Gold medal marketing: brand growth beyond the Beijing Games

13 Aug 2008|Added Value

HONG KONG: The Beijing Olympics 2008 have begun. With the world watching, there is a real opportunity for brands to capitalise on one of the most widely covered and attended sport events in the world. And with China booming, the event almost stands as a symbol of introduction between the developed, branded markets of the west and the relatively uncharted territory of the east.

Sponsors clearly have the biggest advantage and recent research shows that both online and offline investment has reached unprecedented levels as brands attempt to maximise their Olympic credentials. In fact, a recent study by R3 and CSM reports that over 9.1 billion RMB has been spent on Olympic marketing in the last three months, a 49% increase on the previous three months.

Chinese consumers aren’t just talking about their interest; they’re throwing their support behind Olympic-related campaigns. MSN’s “Red Heart Signature” campaign, for example, encouraged Chinese users to add “Love China” to their user names on the site. A record 2.3 million users responded, turning the Windows Live Messenger site into an “ocean of red”.

Portal websites a major battlefield
Interestingly, portal websites are proving to be a major battlefield in the Olympic media mix. Recent research conducted by Millward Brown, Ogilvy and Lightspeed showed the Internet as being only slightly less important than TV as a funnel for Olympic information. For brands looking to build equity in China, this is critical information.

The Internet not only provides unexplored territory for creative brand expression, increasingly important to Chinese consumers, it also taps into the global zeitgeist of connectivity and social networking. High internet penetration in China, particularly amongst the more brand aware youth, gives brands untold opportunity to not only connect, but data mine new and existing consumers buzzing with Olympic enthusiasm. In fact, over 66.5% of Internet advertising expenditure was invested in five main portal websites since 2008.

Sponsor brands also have the opportunity to leverage the larger event in their traditional marketing, making the most of the international publicity, and can also tap into sports celebrity endorsements, ticket competitions for events and the use of the official Fuwa Olympic Mascots. Although marketers might be interested to know that in a survey conducted by 5iSurvey Inc in 2007, Chinese consumers cited creativity and originality as more important than celebrity endorsement in driving their interest in Olympic brand marketing.

Not limited to official sponsors
These opportunities are not limited to the official sponsors, although non-sponsor brands will definitely be limited by the boundaries imposed by the International Olympic Committee. Many brands such as Li Ning (China’s largest sports apparel brand), Nike and even Philips have taken the opportunities to advertise in support of the Olympics and sportsmanship. This has confused consumers, who aren’t sure who the official sponsors are and who is taking advantage in a subtle way.

Recent qualitative consumer research by Oracle Added Value found there is an almost equal proportion of people quoting Nike as a sponsor as adidas. Sponsors have complained and in response the government has announced a series of strict protocols on advertising anything in relationship to Olympics. This has had a huge commercial implication for non-sponsors, as pre-booked advertising has had to be pulled.

The opportunity for non-sponsors now may be to connect with consumers outside of the “red ocean” cities officially hosting Olympic events in ways that help second and third tier cities feel engaged, with messages and activities that don’t break the “law”.

Li Ning, for example, created an innovative “heroes” campaign with some of the less supported sports teams, leveraging the general Olympic spirit and passion for sports, but without stepping directly on adidas’ toes. Concentrating on an activity circuit outside of the main event hubs, the “heroes” campaign has even spawned a viral “heroes gesture”, an “L” made with the two forefingers and thumb over the heart, standing for “Luck, Love and Li Ning”. Nevertheless, it has spent a fortune in sponsoring the “uniform” of programme hosts at CCTV’s Olympic Channel, which has now had to be withdrawn.

Connect with thousands
Local brands, however, will automatically have the chance to literally connect with thousands of international sports fans and athletes, all of whom will be open to new, uniquely Chinese experiences and products. So, as much as international brands will have the opportunity to show their commitment to China, Chinese brands will be given a highly publicised entrance to the world stage.

As with any marketing, both sponsor and non-sponsor brands will hope to use the Olympics as a means to snag consumer attention, connect emotionally and create a relevant and significant brand experience.

The real challenge, of course, will come after the Closing ceremony, when the Olympic fervour has died down. Brands that are hoping to ride the Olympic wave without a solid, integrated follow-up strategy are going to have a problem. The Olympics most certainly give brands a quick connection point with consumers, but how to leverage that connection going forward?

Most successful
In the market, Lenovo (IBM) and Coca-Cola are considered to be the most successful in making use of the sponsorship property. Lenovo stands out by lending real services to all computer-related activities and functions in the public eye. It excels other brands as being the hero behind the Beijing Olympics.

Coca-Cola, on the other hand, has integrated an Olympic spirit in its brand strategy, and has maximised its status of being the world’s leading brand by launching a wide range of PR and advertising campaigns for a number of its brands in the run-up to the Olympics. In fact, Coca-Cola engaged Oracle Added Value to begin research on its Olympic strategy almost two years ago, a clear indication of its longer term view.

The actual event itself is a great data-mining opportunity in a market that still holds enormous growth potential for brands. A rapidly changing media landscape means that connection points such as Internet, IPTV and WAP-enabled mobile will open up ongoing marketing channels and relationship management in new ways.

ROI tracking and measurement
And the local marketing fraternity have a chance to learn from one of the biggest sponsorship events in the world. Investing in return on investment (ROI) tracking and measurement at this point would also be a critical means to monitor the effectiveness of marketing spend and strategise for future improvement.

For international brands, activating global strategy with ongoing local relevance and building cultural capital will be a really big challenge, while for local brands, capability issues might be key. But Gold Medal winners will be those who use the games to deliver an on-brand experience and then follow up for the next eight years.

By Magdalena Wong and James Cheng
Both work at Oracle Added Value (, one of China’s leading brand development and market research companies. Wong set up Oracle Market Research in 1994 and was a key driver in the Oracle Added Value merger in 2005, after being acquired by WPP. The business is part of the global Added Value Group, with offices in 22 locations in 12 countries around the world.

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