I recently learned about something called Temu from one of the Semafor newsletters (unfortunately I lost my link). According to the newsletter, Temu is some sort of Chinese shopping app that somewhat recently became available in the United States and had achieved early success thanks in part to an online advertising blitz. You can infer from my opening that I had never heard of Temu before. I followed a link from the newsletter to an article by Ms. Julia Wadlow at ModernRetail titled ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’: Temu’s ad spend soars as it embarks on a marketing blitz. From reading the article, I learned what Temu is and why some people are apparently talking about it. But my take-away was ultimately self-involved – I thought about why it is that I had no idea what Temu. The answer: I use the internet correctly.
I will work through the ModernRetail article and in so doing, highlight why I did not know what Temu is and how you too can achieve ignorance of annoying things on the internet.
Let us begin (all quotes are from the ModernRetail article, linked in the introduction).
Why is Temu making news?
Online marketplace Temu is counting on a deluge of ads — whether that’s through social media, paid search or television — to win over shoppers.
I immediately ascertained why I was missing out on the Temu excitement. I use uBlock Origin in all of my web browsers. I also run host level blocking on my phones and some of my computers.
Let us continue…
Seventy-six percent of Temu’s ad spend for the period went to social media, compared to 13% on digital display ads, the ad intelligence platform found.
I do not use proprietary, ad supported social media save for X – which I only use for sharing New Leaf Journal articles. Moreover, I usually post to X from Buffer. If I ever want to read something on X, I use a Nitter instance, which has no ads.
Temu is also funneling more money into TV and plans to run an ad during the Super Bowl for the second year in a row, according to the Wall Street Journal.
I watched and followed NFL football for most of the 2000s and a couple of years at the beginning of the 2010s. I think I last watched a game when I was in the hospital in late 2018 and had nothing better to do. Thus, I have missed all the Super Bowl ads.
Temu’s appeal lies in its low-priced items such as $2 scrunchies and $10 sneakers.
Call me skeptical but I think it will be difficult to break Amazon’s stranglehold on the cheap-junk-from-China market.
It is a fairly new company, having launched in the United States in September 2022. But, over the past year and a half, it’s managed to grow a large volume of sales by placing ads on TikTok, Instagram, Google and nearly every other channel where people shop.
Temu is also investing in paid search for its items to appear alongside name-brand products like Apple chargers and Stanley tumblers. In fact, a search for the phrase “Lego toy” returns more Google Shopping results for Temu than it does for Lego, Mike Ryan, head of e-commerce insights at Smec, an e-commerce solutions provider, pointed out on X.
Do people actually search for “lego toy” in Google to look for Legos to buy?
Today, it’s difficult to scroll through social media or even surf the web without coming across a Temu ad.
I must be very talented to have achieved something so difficult without being aware of what I was doing.
And, Temu’s orange boxes are popping up more in package rooms and mailrooms.
I have not seen any in the lobby of my building. Perhaps my neighbors have also missed the alleged Temu craze.
Last summer, a USPS worker pleaded with people to order less from Temu in a viral TikTok.
I have two thoughts here. Firstly, I agree that TikTok, which should be banned, is a virus. Secondly, while I have not and will not watch the “TikTok” in question even though I could use ProxiTok to watch it without needing to download the TikTok spyware onto one of my devices, I am sure that this USPS worker pleading with people to stop buying so much low-priced stuff from Temu was not in any way connected to Temu.
‘I’ve seen versions of it, but not seemingly at the scale, at this level of aggressiveness,’ he said. ‘They are creating this level of cultural awareness that I think is maybe allowing it to enter the mainstream in a way that other brands that just try to arbitrage traffic haven’t been able to make that leap.’
I am doing a great job at not being “culturally aware” in recent months. For example, Temu is apparently creating a “level of cultural awareness” that I was unaware of until now. I very occasionally see some think piece about Taylor Swift and her football boyfriend, either complaining about how much attention they are getting or complaining that it is the wrong kind of attention. But I never read these occasional think pieces. They are not relevant to me because I am not being bombarded with articles I am not interested in. The magical solution is a feed reader (free of dumb feeds) combined with a read-it-later solution.
For instance, Temu is ranked first in “clothing and accessories” ad visibility in the United Kingdom over the past 28 days — higher than Amazon, eBay, Asos, Shein and Nike.
The only shopping ads I have seen are ads on actual storefronts such as Amazon, Ebay, Steam, GOG, or a few other places I shop. They are generally first-party ads with the exception of Amazon. Amazon’s sponsored results are atrocious, however – sometimes GLBSUNION and CUZMAK bad. But I digress.
One question, though, is how much this ad spend resonates with people or turns them into repeat buyers.
According to my sample size of me – not at all.
Other numbers appear promising. GWS Magnify estimates Temu had 82.4 million active shoppers using its app in September, up from 4.6 million a year prior.
I cringe to think what the permissions are on the Temu app. Please do not download weird Chinese shopping apps (or any shopping apps if you can avoid it)… If your online store is not accessible from a normal web browser, that is a sign you should not buy from it (note that I do not know whether Temu requires the app to shop and I am not interested in finding out).
Besides running ads, Temu is fundamentally changing the way the ad landscape works, marketers say.
Wow, this almost makes me want to check in on the ad situation (not).
I gleaned one lesson from learning about Temu for the first time on the evening of January 24, 2024: I am using the internet correctly. Protect yourself with uBlock Origin if it is available or use Brave, which has built-in adblocking (you can always whitelist specific sites you trust and/or want to support). While I recommend looking into full or partial alternatives to Google and Bing, you can be a discerning searcher – using well-constructed, targeted queries, and understanding how to ignore ad-ridden results, while using the big boys (I also recommend using domain-specific search short cuts and employing other methods to reduce your reliance on big tech generalist search engines). To the extent practicable (I understand not everyone can quit wholesale), avoid platforms and services such as Facebook, Instagram, X, and TikTok (which should be banned) that view you as a product to sell to annoying advertisers like Temu. Finally – one of the best ways to avoid annoying ads and frivolous content is to find websites worth following and add them to a feed reader, preferably combined with a read-it-later tool (I recommend starting with The New Leaf Journal). Think of your own web browsers and devices as your digital home, and manage which parts of the internet are allowed in just like you would manage your real home. Do this well and you can join me in being ignorant of the newest online spam retailers, TikTok trends, and celebrity gossip-bait.