Singles Day: Turning online culture into a shopping carnival that brands can own

Moleskine's appraoch to the Tmall ads

Forget about Black Friday for a second, Singles Day (or 11.11 as the brands also call it) is the mother of all online shopping days.

What began as an ‘anti-Valentine’s Day’ for single people back in China in the 1990s, it is now the world’s biggest online shopping phenomenon.

Held on 11 November each year, this year’s sales are expected to exceed the US $17.8bn spent by Chinese shoppers in a single 24-hour period last year.

It was launched by Alibaba-owned Tmall in 2009 as a day in which people celebrated being single by buying themselves a present with heavy discounts across a huge range of products.

Why 11 November? Because in numerical terms it is written 11.11, or one-one-one-one, otherwise known as ‘bare sticks holiday’ in China.

But you don’t have to be single to take part. It’s not so much about what people celebrate as how they celebrate, the perfect excuse to treat yourself in the run-up to Christmas (and at a traditionally quiet time in the retail calendar).

An unashamedly materialistic way to escape the day to day stress of modern life, Singles Day also tapped into the growing phenomenon of celebrating individual identity and uniqueness.

Now as important a part of the calendar as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, its rapid evolution is all the more remarkable given the typically collectivist culture in China.

Tmall joined forces with more than 40 brands last year to launch a series of posts for Singles Day 2016 with one thing in common – they all had to use the outline of Tmall’s familiar cat head logo.

A 49-poster campaign represented each of the 49 brands taking part, each of them expressing their identity using the cat head silhouette with ingenious results.

Both powerful and playful at the same time, Moleskin made the logo into the shape of an artist’s drawing sketched in the pages of one of its familiar notebooks (pictured above), while Pampers turned the outside of the Tmall logo into a baby enclosure.

Other brands used the cat head silhouette in a more straightforward fashion as a display space for their products, without any further story or artistic conception.

What became clear was that the campaign allowed brands to express their own values - sometimes even changing or enhancing them as a result - while simultaneously enhancing the richness of the Tmall brand.

It was a challenge for marketeers and a 'treat' for consumers to see how the two brands played off against each other, above and beyond the real treat of Singles Day - those big discounts.

Panos Dimitropoulos is director of cultural insight, Shanghai and Golden Huang, Cultural Insight team at Kanta Added Value China.

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Panos Dimitropoulos

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