Top 4 Myths Surrounding WeChat’s New Advertising Platform

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Anyone involved in Chinese digital will have noticed the recent excitement surrounding WeChat’s new advertising platform which went live on Thursday, 22 January. As the programme is still in beta and has been limited to just a few companies, there has been a fair amount of misinformation floating around, not helped of course by the lack of official announcements in English and the amount of second-hand information being spread. Whilst the platform is exciting and has great potential for advertisers, there are a few myths worth dispelling:

Myth 1: WeChat users are fighting to be advertised to.

This myth can largely be attributed to a 28 Jan Financial Times article which, in sensationalist terms normally reserved for articles about ‘crazy Japan’, claims that targeted ads “are an object of desire” in China. Supported by hearsay and WeChat user comments which were in fact written satirically, the theory neither holds water nor gives Chinese consumers the respect they deserve. In fact, according to a 27 Jan report by iiMedia Research, just 5% of WeChat are happy to see advertisements in their newsfeeds with 47% being firmly opposed.

What this means for brands wanting to advertise on WeChat is that they mustn’t take Chinese consumers’ attention for granted or treat them as being any less discerning than their Western counterparts.

Myth 2: WeChat users are outraged at the advertising.

An alternative narrative to the FT myth above is that China is up in arms over the intrusion into their private space. In fact, Chinese consumers are much more reasonable than certain media outlets give them credit for. In the same 27 Jan report cited above, 48% of WeChat users were found to be either indifferent or tolerant of advertisements on their WeChat newsfeeds, thus forming the majority of respondents.

The relative indifference of the WeChat community to the advertisements was no doubt partially thanks to WeChat’s in-feed announcement which was personal in tone and assured readers that they were doing their best to ensure advertisements wouldn’t impair user experience as has been the case on other platforms: “What are they? They’re everywhere. You can’t escape. It’s not that they’re evil. It’s that they don’t understand you. We’re trying to make a difference.”

Social networks across the world have trouble monetising communities without losing them, and no one would be more aware of this than Tencent which has danced around the issue for a good few years. They’ve approached the launch in the best way possible though; humorously, humbly and honestly.

Myth 3: This is WeChat’s first foray into building an advertising platform.

This is actually the second official WeChat advertising platform. The first platform launched to much less fanfare in summer last year and is designed for verified official WeChat accounts to promote their accounts via text or banner on the posts of other accounts who sign up to the programme. The key differences between this in-post advertising and the new newsfeed advertising are:

In-Post Advertising Newsfeed Advertising
Appears on other accounts’ posts. Appears in users’ newsfeeds.
Text or banner. Interaction limited to a green ‘Follow’ button.wechatinpostadvert Appears as a regular post with or without images. As with any regular post, users can ‘like’ and comment on posts. These interactions are then visible by that user’s friends.wechatadscomments
Open to any verified official WeChat account. Currently on limited beta, only available to select companies.

Myth 4: Big data is the key to WeChat advertising platforms.

The final myth is actually likely to stay a myth a little longer as Tencent haven’t released any information about how they target users other than claiming that it relies on big data. What we can say though is that it’s unlikely to rely on big data to the same extent as Facebook for example, because of the relatively limited amount of information WeChat holds about its users. What we do know is that advertisements could be targeted at users based on the following:

  • Gender: Most WeChat users have their gender recorded in their settings.
  • Location: It’s very simple for WeChat to know where users are based, and use that information to target ads. This information can also be used to give WeChat a clue to economic status as a Shanghai-based user is likely to have more purchasing power than one based in rural Guizhou, for example.
  • Device: Similar to location, this is easy for WeChat to know, and this can also give clues to economic status and demographic information. iPhone 6 users are likely to be wealthier than Oppo phone users, for example.
  • Hobbies and interests: This would require much more work for WeChat to surmise, but could be based on which accounts a user follows, which keywords they often use in their private and public communications, and who they’re friends with.
  • Friend networks: Aside from potentially being used to get an idea of a user’s hobbies, interests and demographic information, advertisements are almost certainly targeted at users whose friends have already ‘liked’ or commented on that advertisement.

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