Jx Tan
Feb 5, 2024

Is Temu too timid when it comes to PR?

As online marketplace Temu gears up for some serious spend on the upcoming Super Bowl, JX Tan, head of international PR at BGI Genomics, explores how the e-commerce disruptor could take a bigger bite from Amazon and the overall e-commerce pie if it ups its PR game.

Is Temu too timid when it comes to PR?

When you hear "Temu products," what pops into your head? “A chicken-shaped lamp, a velociraptor-shaped toilet paper holder, and an array of everyday items—all mind-bogglingly cheap,” as eloquently described by The Guardian.

Despite these labels, criticism hasn’t slowed the growth of Temu one bit, it seems. Founded in 2022 and headquartered in Boston, USA, this online marketplace, and e-commerce disruptor is gearing up to drop some serious cash on the upcoming Super Bowl (February 11) in advertising—after shelling out a cool US$14 million last year.

But has Temu been too timid in its PR game to date otherwise? Especially when compared to how its largest counterpart, Amazon, approached the game of public relations when it first unveiled its big plans back in 1997 when it got listed?

Three years into the game at the time (Amazon was founded in 1994), Jeff Bezos wrote the company's inaugural shareholder letter and rocked a video interview at the Special Libraries Conference. His focus? Long-term strategy, decisions based on key metrics like customer and revenue growth, a unique value proposition with three million books you won't find in your average bookstore, and ground-breaking customer innovation.

Peek at Temu's messaging, and it's almost déjà vu. A bit of tweaking, and you wouldn’t be remiss in feeling like you’re watching the rise of another Amazon 30 years after the original was born. Think customer and revenue growth metrics, an online discount store like no other, and a gaming-inspired, value-packed shopping experience.

So, why is Temu still too shy to showcase its unique differences? Here are two key reasons:

Nurturing the right brand story

After a year of spreading its wings to 47 countries and serving a whopping 120 million monthly users globally, Temu has grown at a rapid pace. From a purely PR perspective (not arising from geopolitical and legal updates), Temu may be patiently preparing a global version of its value creation story for sellers as well as customers, not dissimilar to how its parent Pinduoduo has helped 16 million farmers sell their produce to over 800 million consumers in China by 2021.

By building up to the point where facts and numbers support its brand story, Temu may be able to create a more authentic, meaningful narrative that resonates with its target audience to generate buzz in the media beyond free shipping and free returns within 90 days.

Those are great things to be known for, but they also come with their own unique tags of unsustainability, bad quality etc. To offset these labels and truly project the right brand story, Temu needs to be able to embed a sense of purpose more meaningfully into its narrative and demonstrate its unique value proposition to consumers.

The perils of youth

The other side is time. With only a year under its belt so far, Temu might be brimming with potential, but it’s still in its infancy in a rapidly evolving e-commerce market. And whilst it’s unwaveringly focused not only on e-commerce, but a segment of "mind-bogglingly cheap" e-commerce (which in this economy will take you farther with consumers than you think), it’s still early days for the platform. After all, it was only in 1997 with three years of experience in tow, that Amazon's PR strategy began to focus on innovation and technology. The company then invested significantly in cutting-edge technologies and infrastructure to streamline its operations, ultimately enhancing the online shopping experience, and in turn meeting its customer satisfaction goals. Consequently, it was this commitment to staying at the forefront of e-commerce innovation that played a pivotal role in shaping Amazon's public image.

As they say, what’s worth having is worth waiting for—and that includes a good public perception.

Temu now stands at a crossroads. If it chooses to be timid with PR in the next two years and take on the "make money first" mantra, it may conversely find it harder to do so, as it will be defined by its rivals and an increasingly critical media. However, if Temu is prepared to execute a PR strategy in line with its strengths and the value created through its overseas expansions, it will likely take a bigger bite from Amazon and the other incumbents' e-commerce pie than it might’ve done with ferocious price wars.

By JX Tan, Author of The Tao of Communications newsletter, and head of international communications and PRat BGI Genomics, and former head of content (APAC) at PR Newswire. With a keen eye on Asian brands, Tan has authored articles in major publications such as Tech in Asia. This piece reflects his personal opinion.

Campaign Asia

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