BMW Canada uses Chinese social app WeChat to reach ‘critically important’ segment

BMW Canada has joined a growing number of western advertisers on the Chinese “super app” WeChat, reflecting ongoing efforts by its owner Tencent Holdings to woo international advertisers.

The luxury automaker will have what is being described as an “evergreen presence” on WeChat, via a dedicated account that will be updated with content throughout the year. The world’s fifth most-used app, WeChat counts approximately 750,000 Canadians—63% of them male—among its 1.1 billion monthly active users.

Developed by Toronto agency Balmoral Multicultural Marketing, BMW’s new WeChat account features weekly newsletter content, complemented by “moments” ads, partnerships with prominent Chinese opinion leaders, and cross-channel targeting leveraging Facebook.

The content will highlight everything from monthly sales to new product launches and BMW technology. There will also be content specifically aimed at Chinese newcomers to Canada, such as the importance of snow tires, and how BMW’s xDrive technology can help in winter driving.

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Balmoral worked with BMW’s social agency North Strategic on the content, which is a mixture of original content and the automaker’s library assets.

The campaign’s primary target is Chinese Canadians 25-55, says Johnson Chang, vice-president, channel lead and digital at Balmoral. The program, which will run through the year, is intended as both a sales and brand-building effort.

Chinese Canadians remain steadfastly loyal to their native media, says Chang, making WeChat a natural platform for reaching what Balmoral describes as a “critically important” market.

“I’ve been here 25 years and I still prefer Chinese media,” he says. “It’s just easier for us. [BMW is] communicating with people on a platform they’re familiar with, using the language they’re most comfortable with, rather than just a straight translation from its English communications.”

Launched in 2011 as Weixin (Mandarin for “micro-message”), WeChat has been described as a “central cog” of Chinese digital life. In addition to traditional social media capabilities, it also boasts an array of other functions, including digital payments, the ability to order and pay for food in restaurants or even book hospital visits.

“It’s a whole ecosystem within the app, although the first thing a lot of mainstream advertisers see is the social media,” says Chang.

Tencent announced a new advertising platform specifically designed to attract Western brands and agencies in 2017, with Zillow and Rebecca Minkoff among its charter advertisers. WeChat’s advertising revenues grew a reported 43% in Q3 2018 according to the website, accounting for an estimated 20% of Tencent’s $11.7 billion in revenue.

The app has made inroads among Canadian advertisers in recent years, including regional tourism bodies and brands such as jewelry retailer Birks, which earlier this year launched a WeChat mini-program that enables consumers to browse, shop and pay for items within the app.

“We strive to partner with platforms that allow our customers an easy and efficient way of online shopping allowing for a more dynamic and interactive experience,” said Jean-Christophe Bédos, president and CEO of Birks Group, in a statement.

BMW’s initial testing on WeChat generated “exceptionally high” engagement rates and social sharing, said Balmoral.

Chris Powell