An ad for WeChat in South Africa depicts Marc Zuckerberg consulting a therapist about his friends unfriending him. The therapist prescription to solve his problem is of course none other than… WeChat
In a clever follow-up to this ad, the therapist is faced with lawyers “sent by Mark” and suggests he should use WeChat stickers to “express his emotions” and contained anger which is “merely a cry for help”.
The video leaves us wondering if it reflects a real situation where Facebook might have sued Tencent for the previous ad.
The ads also make very clear the intention of Tencent to expend the influence of WeChat outside China and to compete with Facebook as a leading social network worldwide. The current strategy from Tencent is to first focus on countries in Asia or Africa which are more likely to adopt Chinese products.
Eastern wind of change
Chinese companies have often been accused of merely copying Western products and adapt them to the Chinese market (this trend is often humorously abbreviated into “C2C business models” – Copy to China business models). However, Tencent is now taking a lead into the social space which includes many features that Facebook is now copying.
Lately, Facebook introduced the “stickers” function to the wall, with a stickers shop. The shop looks painfully similar to the one from WeChat (actually, Facebook went as far as displaying Tuzki, the iconic emoji from WeChat which was first to be used on the platform).
Of course this innovation is relevant to user experience more than it is to core technology. But the same could be said about Facebook: the network relies on its strong monopole of user information rather than on high-end proprietary technology. In a space where innovation can be social as well as technological, WeChat is now taking the upper hand.
The Whastapp Gambit
WeChat had the first move, it is now Facebook turn to play. The acquisition of Whatsapp was just finalised and the network as a strong move to play: they have to leverage the 19 billions acquisition in order to make something more of Whatsapp than a simple messaging app.
This might happen but we can see little evolution so far. Even worse, a recent report claims that Facebook has no near-term plans for WhatsApp. It is difficult in this context to see a fast evolution for the network, especially as US regulators will make it difficult for Facebook to take the integrated approach that WeChat opted for, integrating all of its services into one platform.
It is still unclear to which extent WeChat will manage to compete against Facebook on it own territory. Tencent is opening an office in the U.S, and Facebook is opening one in China. But these offices are today more sales offices than focused on development. It will take a few years to observe whether one of the two companies manages to make a breach into the other’s native market.
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