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February 5, 2018

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Alibaba taps Olympics with 1st corporate ad push abroad

Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has made debut a global marketing campaign outside China for the first time, the company said last week, with the release of Olympic advertisements focusing on underdog stories in countries such as the United States, Britain, South Korea and Japan.

The international advertising push, which includes videos featuring the Kenyan ice hockey team, comes as the US$525 billion company looks for growth abroad to maintain investor expectations while the broader online retail market in its home market in China has become more saturated.

Centered on the motto “to the greatness of small,” Alibaba will run a billboard campaign in South Korea, the host country for the February 9 to 25 Pyeongchang Winter Games, as well as social media ads in the United States, Britain and Japan. TV commercials and billboards will also appear in China.

It is the first time the company has launched a global branding campaign for the parent company, instead of for one of its business units, Chief Marketing Officer Chris Tung said in an interview. The international ads will appear on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin.

“Our advertising will help introduce our brand and what Alibaba stands for to audiences beyond China,” Tung said, adding that these are “critical strategically important markets.”

Underdog stories

Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao shopping platforms dominate online retail in China. But it is not well known in many parts of the world, including in the United States where Inc is the e-commerce leader.

It has previously said it would bring one million small US businesses to its platform to sell to Chinese customers over five years.

The ads focus on underdog stories, which capture the spirit of Alibaba, Tung said, and are in line with a small and medium size business push that Alibaba’s founder and executive chairman Jack Ma has been championing. Ma, a schoolteacher in China who went on to become the country’s richest man, has said he founded his company to help small businesses.

Alibaba faces a crowded and changing Olympics advertising landscape. Many brands, even some focused only on technology, are competing for attention, while global TV ratings for the Olympics have not been growing.

One of the ads features the Kenyan ice hockey team. Another vignette is of Australia’s Bobby Pearce, who stopped during an Olympic rowing race in 1928 to make way for a family of ducks. The videos, produced by advertising agency BBDO, will run in English, Chinese, and Japanese.

Alibaba will not be sponsoring individual athletes as part of its campaign. As a new long-term Olympic sponsor, Tung said he has been getting many calls from chief marketing officers about how to work with the company.


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