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WeChat disperses mobile money to Times Square revelers via Bluetooth

WeChat is bringing the Chinese custom of Lucky Money to New York pedestrians, enabling Times Square passersby to shake their smartphones in front of the billboards and have digital money placed in the messaging application’s mobile wallet.

In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year, the messaging service has sponsored billboards overlooking Times Square to distribute Lucky Money, a traditional Chinese custom, to pedestrians who have enabled Bluetooth – as well as the WeChat “shake” function – on their smartphones. The digital funds will go straight to consumers’ accounts in the WeChat wallet, allowing them to spend the money via WeChat’s payment service or withdraw it for personal use.

“For as long as I have been in the mobile marketing world, Time Square has been its mobile circus ring,” said Gary Schwartz, president and CEO of Impact Mobile, New York. “From asking a VW car questions via SMS to Forever 21 and the Disney store competing for augmented reality crowd engagement off their billboards.”

Getting lucky on mobile
Ahead of the Chinese lunar New Year’s commencement on February 8, WeChat, the most popular messaging app in China, opted to secure massive billboards in New York’s Times Square that invite passersby to earn Lucky Money.

Lucky Money is a traditional Chinese custom that requires individuals to give friends and family a red packet containing a monetary gift during special occasions.

Consumers may spot a red envelope icon on some of the billboards in the heart of New York’s Theater District. At certain times of the day, pedestrians can earn Lucky Money by shaking their smartphones in front of the screens and having the funds get directly deposited into the app’s mobile wallet.

However, they must have enabled Bluetooth settings and turned on the WeChat “shake” function. After the personal device is shaken, the virtual money will flow into users’ digital accounts.

The Lucky Money can either be spent via WeChat Payment, a digital payment service, or withdrawn for other use.

Expanding mobile payments
WeChat initially introduced the Lucky Money campaign during 2014’s Chinese New Year. However, the app’s Chinese consumers have taken to sending each other Lucky Money to commemorate a slew of other holidays, such as Valentine’s Day.

Sixteen million red envelopes containing Lucky Money were sent and accepted on Chinese New Year’s Eve in 2014, dwarfed by the one billion exchanged the following year.

WeChat has been attempting to solidify its status as a leader in the mobile payments sector, which has helped set it apart from other messaging services.

Over the summer, Chinese-American supermarket chain 99 Ranch Market leveraged a beacon-powered mobile game that shoppers could play via WeChat for a chance to win in-store prizes, proving that grocery stores are an ideal location for wide-scale beacon deployments (see story).

Meanwhile, Western Union is bringing global money transfers to the forefront by enabling WeChat app users in the United States to distribute funds to 200 countries and territories via the messaging service (see story).

Thousands of stores in several Southeast Asian countries, including Taiwan, Thailand and Japan, have rolled out promotional programs in which shoppers may shake their smartphones and earn Lucky Money after completing a transaction through WeChat.

The campaign’s success likely stems from the integral cultural aspect, which proves the company is in touch with its core customer base.

“Of all the hot or not ideas, I think this campaign is perfect for the brand,” Mr. Schwartz said. “It has an authentic cultural spin and drives loyalty for existing users and adoption for those who want a chance at ‘Lucky Money.’”