Spikes Asia

Eat the World with Google Translate

PHD, Shanghai / GOOGLE / 2019

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When you mention Google in China, people usually assume it doesn’t work, or even think it’s illegal. And unlike the rest of the world where Google Translate is seen as the go-to translation service, in China, it’s in fact an underdog, standing only at #4 in terms of popularity.

Google had an enormous task at hand: to launch their first consumer-facing product in China—Google Translate—without the power of the Google Masterbrand. Amidst a highly cluttered and complicated mobile app market, Google Translate needed drive download and increase awareness.

But as habitual users of tech giants Tencent and Baidu’ services, young Chinese saw no reason to convert. Research showed that most translation mobile app users had two to three apps installed on their phone and often switched between them depending on usage. So our objective was to convince people to add Google Translate into their repertoire.


At a very young age, Chinese children are taught not to challenge but to follow; a generation without curiosity, one that doesn’t ask questions. And while China is opening up economically to the world, young Chinese people are lagging behind.

All our competitors were focused on conventional usages such as work and study. But we had bigger ambition for the brand: to move Google Translate away from a utility tool to a platform that enables people to discover and be curious.

As young Chinese are starting to travel more and explore the wider world, we wanted to nurture this growing curiosity and bring a cross-cultural experience to them simply by using Google Translate.


This inspired Google Translate’s ‘Secret Menu’, using novel experiences and the connecting power of food to break down language barriers. We chose the most popular foreign restaurants around China and worked with them to create a Secret Menu that only could be unlocked with Google Translate mobile app.

Our strategy was to create a habit loop where each use of Google Translate would give people a novel experience which they would be emotionally connected and motivated to repeat thereafter.

This strategy was underpinned by three key insights:

• Google Translate and Google Masterbrand favourability is driven by people using the app; therefore, trial is key.

• Novelty stimulates the brain and strengthens long term memory structures that improves learning and memory, therefore putting Google Translate top of mind.

• Translation mobile app users are more accepting of new things, including new cuisines—in fact, 52% more than the general population (CNRS).


Partnering with Dianping (China’s biggest lifestyle mobile apple – Yelp equivalent) we covered 500 restaurants across China’s top seven cities to lead customers at foreign restaurants to use Google Translate to reveal the Secret Menu and receive exclusive perks.

Within each restaurant, people were encouraged via displays in their respective languages (e.g. a French restaurant would have French language) to use Google Translate to scan, translate and unlock the Secret Menu, rewarding them with a meal coupon.

To further promote this activation, we leveraged the partnered restaurants’ online listings on Dianping as our owned media as well as prominent formats such as app opening interstitials to spread the word.


Over one million people took the challenge to be curious with Google Translate and embark on a culinary adventure. The campaign had a total of 602 million impressions and resulted in successfully persuading 750,000 people to download the Google Translate app in just two weeks.

Just shows that with a little novelty and Google Translate, we can all find our curiosity again.

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