Satrajit Sen

The battle of the mobile chat apps

The TVCs of WeChat app promote the 'Hold to Talk' feature, which allows the user to send voice messages.

The mobile messaging app market is gradually gaining momentum in India. With the proliferation of smartphones in the country, this particular space has become quite crowded with apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber, Kik, Line, Facebook Messenger and Bharti Softbank's Hike, among others. Mobile chat services, unlike desktop chat services like GTalk and Yahoo Messenger, link up directly to the user's mobile phone contacts, and automatically add any contact with a similar service on their device.

The battle of the mobile chat apps
WeChat, a mobile phone text and voice messaging communication service developed by Tencent of China, has launched a television campaign in India featuring popular Bollywood stars Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan. Launched in July 2012 in India, the service has crossed 300 million users globally on January 15, 2012. Out of this, 50 million users are outside China.

Tencent Holdings Limited is a Chinese investment holding company whose subsidiaries provide internet and mobile phone value-added services and operate online advertising services in China. WeChat was initially launched as Weixin in China in January, 2011 and re-branded to its current avatar in April, 2012.

The battle of the mobile chat apps
The battle of the mobile chat apps

Designed by O&M, the first TVC of the campaign went on-air on May 10, while the second ad was released on May 17. Both the TVCs seem to promote the 'Hold to Talk' feature of the app, which allows the user to send voice messages to another WeChat user. Understandably, the company is promoting this feature because WhatsApp, its biggest competitor in India, doesn’t have the feature.

Interestingly, the Hold to Talk feature demolishes the language barrier on these chat based mobile apps in India. For using the other chat services, one has to know English as they only support text-based messages. Even WhatsApp doesn’t support any Indic language.

The first TVC features Chopra boarding a bus and connecting to Dhawan through the voice messaging service of the app. The duo meet again on a day decided through a voice chat through WeChat. The TVC ends with the message of downloading and enjoying the app for free on smartphones, with the duo reiterating the tagline, 'We Love WeChat'.

The second TVC highlights the Group Voice Chat feature of the app, where a late-working Chopra is entertained by a group of her friends from different places. The TVC ends with a message asking users to enjoy group video and voice chats on WeChat.

It is most unusual for a mobile app to take to TV advertising. Speaking to afaqs! about the idea and objective behind the campaign, Rahul Razdan, head of Tencent India says that the WeChat TVCs aim to depict the features and the benefits of the application through an interesting story. "Keeping in line with this philosophy, Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan have been chosen as brand ambassadors to represent WeChat in India. Advertising on TV helps us to educate users about WeChat’s product benefits, communicate the core value of WeChat and how it enriches mobile social communication between friends and family," Razdan adds.

Razdan further adds that the campaign has helped them reach a larger smartphone user base in India and user adoption of WeChat has helped them maintain the No. 1 spot on all app stores across India. With the TVCs, WeChat is currently the most downloaded application; it is also the No. 1 app on iOS App Store and the No.1 app on Google Play in the Indian market.

The product targets anyone who has a smartphone and is looking for an efficient, differentiated and richer social communication.

Marketing Moves

This is the first time that a mobile chat application is advertising on TV in India. None of WeChat's competitors in India have done that so far. In January, UK-based Shazam, a mobile phone-based music identification service, was seen on an Airtel TVC that promoted the carrier's 'SmartBytes' service for data plan subscribers.

The battle of the mobile chat apps
Speaking about the specific marketing challenges the company intends to address through the TVC, Razdan informs that the challenge is to demonstrate each of WeChat's benefits for users in the most simplistic and appealing way. "Through this campaign, we have been able to clearly communicate with our users explaining the core value of WeChat," he adds.

This is not the first time that the company has tied up with Bollywood stars. Before the current television campaigns, the company had partnered with Bollywood movies (Matru Ke Bijli Ka Mandola, Kai Po Che and Himmatwala) to host their stars' official accounts on the platform. The company had also launched short video ads featuring the stars and their official accounts.

Meanwhile, besides above the line marketing, Tencent is also looking at marketing WeChat through tie-ups. Tencent launched the app in India through Ibibo (MIH India) and Ibibo will help distribute and market the app in the country. Tencent has a 20 per cent stake in Ibibo (MIH India).

WeChat is also in talks with various handset manufacturers and telecom operators for tie-ups. Rival WhatsApp has an exclusive tie-up with Reliance Communications, for a plan which offers unlimited usage of WhatsApp across the country for Rs 16 per month.

Money Matters

Among all the chat apps available in India, WhatsApp seems to be particularly popular in the country. Though the company doesn’t divulge country specific numbers, Jan Koum, CEO, WhatsApp once announced that WhatsApp has more than 200 million monthly active users.

However, WhatsApp has no advertising and has famously been quoted that it doesn’t want advertising revenues. Rather, the app is earning revenue through a one-off fee of $0.99 on iOS and $0.99 a year on other platforms, with the first year free.

WeChat is in the early stage in India and doesn’t have a specific monetisation plan as of now. However, the company has also recently started offering official accounts for brands, celebrities and merchants which helps them to interact with their customers through a personalised two-way channel on WeChat. This can be a potential revenue generator for the app as the feature will allow WeChat users to follow the official accounts to receive their messages. WeChat can charge the brand, celebrity or the merchant for using the platform to connect with users.

"We have seen great opportunity in mobile internet where a mobile application could reach out to a larger and international user base. WeChat currently is focused on driving user engagement on the platform. There are potential revenue models that we would unveil at an appropriate time. WeChat is creating a unique ecosystem where users connect socially with their friends as well as engage with celebrities, brands, and businesses making it an all-in-one app, to serve the different needs of our users," adds Razdan.