For Chinese New Year, 2021, China’s major online platforms staged a red envelope battle

Pinduoduo was an early casualty. It was replaced at a late stage by Douyin as the CCTV Spring Festival Gala sponsor due to serious concerns about Pinduoduo’s harsh working hours. 

Douyin’s slogan was that it would be sharing 2 billion yuan in red envelopes. Then Kuaishou upped the ante to 2.1 billion. Alipay innovated by adding new elements to its annual campaign with a card collection format. WeChat refreshed its red envelope covers and RED sent out 3 billion RMB with a blind box element that attracted young users.

History repeats itself, with a twist 

During the 2014 Spring Festival, WeChat Pay was the new kid on the block for online payments. It expertly leveraged new year red envelopes to hugely boost the payment app’s usage. Since then, they have been the big two competing in the online payments game. 

This year, the launch of Douyin’s payment function, along with its primary role during the gala, means that Douyin Pay, and its parent company Bytedance, may now be a viable third competitor in the online payment space.  

Bytedance’s and Douyin’s payment ambitions weren’t a secret. In 2020, the app established an e-commerce department and in January, 2021, along with news of its Spring Festival Gala role, Douyin Pay was officially launched. 

Bytedance and Douyin’s entry into the “social + payment + e-commerce” space is now a reality,

but it remains to be seen whether they can make a dent in the sector given strong user dependence on Alipay and WeChat Pay. 

Douyin’s 2 billion RMB Chinese New Year slogan

On January 26th, Douyin announced that it had exclusive red envelope interaction rights for the 2020 Spring Festival Gala. The gala averages 1 billion views every year and these rights give platforms access to a huge traffic pool. WeChat, Baidu and Kuaishou all spent huge amounts of money vying for the role. 

Douyin promoted its sponsorship by promising 2 billion RMB worth of red packets. On New Year’s Eve, during the gala’s live broadcast all over China, the hosts announce 5 rounds of red packet collection. Once the hosts announce this, people have about 10 minutes to go on their phones and use Douyin’s app and an online game to collect virtual lucky red envelopes. The money from them goes into the user’s Douyin wallet. From there, they can transfer it to their bank account or use it to buy things in Douyin stores. More envelopes are also given out over the Golden Week.

In addition, Douyin gave out movie-related incentives worth 400 million yuan to encourage friends and family to watch films together during Chinese New Year. Users could unlock free movie tickets, vouchers and cash subsidies by inviting friends to team up. This, no doubt, contributed to China’s astounding CNY box office receipts.

Kuaishou sends 2.1 billion red packets on Chinese New Year

Last year, grassroots platform Kuaishou got the exclusive gala rights. It used to be considered the underdog as it mainly served users in lower tier cities but it’s shedding that image as it expands beyond this market. On top of that, in early February, the very successful  Kuaishou IPO in Hong Kong boosted the platform’s profile regionally and internationally. 

In 2020, it’s red packet offerings focussed on the regional cultures of the country. This year, Kuaishou’s game revolved around rolling a dice to move around 7 levels of maps to get various red envelope rewards like cash bonuses, coupons, fortune cards, virtual coins, virtual props and so on. It was very popular.

The sixth year of collecting luck from Alipay

Alipay has an annual “Five Fortune Card Collection” campaign, known as Wufu (Five Lucks) that has become a modern tradition. Alipay users get a virtual fortune card when they use the app’s augmented reality (AR) to scan anything that looks like the Chinese character fu (福), which is commonly seen on Chinese New Year decorations. Users who collect a full set of five cards can win money in virtual red packets that are opened on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

This year Alipay added a new twist to the gameplay that favored the older generation – users could use their fingers to write the Chinese character for “fu” and get a fortune card twice a day.

Each year, there’s a lucky character in a special font dedicated to one person, cause or group. This year, it was created by and dedicated to healthcare workers who have done so much for the country in the past year.

WeChat red envelope cover customization triggers a wave of Chinese New Year brand marketing

WeChat is known for really kicking off the virtual aspect of the red envelope tradition and making it mainstream. People across the country sent and received more than 823 million virtual red envelopes through WeChat this year.

In 2019, they had emoji red envelopes. In 2020, their red envelope covers could show pictures and videos. This year, WeChat’s strategy was to enable people to design their own red envelope covers or choose from numerous brand designs. People eager to have their envelopes stand out from the group by being the most beautiful or unusual one loved this option and brands offered plenty of well-designed alternatives.

RED users divide 300 million RMB

Xiaohongshu built their red envelope format on a 2 stage blind box concept.

The online game featured a fun fair style machine with 6 tiny dolls inside it as its interface. During the first stage, after hitting the button, they would receive one of 6 virtual dolls in the game’s blind box. After collecting all 6 dolls, they could proceed to the next round which had 4 dolls. After collecting all 4 of these, they could then collect prizes or one of 100 million red envelopes

The blind box element appealed to Red’s primary user base as blind boxes have been a big hit with trendy young people this year.

For your brand

  • Let your customers and fans customize your red packets
  • Give them stylish and unusual branded covers
  • Gamify your new year’s offerings and give customers and brand fans discounts, prizes and surprises in return for playing along
  • Douyin is now in the online payment game. Find ways to use of their new payment functions 


While concepts of collecting played a big role in the red envelope strategies of several big players this year, WeChat brought in customization. However, the boldest steps this year were taken by Douyin and Bytedance, the latest entrants in the online payments game who started things off with a bang. It remains to be seen if they can expand their payment options offline and if so, how much market share they can steal from Alipay and WeChat Pay.

But the biggest winners, after a very challenging year, were Chinese people all over the country who got lots of discounts, prizes, gifts, movie tickets and lucky money. 

If you’re looking for a social media agency in Hong Kong to help with your marketing strategy for China’s next big holiday, contact Alarice International for tailor-made marketing research and strategies.

To find out more about China’s top social media platforms, check our guides.

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