Study Chinese While Shopping for Groceries From Alibaba

A 'Chinese Academy' From and Anomaly Offers Funny Flash Cards

Published On
Nov 30, 2015

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How do you drive people to an online grocery site? Alibaba's supermarket wanted to try "something beyond shopping discounts and coupons, but a fun experience including learning new things and having some laughs," as Jacob Yan, senior marketing planner of Tmall, put it. and agency Anomaly realized that Chinese e-commerce -- which has practically become a way of life in China -- is something foreign residents often miss out on because of the language barrier. "They cannot get the benefit of this latest trend of mobile shopping because they are still not familiar with some Chinese slang, especially when it comes to shopping," Mr. Yan said.

So Tmall and Anomaly came up with a "Tmall Academy," where the hundreds of thousands of foreigners in China could study language flashcards and shop on the Tmall supermarket at the same time.

The vocab cards cover the basics, like how to say eat and drink in Chinese, along with local delicacies like moon cakes and stinky tofu (Tmall defined that one as "fermented tofu used to scare away foreigners.") People can click on a vocab word and it leads them to the product.

There are also cards for funny expressions involving food. In Chinese, someone who's a "noodle" is a wimp. A "chicken thief" is someone cheap, stingy and calculating.

The campaign targeted not only foreigners but also locals, since "there was actually big PR value for the Chinese shoppers," said Elvis Chau, executive creative director and partner at Anomaly Shanghai.

It's always amusing to be reminded of the quirks of your own language. After all, there are plenty of funny food-related idioms in English, too, that are tricky for foreigners to understand; going nuts and going bananas are almost the same thing, but cutting the mustard has nothing in common with cutting the cheese.