How Data From Alibaba Helped Make Fruity Listerine and Spicy Snickers

Data helps foreign brands appeal to Chinese consumers

Mars used data from Alibaba to create a Snickers bar for Chinese consumers. - Credit by Alizila
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Listerine mouthwash has been available in the U.S. since 1879. But its parent, healthcare company Johnson & Johnson, found Chinese consumers reacted poorly to existing formulations of its antiseptic mouthwash.

Enter Alibaba’s Tmall Innovation Center, or TMIC, which works with brands to develop new products that appeal to Chinese consumers. Alibaba says it is able to tap into insights from the 500 million customers who use its ecommerce platform and apply this to market research, sales and data analysis and product design for its partners.

Johnson & Johnson worked with TMIC to learn that Listerine’s target audience—young Chinese women—prefer mouthwash with fruit and floral flavors. As a result, Listerine will debut two new products in China during Alibaba’s upcoming 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, or Singles Day, during which Alibaba sold $25.3 billion worth of goods in 24 hours last year.

That makes it arguably the biggest shopping day in the world: By way of comparison, U.S. retailers made about $5 billion on Black Friday 2017 and $6.6 billion on Cyber Monday, according to Adobe.

Alibaba says the new Listerine products were created in five months. Products co-created by TMIC are sold exclusively on Tmall, Alibaba’s B2C marketplace, for two months.

Earlier this year, candy company Mars worked with TMIC to create a chili-infused Snickers bar.

Combined with Mars’ own consumer research, TMIC found Chinese consumers love spicy food—and mala, the Chinese word for “numbing and spicy,” is growing in popularity. Therefore, Chinese consumers were willing try chocolate with some heat.

“Leveraging the insights we got from the collaboration, we connected a flavor loved by 41 percent of Chinese consumers with our chocolate,” said Wallace Du, head of digital commerce at Mars and the company’s China Digital Innovation Center, in a release.

From its debut in August 2017 to mid-March 2018, sales of Snickers Spicy surpassed RMB 9 million ($1.43 million).

Alibaba says these examples showcase its newest brand offering: product development.

As a means to this end, TMIC partnered with 10 data analytics firms—including Kantar and Nielsen—to enable brands to better understand Chinese consumers, as well as to decide how to best continue with an existing product line, predict upcoming trends, find new demand and create products to meet that demand.

TMIC has also worked with P&G, Mattel, Unilever, L’Oréal, Estee Lauder, Shiseido and Samsung.

Alibaba says brands working with TMIC have cut the length of their product development cycles in half, at the same time mitigating the risks of misjudging consumer tastes and preferences in failed products.

“Tmall aims to help every brand speed up its product R&D, innovation process and time-to-market, reducing the risks faced by introducing a new product,” said Tmall president Jet Jing in an announcement. “This also allows more new categories and products to feature in Chinese consumers’ lives at a much faster pace.”

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.