In 2015, Tencent sponsored the (Lunar) New Year Gala by CCTV, China’s state-owned broadcaster, to promote the WeChat payment. 

The format, which is getting users to send and receive virtual red packets, aligned well with tradition as well as the festive joy people were expecting. 

Tencent already did one round of Wechat red packet promotions the previous lunar new year (214), which prompted 8 million consumers to start using Wechat payment by bundling their bank account (necessary for KYC) after that campaign – 40 million virtual red packets were sent on Wechat during the week long New Year holidays. 

In 2015, the sponsorship at CCTV New Year Gala pushed the user acquisition to spectacular levels – 20 million consumers participated, fighting for the RMB500 billion worth of red packets sent by Tencent partners and advertisers. Adding that to the red packets consumers sent each other, 1.01 billion red packets were sent and received on New Year’s Eve night alone. Over the next few days, as people were still sending red packets, the number of Wechat payment users exceeded 100 million

As a successful massive user acquisition campaign where the cost is largely shouldered by third parties, Wechat’s red packets at New Year’s Gala became legendary. 

Wechat also stress-tested its system to be able to handle billions of transactions – an important step towards forming the Wechat-Alipay duopoly in consumer digital payments

To date, Chinese entrepreneurs and companies expanding into other countries are still looking to replicate that success – without much success though. Neither has anyone tried successfully to replicate Wechat’s or Alipay’s wide coverage outside China. 

We have discussed the challenges and lessons learnt in Seeing the unseen: behind Chinese tech giants’ global venturing

In China itself, Alibaba (Taobao, Alipay), JD, Douyin and Kuaishou took the batons from Tencent and sponsored the subsequent years’ New Year Gala red packet campaigns, with billions of dollars of red packet money. 

Until this year – where no tech company sponsored the New Year Gala red packet campaign. In fact, there was no red packet campaign at this year’s gala. 

At the gala there was a song/dance and a skit on platform workers (ride-hailing, food delivery, ecommerce delivery) which powered the lifestyle of urban Chinese consumers. However, with no sponsorship from Meituan, or Didi, we would only see performers wearing unbranded generic uniforms: 

The company that made a (sponsored) appearance was Indonesia-originated J&T Express, which quickly propelled itself to be amongst the top ecommerce logistics companies in China. (Read more about that in our report: who is J&T). 

That might be less of a surprise, because J&T’s Chinese name – 极兔 – contains the very zodiac of the year: Rabbit (兔). 

But J&T’s presence is more for branding as platforms/sellers, not consumers, choose which logistics provider to work with (also J&T will probably need to go public soon); while previously consumer tech giants used red packet campaigns predominantly for user acquisition. 

So why are the consumer tech giants missing this year? 

Probably a few factors: 

First, most tech majors who could afford or justify the sponsorship of red packet campaigns would have plateaued in their user acquisition – Wechat now has close to 1.3 billion monthly active users (MAUs); Alibaba has more than 900 million; Douyin close to 700 million. It has therefore become unfeasible and impossible to acquire dozens of millions of users more through one campaign. 

Some people are arguing that the engagement of the New Year Gala itself is dwindling, but that is probably relatively a minor point. 

Second, after two years of crackdowns, tech companies have become cautious. While the government has been sending signals that it would support the platform economy moving forwards, tech companies will probably want to remain low profile in order not to jinx it

Third, in line with the cautious global economic outlook and investment environment, tech companies have been doing layoffs to save cost and boost efficiency. Spending hundreds of millions on a very conspicuous marketing campaign probably sends the wrong signal. 

Consumers, however, would miss all the fun (and frustration) fighting for the red packets, which they did over the years. Their confidence about the economy, though, will probably bounce back faster than anyone would have predicted

Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit! 


  1. The audiobook of Seeing the unseen: behind Chinese tech giants’ global venturing has been launched! You can find it on Audible, Audiobooks and Google Play
  2. Momentum Academy is launching a new series of case studies on Meituan’s journey, with the focus on how leaders find clarity in pivotal and challenging times. Download your complimentary copy here

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


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Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda. The two years running Rocket Internet companies has given him a lifetime experience on supersonic implementation, and good camaraderie with entrepreneurs across the developing world. He holds a MBA from INSEAD (GMAT 770) and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately he never wrote a single line of code professionally - but in his first job he was in media, travelling extensively across Asia & Europe, speaking with Ministers & (occasionally) Prime Ministers. Apart from English and his native Mandarin, he is also fluent in French and conversational in Cantonese & Spanish. He tried to learn Latin (for three years) and Sanskrit (for six months) as well. In his (scarce) free time, he reads, travels, hikes and dives. Pyongyang, Tehran & Chisinau are among the interesting cities he has been to.