China’s currency of Love

By Doris Li

The introduction of western traditions and Hallmark holidays to China is often motivated by commercialism, and Valentine’s Day, or qing ren jie (情人节) is no exception. Consumers and marketers alike absolutely love it. 

But as men and women around Australia breathe a collective sigh of relief that Valentine’s Day is over for another year, February 14 is just one of three ‘Valentine’s Days’ in the Chinese calendar. ‘I Love You’ Day on May 20, traditional Chinese Valentine’s Day Qixi Festival on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, (August 28 in 2017), and Single’s Day on November 11 are all days dedicated to spending to show your love in China. 

While February 14 is relatively new on the marketing calendar, the Chinese are well-versed in what it means. Valentine’s Day in China is just as much about grandiose material gestures of love as it is in the Western world, but like so many things in China, it takes on another dimension with unique Chinese characteristics. 

So how do Chinese couples celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Saying ‘I love you’ with cash

Like the rest of us, the Chinese are partial to bouquets of roses, romantic dinners, and chocolate, but as Chinese New Year demonstrates, at every turn of the lunar calendar, exchanging money is still the greatest gift of love, fortune and luck in China. 

WeChat’s digital hongbao (red envelope) function, allows couples to showcase their love for each other with more than 115 million hongbaos exchanged this year over Valentine’s Day in China.  

We are all familiar with the Chinese culture of numerology and affinity for ‘lucky’ numbers (think 8, 88, 888...) but Valentine’s Day brings a whole new set of numbers. Wo ai ni meaning ‘I love you’ in Chinese is phonetically similar to the number combination 5-2-0 and hence the creation of ‘I Love You’ Day on May 20.  The numbers 1-3-1-4 sounds similar to the Chinese ‘for the rest of my life’, which means that most WeChat hongbaos were in denominations of ¥521 or ¥5.21, ¥52.10, ¥1314, or ¥131.40. Money talks and spells out love, literally. 

This year, WeChat has set a gold standard with a new digital gold packet feature, allowing WeChat users to exchange gold. Partnering with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), WeChat allowed its users to buy and receive gold via a Microgold account  to share with their loved ones, with a ‘love’ limit of no more than 1.314 grams in any gold packet on Valentine’s Day.

Cartier’s We-Boutiques create online to offline (O2O) luxury

Valentine’s Day is a battlefield for luxury brands across the world, but Cartier stood out in the massive Chinese market this year with a Valentine’s Day campaign on its WeChat store, We-Boutique. On 6 February, Cartier announced the release of 150 limited edition pink gold bracelets which were sold exclusively on its We-Boutique to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The first 88 orders were hand delivered to the lucky recipients by a Cartier bellboy. The campaign was considered a success with the 150 bracelets selling out within one week, and images of handsome Cartier bellboys delivering the bracelets flooding Chinese social media.

This wasn’t the first time for luxury brands to take advantage of this sweet spot. During Qixi Festival in 2016, Dior launched 200 limited edition Lady Dior Small China Valentine bag exclusively on its WeChat store. The bags priced at ¥28,000 (approximately AU$5,315) sold out within 24 hours. 

Starbucks launches the social gift card

Starbucks’ incredible success in China is the result of its ability to adapt to the local market. This has been further cemented with the brand being one of the first to tap into WeChat’s social gifting feature.

Launched over Valentine’s Day, Starbucks’ WeChat campaign ‘Say it with Starbucks’ played with the words that sound similar to ‘say it with the heart’ in Chinese. It provided users with the opportunity to share a digital gift card with their partner or friend containing a Starbucks product and personalised message in the form of text, image or video. The recipient is then able to save the gift card in their WeChat and redeem it at any Starbucks store in China.

Gift giving via social media promotions is not a new concept for Starbucks - they have been doing it for years on Twitter and Facebook. The point of difference on WeChat is the ability to integrate WeChat’s online payment feature and leverage the popular tradition of exchanging hongbao in China.

Ironically, China’s flourishing ‘love culture’ is growing on the back of rising divorce rates and increasing skepticism of the institution of marriage among millennials. In another example of money mixing with emotions, some companies like Alibaba’s Alipay are offering young couples ‘love insurance’ where a financial incentive is used to cement commitment. It seems that when it comes to modern day romance, China’s deep cultural roots suggest that sometimes in love, cash still conquers all. 

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