Mobile Taobao Pushes Webisodes Targeting Night Owls

Like the U.S., China has a prime time for television: 7-10 p.m. But on the internet, where 700 million Chinese currently spend at least a portion of their day, things don’t really rev up until after that.

On Mobile Taobao, China’s most popular shopping app, the magic hour is 10-11 p.m. That’s when average traffic from people entertaining themselves with their mobile phones is heaviest every day. In an effort to capitalize on that surge in activity, Mobile Taobao’s owner, Alibaba Group, has launched a new campaign that takes the traditional online video advertisement and kicks it up a notch.

The campaign, called “One Thousand and One Nights” after the centuries old folktales-turned-bedtime-stories collection, includes five-minute webisodes every Wednesday and Thursday night at 10 that use characters and simple plot lines to promote products available on the app.

Make no mistake, these are not commercials, said Mobile Taobao marketing manager Zheng Zhong, who oversees the initiative.

“We see them as mini-episodes,” Zheng said. “We try to write stories related to people’s daily lives, so it hits some with the audience.”

The webisodes have been running since Aug. 10, with the first series of 16 videos focusing on gourmet edibles in an attempt to target China’s foodies. One episode centered on a young woman who had moved to Shanghai from the coastal city of Qingdao. Alone and struggling to find her way in the big city, she stumbles upon a stall selling mackerel dumplings, a delicacy of her hometown. Over 1 million viewers have watched the video, according to Zheng.


The catch, of course, is that viewers can immediately buy the dumplings and bruschetta, and all the other featured foods, as soon as the episode ends. But while the products are just as much a character as the actors in these videos, brands are not. So Alibaba features the merchants and their wares on the series homepage to make after-viewing purchases easy.

Qingdao Shangzhi, maker of the mackerel dumplings, sold 7,000 boxes—537,000 dumplings—following the Aug. 10 airing, compared to the one or two boxes it typically sells per day.

Certainly, the idea of generating longer-form content specifically for product promotion is nothing new. U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm, for example, is using 30-minute mini-movies featuring top-tier Hollywood talent to sell its smartphone processors. However, as Zheng points out, Alibaba offers merchants something with its advertising space that other media outlets cannot: a destination where viewers have specifically come to shop.

“If merchants promote their content on other media channels, they won’t be able to reach their potential customers directly,” he said. “On Taobao, viewers are more naturally converted to buyers because it’s an e-commerce platform.”

The campaign is the latest move of Alibaba’s larger content and media strategy. Since late last year, Alibaba has been encouraging merchants to engage and educate customers through informative and dynamic content, such as blog posts or live streams, eventually to boost sales.

In this campaign, the webisodes are produced and paid for entirely by Alibaba, and merchants are not charged a fee for participating in the series because the Mobile Taobao team chooses which products to feature. Zheng said the app wants to spotlight items that consumers wouldn’t otherwise find on their own.

“We want to build Taobao into a destination for customers to find something new and interesting,” Zheng said. “We want to add more value to the platform.”