Starbucks has a new promotion in China, where people can use mobile app WeChat to send their friends coffees or gift certificates. The feature, which arrives in time for Valentine's Day, is called "Say it with Starbucks." That's a play on words, since the phrase in Chinese sounds similar to "say it with your heart."
Starbucks has done similar social gifting promotions before with Twitter and Facebook. What makes this rendition different is that WeChat's not just a social platform -- it's already a massive channel for mobile payments in China, and for gifting money.
At Chinese New Year, people in China use the WeChat mobile app to send virtual hongbao -- red envelopes containing cash, often in small sums -- to friends and family. Gifting hongbao is a local tradition, and Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings' WeChat took them into the digital world in 2014 in one of the biggest marketing coups of the last few years in China. It used clever gamification to lure people into trying out the payment system -- and crucially, to either send or collect hongbao from friends, people had to link up their bank accounts to the app.
The game helped transform WeChat into a widespread mobile payment platform and a rival to Alipay, which is affiliated with Alibaba Group. It continued this year, and Tencent says that a whopping 46 billion digital hongbao were sent over six days to mark the holiday. (The phenemenon is undeniably huge, though the numbers released by China's internet giants sometimes strain credulity.)