Cancer insurance is WeChat’s newest marketing foray

Friends don’t let friends go without cancer insurance.
Friends don’t let friends go without cancer insurance.
Image: REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic
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WeChat, China’s massive social media chat app, has been used to sell everything from video games to taxi rides to bank accounts, but its latest foray is more serious—cancer insurance.

Users between the ages of 18 and 39 are being offered policies from Taiking Life Insurance that costs 1 yuan (about 16 US cents)  for every 1,000 yuan in insurance coverage, with a maximum payout of 10 million yuan. Users between 40 and 49 years old get 300 yuan in coverage for every 1 yuan they pay.

But here’s the really interesting part: After signing up, WeChat’s highly social base of over 270 million users share the deal with their friend groups by creating a “seeking care” page, and for every friend that signs up, the original user gets an additional 300 to 1,000 yuan of annual insurance protection, depending on their age, as TechinAsia reports. Some users complain that the promotion amounts to “emotional blackmail,” Techweb reports (link in Chinese).

The way the health insurance promotion works is good example of how, as Quartz previously reported, apps like WeChat are ecosystems unto themselves—something Facebook will need to emulate to justify its $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp.

The Taiking Life coverage is for diagnosis of cancer, as defined by the World Health Organization, TechWeb explains—something clearly on the minds of young Chinese, even if they are much less likely to contract cancer than their elders. With 20% of the world’s population, China now accounts for 30% of lung cancer diagnoses, the WHO said this year. And lung cancer rates are growing fast in polluted cities like Beijing.