By Audrey Kemp, LA Reporter

February 16, 2024 | 6 min read

From confusion to cultural disconnect, marketers and creatives question the impact of Temu’s ‘Shop like a billionaire’ campaign in Super Bowl LVIII.

On the high-stakes, high-cost Super Bowl stage, Temu, a Chinese e-commerce company, rolled the dice with multiple ad spots this year with the aim of becoming a household name among American consumers.

Founded in 2022, Temu is a discount e-commerce retailer for household goods, including toys, electronics, clothing and beauty products. It’s owned by a Chinese company by the name of PDD Holdings Inc, formerly known as Pinduoduo.

The company made its Super Bowl advertising debut last year. Rob Canales, chief strategy officer at The 3rd Eye, recalls that first appearance: “The company came on to our radars last Super Bowl as a competitor to Amazon. Fighting for how to pronounce its name, the brand changed from Tee-Moo to Teh-Moo between Super Bowl 57 and 58.”

Each of the three ads from this year’s game opens with Disney-like animated characters purchasing goods for as little as 99 cents and close with the tagline, ‘Shop like a billionaire.’ Insider estimated the effort to have costed Temu tens of millions of dollars, as a 30-second spot in the big game costs a whopping $7m and the campaign also included $15m in giveaways and coupons, according to CNN.

Temu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The investment seems to have paid off in terms of awareness, as ’what is Temu’ and similar online searches surged during and after the game, according to USA Today.

With an estimated 123 million viewers, Super Bowl LVIII provided Temu with a massive platform to catapult itself into public consciousness. Andy Berkenfield, chief executive and partner at Duncan Channon, acknowledges the success in achieving name recognition, stating: “In a matter of hours, Temu went from ‘never heard of em’ to ‘that thing I’ve heard of,’ which is not insignificant.”

While Temu successfully gained name-recognition points, the question remains: was the strategy effective in terms of cultural relevance?

The ‘billionaire’ creative conundrum

The central theme of Temu’s campaign, ‘Shop like a billionaire,’ left some marketers questioning the slogan’s ambiguity and its potential cultural insensitivity, in light of hyperinflation and rampant layoffs in the United States. According to Berkenfield, the premise is “confusing at best and culturally tone-deaf at worst.”

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Others questioned how a jingle would resonate with younger consumers, who are seeking brands aligned with their values, “There was a real disconnect between the jingle’s sonic appeal and the preferences of Gen Z, as well as the problematic nature of the ‘shop like a billionaire’ tagline,” says Geoffrey Goldberg, founder and chief creative officer of Movers+Shakers, a creative agency. “To me, this drives home the importance of understanding your audience sentiment and cultural context during these key moments.”

Rae Guimond, director of strategy and business development at e-commerce company PriceSpider, recalled how the ads were received by her Gen Z children. “In my household, I thought the reactions of those ages 13 to 17 were telling,” she says. “The perception was, why is Temu trying so hard with multiple ads, and if US sellers will [sell on the platform] soon, why wouldn’t I just trust Amazon more with my money and information?”

Kirsten Rutherford, executive creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, acknowledges Temu’s success in getting its name out, but questions the creative calibre of the campaign, stating: “Did it stand up to other Super Bowl creative? No chance.”

Jenna Isken from Siegel+Gale adds that Temu not only failed to shape a narrative beyond just offering cheap products, but also overlooked the essential aspect of communicating its identity. The ads “came off almost like an inside joke that most viewers found themselves on the outside of,” she says.

The lingering question is whether Temu needs a stronger marketing strategy in the eyes of American consumers to secure commercial success. Immediately after the Super Bowl, Temu secured a top-three spot in downloads immediately after claiming the title of the #1 downloaded app in 2023.

Temu’s strategy prioritizes rapid market share acquisition over profit margins, a tactic that has proven successful for retail giants like Amazon and Wayfair, as highlighted by Seema Shah, vice-president of research and insights at Sensor Tower, in conversation with CNN. Only time will unveil the true outcome.

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