Tmall’s new logo, and its amusing heritage

On March 29th, 2012, Alibaba Group debuted the new logo for its Tmall.com branch, the e-commerce site that holds over 50% market share of China’s business-to-consumer (B2C) sector. This is the 3rd step in a series of attempts to distinguish the Tmall brand from Alibaba’s bigger, but more consumer-to-consumer (C2C) oriented site Taobao.com.

Initially, the B2C arm was simply named “Taobao Mall” (淘宝商城, táo bǎo shāng chéng), accessed through http://mall.taobao.com, with no clearly defined official English name. Later it was renamed “TMall”, and assigned a separate URL http://www.tmall.com. In January 2012, it was given a new Chinese name “天猫” (tiān máo, literally “sky cat”), to further distinguish itself from Taobao, and is presumably easier to pronounce than “TMall’ for Chinese users. Now with a new logo, the division has a fully independent brand identity.

 

TMall's new logo, the "sky cat".

According to official figures, the new logo was drawn from 12 thousand different designs submitted by netizens and professional design studios, and was shaped to look like a “T”. “The new logo won’t make every user happy,” said Mr. Wang Shuai, the Chief Marketing Officer of Alibaba Group, “there will be debates and critics. However, it was generated through a contest open to all netizens, thus bears the open mind of the internet itself. Our identity comes from the imagination and preference of our users.”

Putting the letter T and the open mind aside, we’ve found another possible reference in the logo. It’s wrapped in pink, glorified by Chairman Mao, and loved by everyone. It’s the 100 Chinese Yuan (CNY) note.

On the bank note, right in front of Chairman Mao’s fatherly gaze, there is…

Kowtow cats: the hidden secret of the CNY 100 note.

No one knows for sure what these kowtowing cats are doing on Chinese money. According to The People’s Bank of China, the pattern was drawn from lacquer ware made in the Warring States Period (475 BC – 221 BC). “The experts say it’s some kind of geometric pattern. As to what exactly it is, we trust archeologists will come up with an answer,” says the bank.

Whatever the pattern is, TMall just hit a very smart tie-in with its new logo. With peak single-day sales mounting up as high as CNY 3.3 billion (source story), who has a better chance than TMall to represent Chinese money?

Contact Illuminant if you’d like to learn more about how Chinese cultural heritage can be a powerful and effective influence on your modern brand identity.

Article by Kane Gao, Illuminant’s head of research.

 

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