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Alibaba CMO Chris Tung on creating the world’s biggest shopping day

Alibaba CMO Chris Tung on creating the world’s biggest shopping day

Alibaba’s 11.11 (Double 11) shopping sale is now the world’s biggest shopping event, eclipsing the likes of Black Friday. But how did a day originally designed to celebrate single people become such a global phenomenon?

The Drum interviewed Alibaba chief marketing officer (CMO) Chris Tung at The Drum Digital Summit, ahead of the 2020 11.11 shopping day, to understand how marketing drove the success of the day and why innovation and digital are how Alibaba plans to keep the shopping day relevant.

Alibaba has retired the ’Singles Day’ name, rechristening the 11 November shopping bonanza the 11.11 festival (Double 11). The new name has since spawned many other shopping days across the final quarter of the year, such as 10.10 and 9.9, each promoted by different e-commerce players around the world.

“Now we’re celebrating the 12th anniversary of this global shopping festival,” explains Tung, “the real purpose of this festival is simple – to connect consumers with merchants, as a platform we are bridging between sellers and buyers. The festival is an opportunity for their sellers to show that they have got the best of the brands, the best offers, in a very creative way. For consumers, it has become a really a holiday or festival experience for them to be engaged with the brands they love.”

“This event has definitely evolved in many ways over the last 12 years. Geographically, it has become a global holiday now. I know, In fact, many e-commerce players are celebrating Double 11, as probably the most important promotional day of the year,” he says.

The day has become so important to brands that they use it as a launchpad for new products and services, rather than just a reason to discount and get rid of dead stock.

“It's no longer looking for deals, it’s really to make your plans of what you need, or what you want, and wait for your beloved brands to launch the best products of the year. For example, Apple we know is launching the iPhone 12, Nike is launching their new design and L'Oréal is bringing new cosmetic skincare items to market around this time of the year because this is really the beginning of the winter shopping season. People are really looking for gifts for their families or for their friends, so this becomes a major window for the brands to introduce their new offers to the customers as well,” he says.

On what’s in store this year, Tung says two things have been a major change: the pandemic driving a need for brands to digitally transform and therefore rely on tech platforms like Alibaba and, secondly, Alibaba had added a second date to its celebrations on 1 Nov, to give brands more exposure in a difficult year.

Tung’s key learning through being CMO at the brand during years of Double 11 festivals is that it has redefined e-commerce to be more entertainment-led.

“One thing that we learned through the experience of creating the festival is there's a new meaning for e-commerce. We think that it has been redefined by entertainment. The key to why it is a success is: how do we make the whole festival more entertaining, and the whole experience more memorable, something that people really look forward to at this time of the year?

“For example, we created a Double 11 gala, which is a live TV show. It happens typically in the evening of November 10, so just a few hours before we take the experience into the shopping day. We work with major TV networks and create a TV show that's live, with a lot of international artists. Throughout the four hours, you have to use your mobile phone to interact with your TV non-stop,” he explains.

Ultimately, there’s a major incentive for the organisation, as tech company, to drive innovation at the festival each year – the shopping day becomes a huge launchpad to show off developments and new products created in the past year.

“Innovation is deeply rooted in our DNA, the company's DNA. We really take Double 11 live as a chance to showcase what we have accumulated over the last 12 months to be able to bring the best experience to our shoppers, as well as to help the merchants to build their brands effectively,” he says.

Chris Tung spoke with The Drum at The Drum’s Digital Summit, a week-long online event helping marketers to get inspired, find solutions and harness the power of marketing. You can watch the interview in full here.

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