Media > Culture & Context


PHD, Shanghai / GOOGLE / 2019

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Why is this work relevant for Media?

Around the world, Google is the default for a search, navigation or translation. That is, everywhere but China. To successfully launch Google’s sole product in China, Google Translate, we used an integrated online to offline media partnership and the universal language of food to inspire curiosity among young Chinese people, connecting them and inviting them to ‘Eat the World’ with Google Translate.


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.

Describe the creative idea/insights

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 usage 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.

Describe the strategy

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 to new things, including new cuisines—in fact, 52% more than the general population (CNRS).

Describe the execution

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.

List the results

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- three months’ worth of downloads in just two weeks.

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

Please tell us about the challenger brand and how your campaign challenged/was different from your competitors

From the start, we knew the launch of Google Translate in China would be an uphill battle. We had to overcome China’s mentality of people assuming that Google is blocked and will not work.

We could not rely on our Masterbrand to build favorability, but meanwhile our competitors like Tencent, Youdao and NetEase had support from the government and large advertising ecosystems like WeChat at their disposals to bring users to their apps.

On top of this, Google Translate was restricted on certain platforms due to competitive differences, so through this campaign we had to think beyond the traditional investment model.

Despite all these hurdles, Google Translate was able to connect with millions and challenge the tech giants of China.

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