Yesterday the Chinese internet search giant announced its brand new product, 百度老年搜索 (literally “Baidu Senior Citizen Search”). An exciting day for increasing numbers of Chinese silver surfers!
According to Baidu, China has around 14 million silver surfers. They’ve been dubbed silver surfers, of course, due to hair which is often rendered silver-white by the flowing years, however they still like to keep up with current technology. A great many of China’s silver surfers have been enriched by new China’s economic miracle and the part their kids’ have played in it, so to marketers, they’re actually a pretty interesting consumer segment.
At the launch of “Baidu Senior Citizen Search” Li Yanhong, the company’s CEO said “Despite their age, our parents, just like us, need to absorb information from the web. As the search engine provider which owns 90% of Chinese market, we must offer more convenience to silver surfers. So [Baidu] decided to make a new search engine, specially designed for them. Aside from information, the new engine is utterly easy to use, enabling our fathers and mothers to surf the web without relying on a mouse. Meanwhile, considering there are 14 million silver surfers in China, it’s quite a remarkable market.”
[Illuminant's summarized translation - read the original Chinese here]
Okay. Great idea, Baidu. China now has a search engine to specicially serve retired netizens. Lets now leap into this modern-as-tomorrow future and see how the service works!
Hmm. The new search engine is a little bit hard to find. It seems to us that it can only be visited from a small text link on the front page of Baidu.com. A single click took me to a yellow-page with very, very, very huge fonts. The big font is a good idea (well, a no-brainer, actually. What else does the specialist search engine provide? Somewhat disappointingly, we couldn’t find anything innovative, or even new.
Firstly, a yellow web-page is nothing new to Baidu. Years ago the company acquired a catalogue (name: hao123) of the most frequently visited websites to help web starters who are not yet familiar with a real search engine (this, of course, was originally a Yahoo! innovation back in the 20th century). The new Baidu “search engine” for silver surfers looks pretty much the same as hao123, only with a ton of stuff for youngsters removed. The catalogue includes weather, tourism, hospitals, traditional arts, senior citizen communities, web portals, and so on. But… despite the convenience of a heirarchichal link aggregation, is this by any standard a “search engine”?
At the top, beside the Baidu logo, there is a textbox emphasizing the facility of a search engine. The textbox, like everything else, is also extra large, of course.
According to Mr. Li’s speech, one might be led to believe that there is a great deal of new code behind the page to generate optimized and carefully selected entries to silver surfers. So, we tried the new engine with something tricky: a Mandarin-Chinese slang term in current use amongst China’s young netizens. This slang term is definitely not something silver surfers would be interested in. We expected that the search results would feature an explanation of the term, and several news stories addressing the rise of netizen slang. OK, type the term, click the button, and see what we’ve got here.
If my computer works all right, what I’m look at now is a very long list of the term being put into normal daily usage. Say, if I’m born long before the information era of China and only got to use computer in my old age, this list will confuse the hell out of me. Out of curiosity, I tried the term in the regular Baidu search engine. And… what the… I’ve got a completely identical list here.
Our inexpert conclusion is: except for super large fonts, the “new” search engine is nothing but a magnified version of old stuff. We’re scratching our heads. Why would a good company bother spending money on creating buzz for an advanced new technology solution which could be easily replaced by buying my Mom a pair of glasses?
Interestingly, we’ve found that the new silver surfer’s “search engine” is (at the time of writing) totally advertisement-free. To be fair to Baidu, this is actually a pretty good thing: presumably China’s silver surfers possess minimal internet security understanding as well as high trust in new technology. Silver surfers would be easy targets of the Chinese web’s ubiquitous phishing-attacks, Trojan horses, and virus-bearing malware.
Perhaps fault lies with us, for expecting too much of a leading Chinese web business. After all, CEO Li did promise “a new search engine, specially designed for them”, and no court or judge would penalize Baidu for its “over-promise under-deliver” approach to this “new product” launch.
As a marketing agency working in China, we really shouldn’t be surprised at any part of yesterday’s buzz-creating activity, except at the lack of advertising on the “new search engine”.
Baidu, we’ll gladly be proven wrong.
Article by Illuminant’s Head of Research, Kane Gao