What does Alibaba’s latest purchase mean for brand marketers?


Time will tell if Alibaba’s purchase of the 112-year-old South China Morning Post newspaper will open doors for brand marketing in China.

Last week, Alibaba purchased Hong Kong’s  South China Morning Post (SCMP), a respected English-language newspaper whose portfolio also includes online businesses, in addition to titles like Esquire, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar. Add Alibaba’s mobile, e-commerce and multimedia offerings, as well as its expansive pool of consumer data to the mix and brands can expect new and more targeted channels to reach mainland Chinese consumers.

“Some say the newspaper industry is a sunset industry, we don’t see it that way,” Joe Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group told the SCMP. “We see it as an opportunity to use our technological expertise, and use our digital assets and know-how to distribute news in a way that has never been done before.”

What does this mean for digital marketers? Here’s a snap shot.

1. Grow the readership

The SCMP paywall will be the first to go. By moving from a subscription-based model to a digital one, Alibaba strengthens the publications’ performance as a platform focused on advertising by increasing traffic and ultimately, increasing ad impressions.

“Why put up that friction point? Why not make content more accessible to anybody who wants to come on a global basis, on a mobile app, on a mobile phone?” asked Tsai.


2. Content

From its base in Hong Kong, the SCMP is seen as one of the most informative and objective publications covering Greater China. Alibaba will be investing in ways to expand that reputation to a global community.

Moreso, the SCMP deal gives the technology giant a channel to better influence international audiences about China and the Alibaba business. However, it will need to be careful about how it preserves the publication’s editorial integrity.

Alibaba will also be looking at ways of strengthening the portfolio of Mandarin language publications, especially its fashion titles. This is a strategic and lucrative marketing proposition for brands wanting localized content to reach the Chinese consumer.

“From a digital marketing standpoint, Alibaba has remarkable insights into preferences through its increasing network of data sources,” says Mark Tanner, managing director, China Skinny. “It can tap into this to create articles that will have widespread interest to readers in China.”

Alibaba will just need to find the right balance between using that data to influence content offerings against content that is not swayed by populist views and interests.

3. Distribution

Alibaba’s extensive distribution channels will mean SCMP content can be more widely syndicated. Plugging into more advertising and content networks means better retargeting opportunities for advertisers, as well.

Alibaba’s multimedia network of assets includes e-commerce marketplaces Taobao, Tmall and Tmall Global, which have a combined Chinese user base of 386 million annual active buyers. Recently, the company also invested in a number of traditional and digital entertainment businesses, such as Alibaba Pictures (film production), Alibaba Sports Group, and video-streaming products, such as the November acquisition of China’s version of YouTube, Youku Tudou.

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As Alibaba continues to push its international profile, which includes an office in the U.S., its SCMP deal gives it another advertising offering to take to potential international clients.

“It’s another gateway for overseas brands to access China,” says Napoleon Biggs, co-founder, Purecomm Omni-channel Retail. “Alibaba can now say to brands,  ‘We don’t just have the market place; we’ve got the media, too.’”


Alibaba has so many e-commerce businesses and multimedia distribution channels, on top of its troves of data. On a strategic level, combining with the SCMP makes for a strong marketing offering to international brands, especially those looking for better access to the lucrative Chinese consumer.