Alibaba Uses Lockdown to Promote Its Virtual Avatar Game

    What's the perfect promotion during a virus lockdown — a video game. And Alibaba introduced a popular yet respectful one with its Valentine's Day campaign.
    Users can customize their avatar’s appearance (left), earn free clothing based on how long they’ve used Taobao (center), and choose clothing from top brands such as Canada Goose (right). Source: Taobao app
    Lauren HallananAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    Ahead of last year’s 11.11 shopping festival, Alibaba launched a 3D avatar game (similar to the wildly popular Zepeto app) as a way to attract China’s mobile game-loving Gen Zers.

    The Taobao mobile app prominently features the game, which is called Taobao Life 淘宝人生. Users can customize their 3D characters and complete daily challenges to earn points, which are, in turn, used to buy virtual clothes and accessories based on real branded items. But the game also has a social component that allows users to take pictures with each other’s avatars and post them to a feed (where they can be liked and commented on).

    Mobile gaming and social media platforms have been surging in popularity lately, due to the government confining people to their homes because of the coronavirus outbreak. Alibaba seized this opportunity to promote the game, and it even ran a Valentine’s Day campaign that featured several leading luxury and premium clothing brands.

    Overview of Taobao Life#

    The game is easily accessible in the Taobao app. Users can simply click on their Taobao user avatar on the “My Taobao” page of the app to get started.

    When new users join, they automatically get points and can unlock free clothing based on how long they’ve had a Taobao account and how much they’ve spent on the platform. Moving forward, every time they spend money on Taobao or Tmall, they receive additional points in the game.

    After styling their avatar, users can choose backgrounds and poses for it. Their characters can even “take pictures” and post them on the game’s social media feed. They can also scroll through the feed and like or comment on the outfits and images other users have created.

    Users are encouraged to find or invite their friends to join the game, which also allows users to make new friends via a Tinder-like swipe-through feature.

    To earn more points and unlock new clothes, users must complete daily tasks such as browsing Tmall store brands, putting a certain number of items into their Taobao shopping carts, or checking out promotions like the International Women’s Day sale.

    Users must complete tasks to earn points (left), take virtual pictures and post them to the game’s feed (center), and meet other players (right). Source: Taobao app
    Users must complete tasks to earn points (left), take virtual pictures and post them to the game’s feed (center), and meet other players (right). Source: Taobao app

    2020 Valentine’s Day Campaign#

    For Valentine’s Day, Tmall Luxury worked with Burberry, Canada Goose, Diesel, Hugo Boss, Marni, and Net-A-Porter to run an “online dates” campaign on Taobao Life. From February 14-16, users could access 20 virtual limited-edition items from the six brands along with corresponding Valentine’s Day backgrounds.

    Taobao Life Valentine’s Day campaign posters
    Taobao Life Valentine’s Day campaign posters

    Couples could connect in the game and have their characters take virtual pictures with each other. Users could then download their photos or share them with friends on social media. Participants also had the chance to win virtual accessories.

    This campaign was particularly appropriate this year, as most couples were unable to meet in real life to celebrate the holiday together because of coronavirus restrictions.

    Yet the campaign was designed for more than entertainment and social sharing. The 20 virtual limited-edition apparel items resemble actual products created by the six brands. When selecting the items, if users clicked through to the item’s Tmall page, they could get a special discount for game players only.

    While Tmall hasn’t released hard numbers, it stated that the campaign successfully drove sales, and some users became first-time purchasers on the Tmall Luxury Pavilion. The game's success was due, in part, to the fact that some of the items were 明星同款 — a phrase that means items celebrities have been spotted wearing — which made them desirable to young consumers.

    The special backgrounds and poses came down after February 16, but many of the branded items remained available for users to wear in the game and purchase in real life for the month following the campaign.

    Meeting Gen-Z’s Needs During the COVID-19 Period#

    Estimates claim China is home to over 290 million Gen-Z consumers, and their spending power is growing fast. With less personal financial burden than older generations and a strong appetite for shopping, they are more willing to buy items out of their price range via Hua Bei 花呗: Alipay’s virtual credit card. Many expect that by 2025, Gen-Z consumers will be making 55 percent of all luxury purchases in China, and platforms and brands are pivoting their strategies to better reach and convert this sought-after consumer group.

    This recent Taobao Life Valentine’s Day campaign was an excellent way to not only engage this consumer group but do in a way that’s highly relevant and respectful of the country’s current situation.

    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.