Updated: Jan 31, 2022
The Huat Pals frenzy has been completely unprecedented – we’ve seen countless memes, desperate pleas from friends over our Instagram stories, and even listings on Carousell. If you and your friends have been on the hunt for Google Pay’s BaoBao (2022's BB Loh), you’ve all been played. There’s only one winner from the craze, and that’s Google Pay. They have single-handedly pulled off one of the most extensive user acquisition campaigns our country has ever seen. So, how did we all end up on this wild goose chase for BaoBao?
In this article, find out how Google designed the User Experience for Huat Pals for the sole purpose of gaining virality.
“Wa, where can I get A FREAKING BaoBao (2022's BB Loh) ?”
The frustration is real. BB Loh has been one of the trending topics on social media in February 2021. Who was this elusive BB Loh, and why is everyone looking for him/her?
Come 2022, we're out with the old and in with the new. The allure of BBLoh is replaced by a new star in town - BaoBao.
I remember back when Google Pay (G Pay) started taking off in Singapore in 2021, Google was extremely generous with its monetary incentives through different cashback schemes to acquire more users. We saw more excitement this Chinese New Year as Google saw a good opportunity to shower us with even more wealth (but really, there’s no such thing as a free lunch – we’ll get to that below).
The sight of this still brings me pain a year later
BB Loh... it's not you, it's me (LOOKING FOR BAOBAO NOW!)
Introducing ‘Huat Pals’ – a social game built into G Pay where you can win virtual angpows ranging from S$8.88 to S$88.88. New and existing G Pay users can play 'Huat Pals' with friends and family for a limited time between 4 to 26 February 2021. The goal of the game was simple: collect all five characters called Huat Pals (Lenny, RaRa, Ah Hua, Neo and BB Loh), and you'll earn a guaranteed angpao worth anywhere between S$8.88 to S$88.88.
And that was basically how the inhabitants on the Little Red Dot had been on a wild goose chase to find Huat Pals. From a UX standpoint, this examination of G Pay’s Huat Pals draws on some fascinating insights on human behaviour and smart marketing tactics.
In 2022, we see 5 new characters: Tiggy, Mala, Reddy (really just Lenny 2.0), Ah Lai (really just Ah Hua 2.0) and BaoBao. We're graced by the OG of course, BBLoh.
How did Huat Pals become such a huge trend in that short span of time? Why is it important for Google to be so aggressive in its user acquisition?
Let’s do a deep dive into Google’s marketing campaign with Huat Pals and how it was designed to be the talk of the town.
Case Study: #StampwaliDiwali – G Pay’s successful venture in India
A familiar sight for Huat Pal fanatics
Google first made its foray into digital payments in 2015 as Android Pay. One of the most successful case studies for Google Pay was its widespread adoption in India. Google Tez ("Tez" is the Hindi word for "Fast”) was officially launched in India in September 2017. Within 37 days of launch, the app had over 8.5 million installations. A large part of G Pay’s success in India can be attributed to Google’s extensive efforts of working together with key local ecosystem players and focusing primarily on small businesses. In 2017, these small businesses formed the bulk of G Pay’s immediate customers as existing payment solutions needed users to go through the trouble of verifying – something which G Pay bypassed. The product was also immediately interoperable with other applications, making it a seamless integration into the ecosystem.
During Deepavali in 2019, G Pay India launched a campaign that quickly gained traction across the nation. The gameplay works like this: Upon collection of all 5 Diwali-themed stamps, users win a guaranteed 251 Indian rupees (About S$4.50) and stand a chance to win 1 lakh Indian rupee (About S$1815). Users stand a chance to win a stamp by transacting on the platform. With such a large pot of money for grabs, the game naturally generated a lot of word of mouth and sent their users scrambling high and low to collect stamps, especially for the rare Rangoli and Flower stamps. This gave users a chance to rally together with peers and family who were on the hunt for stamps that were more scarce.
Does that ring a bell?
The design and success of #StampwaliDiwali seemed to have inspired our G Pay Singapore’s Huat Pals in Singapore. What Google has demonstrated beyond its mammoth financial reserves to undertake such projects, is its creativity to understand and maneuver nuances in cultural differences. Even though Google was a company based in the US, they managed to localise the campaigns successfully.
In India, the campaign was launched during India’s Festival of Lights, while in Singapore, it was launched during Chinese New Year.
G Pay India used popular Diwali motifs as the main visuals for the stamps, while G Pay Singapore similarly characterized their Lunar New Year symbols that seemed tailored for Singapore audiences.
The winning prize money for G Pay India’s campaign was Rs. 251, where the additional 1 after a round figure was considered auspicious in Hindu culture. The angpows in Singapore were given in permutations of 8, an auspicious number in the local context of the occasion.
The successes of gamification have been widely documented in psychology journals. The goal of embarking on such campaigns is to build product loyalty and increase their user base.
Researchers have found that gamification can incentivize and motivate people, as well as enhance their perception and engagement. #StampwaliDiwali started in 2019. It’s not clear why Google decided to run this campaign since G Pay India had already established its clear dominance in the market. But my humble guess is that Google wanted to break into other markets. With #StampwaliDiwali, G Pay started trending on various social media channels throughout India – reaching more users through their extended network. The publicity that #StampwaliDiwali drummed up was the kind many firms could only ever dream of. It was a move that augmented their position as the market leader.
Understanding G Pay’s UX design – a payment experience designed around relationships
Strangely personable, but it's all very much calculated on G Pay's end
When people in Singapore open the G Pay app on their Android or iOS device, they’re met by some familiar sights — from the distinctive outlines of the Merlion and the Marina Bay Sands building to the island’s much-loved otters. It’s not just a pretty design. The main objective is part of a bigger effort to design Google Pay with local needs in mind.
The first time that I was introduced to G Pay was in November 2020. Wing Lum from our team was bullying strongly encouraging us to download G Pay so that she can earn the referral bonus. I vaguely recall in the recesses of my mind that Google was moving into the field of fintech but I personally never felt compelled to ‘convert’ — I was comfortable using PayLah! and didn’t see the need to download another Peer-to-Peer payment solution. But I downloaded it at the end of the day because I wanted Wing Lum to earn that referral bonus and of course, I earned that $5 bonus for being a new user. (DO YOU LOVE ME YET WING LUM??) What my story (and possibly yours too) does is highlight the potential of referral marketing.
The Huat Pals campaign was launched shortly after Google relaunched Android Pay as G Pay in September 2020. Hence, it’s fair to assume that the goal of the campaign would be market domination and growing their user base.
But unlike India, Singapore had the presence of other large looming fintech giants.
Classic David and Goliath (or is it?)
DBS PayLah! ran successful campaigns on school campuses and hawker patrons with their cashback rewards, and PayNow was a popular payment solution with its successful integration with the big banks in Singapore. Even Grab was trying to wrestle a slice of the fintech pie, launching GrabPay. Singapore, unlike India, was already familiar with cashless solutions.
To acquire more users onto their platform, Google had to overcome fierce competition. Fortunately, they had the resources and the knowledge of exactly which sweet spot to hit to drive maximum conversion. It’s an open secret that nothing excites Singapore more than free money. And that was exactly what Google did — incentivizing Singaporeans to use their app with attractive and irresistible cashback.
This is the true game-changer for Google Pay — for a limited period, they offered $8 cashback for every referral made. The person who downloaded the app would get an incentive of $5 upon their first transaction above $10, so it was really a win-win situation for both parties. Users could also win rebates in the form of scratch cards up to thrice a week when they made payments of S$10 and above to different payees. The design of Google Pay's user acquisition strategy made it clear that Google was employing aggressive referral marketing through the promise of rebates.
Yes, that's you and me
Referral marketing is a marketing tactic that relies on recommendations and word of mouth to grow a business's customer base through the networks of its existing customers. At its core, referral marketing uses the business’ biggest fans to spread the word, turning current customers into brand advocates. We can see this in Huat Pals’ game design. Google has created many experiences for us to interact and reach out to our friends and family.
Here are the ways that you can earn Huat Pals
1. Making eligible transactions above $1 to unique merchants daily on Google Pay. (3 times)
Types of transactions include:
Using Tap & Pay in-store (for NFC-enabled Android devices)
Using Scan and pay (via PayNow SGQR or via a UEN)
Purchasing movie tickets from Shaw Theatres or Golden Village on the app
Ordering food on the app
2. Sending at least $1 to different friends who are on Google Pay (3 times)
3. Referring new friends to Google Pay (3 times)
4. Referring new friends to Google Pay (3 times)
5. Gifting or receiving ‘Huat pals’ to/from friends (8 times)
6. Receiving one from the Gift Basket — we get 1 gift basket when we receive Ah Huat.
When G Pay gained greater traction, the difficulty increased (sneaky). The minimum transfer quantum increased and we had to transfer to “unique” friends. They forced us to push beyond the daily comfort of exchanging Huat Pals with our close friends, only acknowledging transfers to unique friends as eligible to earn one Huat Pal.
Spends an hour helping my mom set up her account. Gets an Ah Huat.
There were a lot of random requests floating around the net, asking random strangers to do mutual swaps of Huat Pals. A lot of my friends took to social media to do an open call (once again free publicity my friends — Google be making you do their work for them).
Even the design of how the rebates were presented and the earning of Huat Pals made use of User Interface, User Experience (UIUX) tactics that pushed the users to almost an obsession. The idea of getting virtual scratchcards and having you scratch them to unveil your earnings was synonymous with lottery tickets, creating a feeling of instant gratification that makes the user less in control of their impulses in an attempt to relive the dopamine highs.
In the UX design of the app, you will notice the distinct focus on friends and businesses you transact with most frequently. You can pay, see past transactions and find offers and loyalty info — all organized around conversations. The interface design for each individual interaction mirrors that of chat windows we commonly see on messaging platforms. The intricate details changed the experience to center around the human connections and focused on the relationships we have with our family and friends.
The mechanisms that Google has designed for this game pushed you to reach out to more people in your network to onboard them onto the platform. I found myself scrolling through my entire list of contacts to think of people whom I can send my Huat pals to so as to get a higher chance of my BB Loh (and come 2022, BaoBao). What my story highlights is the power of that underlying philosophy of Google Pay — the “payment experience designed around relationships” as declared by their Vice President. The virality of Google Pay underscored the power of referral marketing.
Well played Google — you’ve truly built a payment experience around relationships.
How does this work?
What Google had done in both the Huat Pals and #StampwaliDiwali campaigns is to gamify payment experiences for users. In broad terms, gamification is defined as the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity. It is typically employed as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.
"I transferred you $10 and I got 3 Lennys....."
The design purpose of Huat Pals was to encourage users to take actions that eventually built towards long-term habits that are hard to change. By using the app almost daily over the course of a month, you would have subconsciously built the habit of either replacing G Pay over your usual payment apps or pausing to consider using the application over other payment apps. That is the holy grail for digital products — a product’s seamless integration into a customer’s habitual behaviour. Being a “must-have” is one thing. Becoming part of your customer’s unconscious behaviour is different altogether — it’s the end-goal every product manager dreams of.