On Tuesday afternoon around 4 p.m, blurry photos started appearing in WeChat “Moments,” or the newsfeed feature of the social media platform. Clicking on a blurry photo revealed a small piece of the original photograph and gave users an ultimatum: send the photo owner a “red envelope” (红包) filled with a random amount of money using WeChat’s online payment system and see the original photo, or refuse and the photo remains blurry.

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Screenshots from Tuesday’s “red envelope” photo campaign. To see the original photograph, users must send a random amount of money to the photo owner in a “red envelope.”

The campaign was shut down about four hours later. According to Tencent’s tech news platform, yesterday’s photo campaign was just a test.

“Because our beta test met our expectations, we shut down the campaign. If you’re interested in playing the red envelope photo campaign again, we’ll have another one on Chinese New Year’s Eve,” stated Tencent, the tech giant that owns WeChat.

Digital “red envelopes”, sometimes known as “lucky money,” are a feature that allows users to send and receive money through online payment systems including WeChat and Alipay, Alibaba’s equivalent. Traditionally, red envelopes are used in China to send money as a gift, especially around Chinese New Year.

The use of “red envelopes” around Chinese New Year in marketing campaigns is not new. In 2015, Tencent launched a “red envelope” campaign during the Spring Festival Gala, a popular show broadcasted every year by CCTV (China Central Television) on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Lucky users who used WeChat’s Shake feature at certain moments during the show received “red envelopes” with random amounts of money or e-coupons. That same year, Alipay gave away 600 million RMB (around $91 million USD) worth of “lucky money” in cash and  e-coupons to its users.

The “red envelope” has been a point of contention between the two tech giants, who have both tried to block their users from using their competitors’ payment system. “Red envelope” marketing campaigns like the one launched by Tencent yesterday are away to funnel more users into their respective payment systems, as well as create a buzz.

“This campaign looks a little like the Japanese ‘lucky bag’. You pay money for something you don’t know,” says Alexis Bonhomme, referring to fukubukuro, a Japanese New Year custom. Mr. Bonhomme, who used to work for Groupon Tencent China, is a general manager at Curiosity China, a digital and tech company focusing on social CRM for international brands and agencies.

“You have 650 million active users on WeChat. Imagine that 80% of them use Wechat payment,” says Mr. Bonhomme. “It’s a key asset for Tencent, especially when it goes to fight Alipay.”

According to Tencent’s tech news site, the “red envelope” photo campaign launching on Chinese New Year’s Eve will be even more fun and interactive. The tech giant recommends that users upgrade to the latest version of WeChat so that they didn’t “miss out on several hundred million RMB.”

As Chinese New Year approaches, it will be interesting to see how other tech giants like Alibaba respond and launch their own campaigns. This year’s Chinese New Year “red envelope” wars have officially begun.

Image credit: WeChat, Shutterstock