Temu and Shein Are the ‘Jaws’ of Digital Advertising

Fashion brands advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Google are swimming in shark-infested waters, and Temu and Shein are the sharks.

The Chinese e-commerce players have been on a huge advertising spree capable of disrupting the marketing of any brands they end up competing against head to head. They can appear out of nowhere, abruptly send costs soaring and disappear just as quickly.

“We are all very aware of their spending power and their ability to change our results in a hurry,” said Vic Drabicky, founder and chief executive of January Digital, a consultancy and marketing agency with customers including Tory Burch, Fenty Beauty and Victoria’s Secret.

Temu’s parent company, PDD, spent almost $2 billion on Meta ads in 2023, sources told the Wall Street Journal, making it Meta’s biggest advertiser by revenue for the year. (Temu disputed the number but didn’t provide a figure of its own.) The company also placed around 1.4 million ads across Google services globally in the past year, the New York Times reported.

Shein is trying to keep up. In the last quarter of 2023, the company’s US ad spending was up 160 percent compared to the prior year, according to data from digital-intelligence firm SensorTower. It ratched up spending a further 80 percent month over month in January of this year.

Most of the time fashion brands won’t see much impact from this flood of advertising. But when it’s targeted at the same shoppers they’re trying to reach, it can make it dramatically more expensive to get the same number of clicks from users — and may come as they’re already fighting to keep their shoppers from decamping to those platforms for similar-looking items at much cheaper prices.

At least two of January Digital’s customers have already run into scenarios where they’ve found

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