River Hongbao 2021: How to run a digital campaign for a large-scale event in a pandemic

Our team at River Hongbao 2021

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, hosting large-scale physical events is exceptionally challenging, much less marketing them and gathering the support of the general public. So how exactly should a digital campaign be approached and executed, and what does it take to make a large-scale event as successful in a pandemic as it was pre-COVID? Read on to find out exactly how we did it.


River Hongbao is Singapore’s largest and most well-loved family-centric Lunar New Year event. This annual affair was first introduced in 1987 and has consistently drawn large crowds of tourists and locals alike over the years, sometimes even reaching over one million visitors in a year. The event typically features dazzling, larger-than-life lanterns, spectacular fireworks display, informative exhibitions, and live performances galore.


2021 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic posed an extraordinary challenge to live events of all kinds, including River Hongbao. Many spontaneous adjustments had to be made to the traditional event, notwithstanding accustomed ways of conducting digital campaigns to accommodate the latest safe distancing measurements laid out by the Singapore government.

Because of the limited number of visitors that we were allowed to welcome physically at the event, many of the usual activities and engagement touchpoints had to be digitalised. Furthermore, the physical event was pared-down to prevent overcrowding within the premises, so we had to beef up our digital content to cater to fans of River Hongbao both on-site and at home.

What we did

Publicising safety measures

Safety was the top concern for our visitors and it was imperative that we communicated that clearly and concisely. Apart from having a ticketed event this year, we had to also emphasise all safe distancing measures in place on every platform (Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, the official website and on-site during the actual event) to ensure maximum visibility for all visitors. 

Rather than being overly repetitive with our content, we presented this information in various ways across all of our platforms, keeping the visuals fresh while retaining the crux of the information. On Instagram, we posted a mini-FAQ on our feed explaining the process of ticketing and crowd control. Over on Facebook, we incorporated the need to mask up and keep a safe distance from others in our ‘Spot the Ox’ video contest. On TikTok, we had participants of our #NiuYearNiuMe contest include the hashtag #SafeDistancing in their entries to qualify.

Safe management measures are incorporated throughout all collaterals

Website revamp

For people who were unable to visit River Hongbao virtually, we ensured that our website gave them a detailed look at the event’s attractions. We created a virtual interactive map on our website’s homepage so that visitors could explore all of our key attractions, including our signature lanterns, ongoing web games and nightly live streams on one page.

From physical to virtual

There’s always a certain degree of risk one has to undertake when transforming a physical event into a virtual or a hybrid one, as the methods of engagement and means of marketing the event will change drastically. What’s more, there’s a common perception that virtual events lack the festivity and “feel” of physical ones, which might discourage visitors from participating in or checking out virtual events. What’s more, the main draw of River Hongbao year after year has been physical activities and attractions like their larger-than-life lanterns, fireworks shows and live performances among others, so injecting the same level of intrigue into a hybrid event was a herculean task.

Maximising the number of visitors at the event both physically and virtually was the biggest goal for us this year. Firstly, we created downloadable and shareable digital assets such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Instagram stickers as well as Zoom backgrounds with our ox mascot of the year to spread the festive Lunar New Year cheer virtually and to also encourage our audience to interact with our content to make up for the toned-down Lunar New Year celebrations this year.

Stickers to be used on Instagram Stories, Whatsapp and Telegram

Secondly, the nightly live performances were broadcasted via nightly live streams, on the River Hongbao Facebook page as well as the official River Hongbao website. During these live streams, we also made sure to engage with viewers by interacting with them and rallying their support for our performers via the live chat function.

Thirdly, we put up a virtual version of this year’s lion dance exhibition on our website, so that everyone can get to experience the exhibition from the comfort of their own homes or on the go.

Lastly, to complement the physical donation points at the event, we incorporated QR codes into our website to allow visitors at home to donate effortlessly.

Making the connection

Keeping our audience engaged was crucial this year, especially when many were unable to get tickets to visit the event physically. We had to beef up our virtual engagements and constantly come up with new content to keep audiences of all ages engaged on each one of our social platforms. Here’s a rundown of what we did this year:

#NiuYearNiuMe TikTok challenge

In an article published by Oats, in just seven months between January and July 2020, TikTok saw about 1.04 million downloads in Singapore. This shows how rapidly the short-video sharing platform has gained popularity among locals, and how this trend should definitely not be ignored.

This is why in River Hongbao 2021, we created a fun yet simple challenge that allowed people of all ages to flex their creative muscles and participate. We came up with the challenge mechanics of having participants use the time warp filter on TikTok to create bull horns and a nose ring, created a hashtag and an accompanying audio clip, and promoted the challenge across our socials to reach a wider audience.

Attractive prizes of $588 worth of shopping vouchers for each of our three winners were advertised so as to further boost participation in the challenge.

Bag the Gold online web game

From our experience with digital campaigns, web-based games are one of the more popular interactive elements that keep visitors engaged and coming back to the site. So of course, we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to create an all-new game this year. We developed a simple coin stacking game and named it ‘Bag the Gold’ or ‘金币满堂’ in Mandarin. For this web game, we devised a sound and simple giveaway strategy. We chose to give away many smaller daily prizes ($20 e-vouchers for 20 winners daily) instead of a handful of large prizes as the game is relatively easy to play, and coupled with the live leaderboard shown at the end of the game, would encourage a larger number of participants to try their hand at beating the top-scoring individuals.

Spot the Ox’ interactive Facebook contests

Another interactive element that is worth exploring is the realm of video contests, where short videos containing bite-sized bits of information incorporate a bit of fun competition as well. This can be done by planting hidden elements throughout the video, or by ending off with a simple quiz on what was said in the video.

In our ‘Spot the Ox’ contest, we prepared and posted a series of three short videos with our celebrity DJ hosts Chengyao and Liyi, who took the audience through some of the more exciting attractions at River Hongbao 2021. Throughout the video, we planted our little ox mascots at random points and had viewers leave a comment with the number of ox mascots that appeared in the video to stand a chance of winning $88 worth of shopping vouchers.

The best thing about video contests is that it retains the attention of viewers throughout the entire duration of the video, allowing them to pick up more information about the event both consciously and subconsciously. And with this simple premise and multiple small prizes to be won, viewers will be more inclined to participate as the odds of winning are high. Moreover, the video content was also positioned such that viewers could enjoy and appreciate the event’s attractions from the comfort of their homes.

Master Hong Q&A

With its many interactive elements, Instagram is another great platform to boost engagement rates. With Instagram stories alone, we can conduct polls, gather comments and suggestions, and host mini quizzes for our audiences. We made use of all of these functions throughout the course of our campaign for River Hongbao 2021, with our Master Hong Q&A session being one of our most successful engagements.

As per previous renditions of the Q&A, we prepared a fictional character as well as comprehensive zodiac readings for every year and invited followers to send in their questions about the new year ahead using the Instagram question sticker on our story. We then engaged with and answered every question on our story, or through private messages if questions asked were repeated.

Influencer management

Though social media influencers are a dime a dozen these days, their reach is not to be belittled. Every influencer has a different audience, so choosing the right one is an important task in itself. Involving influencers is not a prerequisite to digital campaigns, but working with the right ones can really help to boost engagement and widen the reach of the campaign.

We decided to work with influencers for River Hongbao 2021 to promote our TikTok engagement. One thing that any agency in Singapore should note is that TikTok does not offer direct target advertising to Singaporeans. In other words, if you would like to promote your brand on TikTok, the only way is to work directly with TikTok to develop a customised campaign. This may not be viable for agencies with a smaller budget or tight timeline.

Working with strategic influencers, we managed to reach out to more than 19,000 people of different ages within a short period of time.

Visual communication

As with all digital campaigns, the cohesiveness of visuals used is very important. Visuals are what leaves the first and most lasting impression on audiences, so it’s crucial to stand out in the sea of digital content online (for the right reasons of course!)

The design of visuals should not only match the tone and image of the brand, but also be appealing to their target audience. For River Hongbao 2021, we were aiming to target more youths this year, we wanted to go with something a bit more fun and trendy in terms of visual content.

Apart from our little ox mascot and Master Hong character, we put out fun visuals and included more lifestyle posts like ranking popular Chinese New Year snacks and having our followers weigh in on the hotpot versus zichar debate in our content calendar to keep the event relatable to the younger generation.

Apart from social media posts, we also designed and distributed River

Hongbao 2021 reusable face masks to event organisers and selected members of the public during the event. In keeping with our brand tone and target audience, we adapted the River Hongbao logo and included it in the minimalist design on the reusable face masks. We also printed a limited number of face masks to create a perception of rarity and exclusivity around them, so that visitors would be more inclined to use our face masks if they were given one.

In conclusion, the key factor to executing a digital campaign successfully for any event at any point in time would be engagement:

  • Always have your target audience in mind when rolling out visuals or interactive elements.
  • In the case of hybrid events like River Hongbao 2021, don’t neglect your online visitors!
  • Be inclusive with your content, and adopt different means of engaging with both physical and online audiences. You could:
    • Drop them a personalised message.
    • Respond to their comments.

After all, it’s the little things that make or break a digital campaign.

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