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LITTLE BIG LEAGUE

A Chinese tech giant’s Olympic ads are a peek at the stories it likes to tell about itself

Josh Horwitz
By Josh Horwitz

Asia Correspondent

Alibaba is one of the world’s largest tech companies. But for its new global-facing ad campaign, it’s embracing the small underdog.

The e-commerce giant recently unveiled three clips timed to the run-up to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics (though only the first will air on TV, and only in China). Intended for an international audience, the advertisements make no mention of China or e-commerce—instead, they play up the company’s underdog spirit, under the slogan “To the greatness of small.”

The first spot, below, includes a montage of athletes in small, inspiring moments during training or competition. It’s followed by another one that tells the story of Kenya’s ice hockey team.

A third spot recounts an incident in 1928, when Australian rower Bobby Pearce stopped mid-race to let ducks cross his lane.

In January 2017, Alibaba signed an 11-year deal with the International Olympic Committee to be a major sponsor and the official cloud computing provider of gaming events. Alibaba Cloud, the company’s answer to Amazon Web Services, will power the IT back-end for the Pyeongchang Games.

An outsider spirit has long been a core part of Alibaba’s culture. Founded by former English teacher Jack Ma, the company won its first upset victory in 2003 when it defeated eBay to win over consumers in China’s then-fledgling e-commerce industry. To this day, all employees at Alibaba have nicknames, often taken from novels by Hong Kong writer Louis Cha (pen name Jin Yong), who wrote martial arts-themed fantasy novels that celebrate underdog bands of warriors.

The ads end with, “Alibaba empowers small businesses and young people around the world.”

As for Alibaba itself, it long ago graduated from being a small underdog. It’s valued at approximately $520 billion and generated $23 billion in revenue during its fiscal year ending in March 2017.

Abroad, though, it remains relatively unknown to the average consumer. Ads such as these can help boost its visibility as it expands overseas.

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