within the clothing and accessories industry are only allowed if they have a “certain reputation.” Other sectors like electronics do not need to meet the same criteria.
Another critical factor is making sure your brand is being represented in a way that takes the demographics WeChat’s primary user base into account. Advertisers should be cautious about the audience’s cultural values. Messaging and creative should be carefully tailored to this niche audience.
So what does advertising on WeChat look like? For the most part, ads on WeChat are similar to those seen across most social platforms. Brands can create Official Accounts that users can choose to subscribe to. Creating an Official Account also allows brands to customize their account and integrate an organic content strategy for subscribers.
Brands can also raise awareness by running paid campaigns focused on driving new users to subscribe to their official account.
Other paid popular paid tactics include display banner ads and WeChat Moments. Moments are essentially WeChat’s version of Facebook ads. These populate in a user’s social feed so that they appear native and unintrusive. Advertisers can choose to either place up to six static photos or up to 6-15 second videos.
Brands can also utilize Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) which are the Chinese version of social influencers to help spread their message. Michael Kors partnered with Chinese actress Yang Mi who is now a brand ambassador for the luxury retailer. Mi has been called the “queen of driving sales” and recently collaborated with the brand to drive traffic to their WeChat mini shop with the release of a limited-edition purse.
The app yields an inventory of display banner ads for advertisers to blend into their campaigns. There are two types of banners ads:
Standard Banner Ads which typically populate at the bottom of articles. These are relatively inexpensive and simplistic.
KOL Banner Ads are not widely available. Companies must be registered in China with proper licensing to advertise in their industry to qualify.
It is also worth noting that not all of WeChat’s users are located in China. In 2014, it was estimated that there were 100 million users located outside of China. For comparison, this would mean that out of the 500 million monthly active users reported in Q4 of the same year; 20% of them were not Chinese residents. This presents a unique opportunity for brands and advertisers to use WeChat as a vehicle to target a niche audience on an international scale with specific messaging.
The Chinese New Year, for example, is an event celebrated by people all around the world. A retailer running a massive promotion in celebration of The Chinese New Year can expand their reach beyond China and target users in Paris or San Francisco that are also celebrating. By aligning campaigns with events like this and using proper messaging, brands can resonate with users across the world.
In conclusion, WeChat can be a powerful tool for brands that have a presence in China, and advertising on the app can help brands get in front of a large but niche audience of over one billion people. On the surface, it appears that advertisers can integrate similar strategies used on other social platforms, but the restrictions imposed on industries and demographics of WeChat’s primary users require brands to be more strategic in how they approach this app.
The best way for America-based brands to get started is by using a third-party service that’s familiar with the lay of the land in APAC, as it is rather difficult to do alone, especially if you are not as familiar with Chinese consumer behavior or shopping and mobile preferences.
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