Alibaba may have cut Amazon’s Taylor Swift victory lap short, announcing plans to take its Singles Day countdown gala global this year on 10 cable networks in China, Southeast Asia, Africa and North America.
To be fair, the Prime Day concert was streamable in 200 countries, but Alibaba’s timing at the very least is interesting—and its announcement ends with a reminder: “Last year’s gross merchandise volume, which reached $30.8 billion, outstripped the online revenues of U.S. retail’s biggest shopping holiday—from Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday to Cyber Monday—combined.”
Amazon has not disclosed Prime Day 2018 sales figures, but as of July 2018, called it “the biggest shopping event in Amazon history,” with $1 billion in sales for small- and medium-sized businesses. And Prime Day is already a global event, with shoppers in 17 countries last year.
The platforms are not exactly rivals, but they are similar in a few ways: They both sell lots of stuff and host livestreamed events to push annual events in their respective markets. But they also have very different business models: Amazon is a customer-facing retailer that sells brands, while Alibaba, on the other hand, is more of a brand-facing platform used by its clients to reach consumers.
And while Alibaba’s Singles Day 2018 countdown featured a range of consumer-facing brands in a number of on-air integrations, Amazon’s Prime Day 2019 concert highlighted just one: Amazon.
Amazon makes itself the star of Prime Day concert
Over the course of its roughly three-hour livestream, the ecommerce platform pushed Prime Day and its music streaming service via onscreen placements as well as banners throughout the New York venue. Even the stage was designed to appear like it had two Echo devices at either end, which, of course, host Jane Lynch used to invoke Alexa to play music, shine a spotlight, blow wind through her hair and rap. (Yes, rap.)
Lynch and her co-host, YouTuber Tyler Oakley, repeatedly extolled Prime’s virtues, including shipping, music and movies. And eight lucky attendees, who, naturally, were Prime members, received Amazon Music bags and shirts or Echo Dots.
Ad breaks featured more about Amazon Music, which also received shoutouts during on-air commentary, along with spots on back-to-school shopping and Twitch Prime.
Prime Video certainly got a lot of attention as well, with additional ads highlighting new and returning series including Carnival Row, Fleabag, Hanna, Jack Ryan, Making the Cut, Modern Love and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, to name a few. The livestream also featured trailers for Amazon’s upcoming Jonas Brothers documentary and the Amazon Studios film Brittany Runs a Marathon.
In fact, there were only three products in the broadcast that were not Amazon brands. Lynch mentioned the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, the book Crafting with Cat Hair and a T-shirt with three wolves howling at the moon—all of which are conveniently sold by Amazon. And then, of course, cheerleaders with said T-shirt and T-shirt guns appeared onstage to shoot shirts into the crowd.
It certainly was an Amazon-centric night.
“I’d say it’s basic Advertising 101,” said Oweise Khazi, director of Amazon research at analytics firm Gartner for Marketers. “In essence, the Prime Day concert was to generate buzz around the sale and ensure that shoppers flock to the platform come the 15th. The consumer traffic that is inevitably generated from a PR event of this scale will benefit all brands on the platform, as long as they’ve done their due diligence and have a clear promotional strategy for Prime Day.”
Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali agreed. “I suspect they know people will buy brands anyway,” Kodali said. “This is an opportunity to grow their private label. They can’t grow it without more awareness, and this is a relatively inexpensive way to get awareness.”
Prior to the concert, when asked if outside brands would be advertising, an Amazon spokesperson said, “We don’t have anything specifically to share currently.”
To be fair, it isn’t clear whether brands had an option to purchase paid placements during Amazon’s concert. The Amazon representative did not respond to multiple followups.
Alibaba grossed over $30 billion during its 2018 Singles Day.
Putting brands in the spotlight
For Alibaba’s Singles Day, however, brand opportunities abound.
“Alibaba doesn’t have any private brands, so it doesn’t have a choice,” Kodali added.
Nevertheless, it’s going for broke: In 2018, Alibaba said it featured 180,000 brands during Singles Day alone. That includes marketing campaigns, product launches and promotions.
Advertising opportunities in its countdown special included Disney partnering with singer Coco Lee for a princess medley; a song-and-dance number from Aldi featuring branded shopping carts; mobile games from Starbucks and Adidas, which gave fans the chance to win coupons while watching the livestream; product placement from Chinese furniture brand Kuka; and an AR car from Czech auto manufacturer Skoda.
In 2017, model Miranda Kerr debuted her skincare brand Kora Organics on online marketplace Tmall. The following year, she made a cameo during the Singles Day gala to sing in Mandarin, answer questions about Kora products and walk down a runway.
“We created the [Nov. 11] Countdown Gala in 2015 as [a] new way to help the brands on our Tmall platform engage with consumers,” an Alibaba spokeswoman said in an email. “[Brands] … see 11.11 as an opportunity for brand-building, to launch their latest product innovations and to reach new consumers. The gala is one example of our retailtainment strategy, making shopping fun and engaging to the benefit of the brands who sell on our marketplaces.”
According to its latest announcement, Alibaba’s Singles Day gala will be longer this year, including a daytime segment airing exclusively on video hosting service Youku and channels Zhejiang TV and Dragon TV beginning in the afternoon instead of 8 p.m. The overseas networks have not yet been confirmed.
“The gala is extremely valuable, capable of bringing in conversion and brand impressions that far exceed any period in the campaign,” said Liu Bo, general manager of Alibaba’s marketing-platform business and lead for Alibaba’s 2019 Singles Day plans, in a statement. “All of the energy, attention and emotions of consumers are concentrated within those few hours leading up to midnight.”
Yvonne Zhang, vice president of Alibaba’s digital marketing arm Alimama, pointed to the emotional connections between brands and consumers beyond the transactions.
“Just like any other form of content, the gala is a space for brands to engage and learn about their customers,” Zhang said in the blog post. “The value of that interaction stretches beyond the gala into the long term.”