Google continues to knock on China’s door—this time, with bass and vocals.
Earlier this month the search giant released an advertisement touting Google Translate, targeted specifically at Chinese consumers. It shows how the company is steadily attempting to boost its visibility in China, where the bulk of its products and services remain inaccessible due to the country’s online censorship controls.
The ad, which was produced by London-headquartered agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBG), shows Chinese-American rapper MC Jin wandering around Shanghai, waving a phone running Google Translate over English signs and logos. Using augmented reality, the app then renders the images to display Chinese script. The ad’s a nod to Chinese pop culture—MC Jin recently featured in a hugely popular Chinese reality show called The Rap of China.
The ad marks a rare move for Google, which, compared to other companies, typically shuns traditional forms of advertising and instead relies on word of mouth to popularize its products and services.
But when it comes to China, the company is largely a nonentity. The company shut down its mainland Chinese search engine in 2010 due to concerns over censorship and cyberespionage. Its most popular consumer-facing services, including search and Gmail, are largely blocked. For a time, Google Translate remained in a grey area. While translate.google.com ran effectively, its mobile apps were unusable from within mainland China without first activating a virtual private network (VPN), a tool that helps people jump China’s Great Firewall.
In March, however, Google Translate’s app became unblocked—meaning users could download it from an app stores and use it normally. In a blog post at the time, Google marked the development by stating it had “made updates to its Translate app so it works better for Chinese users,” and didn’t mention the block specifically.
While Google has always maintained engineers and ad sales teams in China, rumors have long been gestating that Google wants to launch more consumer-facing services there. As far back as 2015, reports have surfaced the company wants to set up an app store that will reach Chinese consumers. Last September, meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that the company was hiring specialists in AI and machine learning in China.
The Chinese ad isn’t the first of its kind—the company has released similar ones touting Google Translate’s prowess for Japanese and Spanish. But the countries that speak those languages don’t share the tense history with Google that China does. This ad suggests that the company is hoping to move past all that, and get its products in front of more Chinese consumers.