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Olympic Hopes

Posted on | November 13, 2007 | No Comments

Well, by the time you read this, there will be less than 300 days to the biggest sporting event in Asia’s history. I know what you’re thinking – wasn’t the World Cup just four years ago? Wasn’t it the SEA Games recently? No, there really only is one thing that has inspired 1.3 billion Chinese to focus – the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

This Olympics will pale over Seoul’s 1988 ‘coming out’ party, and different to Athen’s historic celebration. It’s the opportunity for China to dominate the world stage. In recent years, they have been closing on traditional medal winners the US, Russia and Germany – this event will be a loud crescendo, not so much to signifiy that there is a new player, rather a new leader.

Nothing will be left to chance. Factories will be closed, cars will be prevented from driving in the weeks prior to the game – and China, already the world’s largest maker of artificial rain (google this if you don’t believe it) will open the heavens in the months prior to ensure the greenest of grass and trees. Plans are now underway to build a ‘green wall of China’ a massive forest across the top of Beijing, to provide some respite.

So what does this mean for marketers? It’s really an unprecedented opportunity to leverage all this. Many have started already – but China, never one to miss a trick, has also sold a number of ‘local’ sponsorships, thereby creating more noise and more competition. If you thought Budweiser had the beer category all to itself, now Beijing local brand Yanjing also has marketing rights. And with the sailing on in Qingdao, Tsingdao Beer also has sponsorship clearance. It’s a minefield.

We’re conducting quarterly research on how marketers are best handling this in China – and indeed whether being a sponsor will change the purchase decision. It’s interesting that already, 53% of consumers do suggest they are more likely to buy a brand that is an Olympic sponsor. If this level of support sustains, it could well prove to be a valuable marketing investment.

At this stage, Lenovo, Coke and local diary company Yili lead the way in terms of unprompted awareness. All three have started early, either in direct activity, or in leveraging some of the Olympic stars. More interesting is in prompted awareness – eight of the top ten companies mentioned are local Chinese brands – there is a real ‘home ground’ advantage here that is going to be translated into preference and conversion over time. Recently, local shoe brand Li Ning announced they were signing up Shaquille O’Neal. Others have continued major TV sponsorships. Local marketers in China are not waiting for foreign players to come in, they are aggressively and entrepreneurially pursuing growth.

There’s never been a period in Asian marketing like this – the next two years promise more fireworks than any Chinese New Year, and only the strong willed will survive

Greg Paull is Principal of R3, an Asia – based consultancy focused on marketing efficiency and effectiveness

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