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The UX of Google Pay’s Huat Pals using the Hook Theory [Part 2]

As we commemorate the 1-year anniversary of Gpay’s Huat Pals, we revisit one of our most successful articles of 2021. In this part 2 article, we will breakdown why Gpay’s Huat Pals campaign succeeded using the Hook Theory.

This article was originally posted on March 12, 2021.

So, what’s the allure behind Huat Pals?

*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. 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.

The underlying reason for why gamification models work can be visualized with the Hook Model. The creator, Nir Eryal, argues that we are able to explain how businesses can adopt a four-phase process to create products or services used habitually by customers. The goal is to result in voluntary, high-frequency engagement. At its core, it is about creating a customer habit.

We’ve all been played by Gpay


“Wow $88.88! I want!”

Google had introduced the Trigger — in this case, the introduction of Huat Pals. The rules of the game were clear: find the 5 Huat pals and stand a chance to win up to $88.88. Our beloved game masters had also made other tweaks to the game to capture and increase our interest — for instance, Lenny had seen a few upgrades depending on the number of Lennys you have collected (I have had 81 Lennys and he was called 6enn). In the last week of hunting for our Huat Pals, G Pay also introduced riddles to encourage jaded users to increase their chances of finding the elusive BB Loh.



We take action by sending our friends fellow Huat Pals and transferring money through the app. We strive towards collecting the full suite of the Huat Pals because we are anticipating the possible reward of $88.88.

Variable Reward

“Wow what a great voucher! Eh wait got minimum spending.”

The game design created 2 types of rewards: there are the instant rewards (for instance, us receiving Huat pals and scratch cards) and the delayed ones (us not getting BB Loh and the chance to possibly win $88.88). Do you know why Google gives scratch cards instead of an assured cashback? Every time we receive a reward, our brain releases a good dose of the happy hormone — dopamine. The more dopamine there is, the greater the extent of addiction. Our brains crave dopamine and this increases user affinity to the application. Google showered us with a mix of both instant and delayed gratification. Instant rewards help you feel good, and the delayed rewards give you a reason to come back consistently. Imagine if BB Loh was really that easy to get; I’m pretty sure we’d all stop playing after 5 days max. But because of this mindset of “Eh next one, confirm get BB Loh already!”, we continued to engage with the game.


(tfw you get your 50th Lenny) *crying*

Investments are about the anticipation of longer-term rewards, not immediate gratification. As users, Google designed for us to invest in all the details of the previous transactions we have made in this short 1 month. We invested our time over this 1 month with the hopes of winning that grand prize of $88.88. We felt that there was a high probability of collecting the full suite because so many of our friends had achieved this unthinkable miracle. This spurred the remaining of us BB Loh-less people to continue holding onto the (futile) hope.

The key stage that Google was banking on is the investment stage, where users will choose G Pay as their go-to payment application. Google Pay’s idea in this campaign was to gain more users, by encouraging users to make every online transaction through Google Pay. This way, they would dominate the market segment with a large user base, which would help them establish B2B partnerships with online payment companies, banks and any other financial-based institutions. Their short-term goal was to acquire and engage users that would speed up their long-term success.

Conclusion & Recommendations

To wriggle inside every joke — that’s the north star of every marketing campaign. You want to be on the top of mind of your customer’s minds. And it’s my honest opinion that Google has achieved what it set out to do with this Huat Pals campaign. Google Pay had reserved its best arsenal for the last. After collecting four Huat Pals, getting hold of the fifth seemed nearly impossible. Half of Singapore went furor over the inability to collect the last Huat Pal — and there was so much free publicity going around for Google. It was the talk at every friends’ gathering and family dinner. It occupied our social media feeds, and I myself took a few hours to just pen this article simply because I found the case to be so fascinating (helping Google with their SEO but hey, I’m in fact hoping that this helps Hatch’s SEO more).

Ending notes

What am I sposed to do with all my Lennys…

The author had spent the bulk of her time pining for her BB Loh. If this article ever wriggles its way into Google’s Product/Marketing teams, she would like to recommend that people who have collected 100 Lennys be allowed to exchange for 1 BB Loh. It’s really no easy feat to accumulate Lennys — it’s a true demonstration of commitment and dedication to reach that many friends.

At some point, she tried to convince herself that Lennys have a much bigger mission in life and would one day surpass BB Loh. Google should reward their loyal users, but hey, this is merely a gear in their marketing ploy, right? Making users think that there MIGHT be a point in pursuing this game other than it being Google’s attempt to acquire users.

Lenny had no choice but to glow up because of the online hate :( | Credit: TSL

But what does she know?

At the end of the day, she was just another user (or data-point for Google) in this wildly successful game.

This is a 2-part article on Gpay’s 2021 Huat Pals Lunar New Year Campaign in Singapore. Head over to part 1 of the article here to dive into the strategic decisions Gpay had to make based on past experience and Singapore’s Digital Payments landscape.




Hatch is an impact-driven business with the mission to make digital and design opportunities accessible for all.

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Hatch is an impact-driven business with the mission to make digital and design opportunities accessible for all.

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