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Brand Olympics

  • (Photo courtesy: China Daily)
  • (Photo courtesy: China Daily)
  • (Photo courtesy: China Daily)

For enterprises, the Olympics is an opportunity to build up their brands, improve services and visibility.

Down a Budweiser or a Coke when thirsty. Queue up at McDonald’s when hungry. So how is Beijing Games any different for visitors in terms of brands?

Despite the profusion of familiar, foreign brands this time as well, Beijing Games actually has over 30 Chinese sponsors and partners. For foreigners not familiar with these brands, the Games is their first contact with these Chinese products, completing their China experience.

Let’s start with the passage to China. Air China is the only airline partner of the Games. The 300 air attendants serving the executive class of Air China planes have been selected from over 4,000 applicants aged 19 to 25 from all over the country. Instead of the regular uniform, these girls have been given purple or pink silk qipao, a traditional Chinese dress.

After landing in the host city, as one walks into one of the innumerable restaurants in Beijing, the wait staff is most likely to recommend Yanjing beer, not because it is one of the Olympic sponsors, but because it happens to be the thirst buster of choice for most Chinese.
The Olympics is much more than an event for athletes to showcase their talent. For enterprises, it is an opportunity to build up their brands, improve services and visibility. If the cases of successful brand building in previous Games are anything to go by, Chinese enterprises should feel particularly encouraged. Japan’s electronics companies, especially Panasonic, boomed after the Tokyo Games in 1964, while Samsung in particular and the South Korean electronics companies in general hit the global stage with the Seoul Games in 1988. Today, both Panasonic and Samsung are global sponsors of the Olympic Games.

"The three largest beer brands take only less than 40% of the overall market share."

However, most Chinese companies are too small compared with international giants. Lenovo, the leading PC maker, is the only domestic brand among the 12 global Olympic sponsors, the top-tier sponsorship for the Games. Foreign consumers are far less familiar with most other Chinese brands. Though Tsingtao Beer may have some fans in Munich since the brand was created by the Germans in 1903 in the eponymous coastal city and some US families might have Haier refrigerators as the company set up its factory in South Carolina in 1999, few people outside China know about the country’s leading brands. These companies have therefore prepared as hard as the athletes to grab attention during the 17-day event.

Tsingtao, the other domestic beer sponsor and the largest beer brand in China by output, is using the Olympics to reach out to younger consumers. Although Tsingtao produced over 5 million kilolitres of beer last year, Sun Mingbo, its president, says the brand was “getting old” before they decided to become a sponsor of the Games in 2005.

“Many people would think, ‘Tsingtao is my dad’s beer’,” says Sun. So revitalising the brand and building a younger image have been the company’s major goals. That’s why when they learned that Beijing had won the Olympics bid, Tsingtao saw it in a perfect opportunity to reposition itself.

Tsingtao’s marketing campaigns have become a lot bolder since it jumped on the Olympic bandwagon. In addition to widespread TV commercials produced with the help of international consultants, it now sponsors a show on China’s largest television channel, CCTV, in which it promotes cities as tourism destinations while introducing itself to these cities. It has also sponsored another show on Hunan Satellite TV, a provincial channel known for its entertainment shows, that invites common people to compete with celebrities in speed walking.

These campaigns have cost the company around 400 million yuan (US$58.31 million). But three years after initiating them, Tsingtao says its efforts have paid off. “We did the right thing in linking up with the Games,” says Sun. The Olympic platform even pushed us to change the sales model. Earlier, we only sold beer, either through retailers or wholesalers. Now we invite people to experience our brand.”

Tsingtao is not the only Olympic beer sponsor. Budweiser is the international sponsor in this segment while Yanjing, a Beijing-based brand, is the other Chinese beer sponsor. With people questioning the wisdom of having three sponsors in one segment, the Beijing Olympics committee official in charge of marketing, Yuan Bin, says the decision was meant to serve people with various cultural backgrounds.

The domestic beer market itself is highly diversified. Although China is the largest producer, consumer and the fastest developing beer market, with an output of over 39 million kl, up by 13.8% year-on-year in 2007, there is no single, dominant player in the market. The three largest beer brands take only less than 40% of the overall market share.

Although Yanjing is less famous than Tsingtao beyond China, its market share in Beijing is as high as 80%. In cooperation with Beijing Tourism Group, Yanjing serves all Olympic venues, hotels and gymnasiums. Unlike Tsingtao, which emphasises ‘young’ and ‘passion’ in its ad campaigns, Yanjing’s marketing focus is patriotism, which fits nicely with the fact that it is based in the capital city. “Toast for China” is its famous slogan.

Branding, however, is only one reason why enterprises are so interested in the Games as a platform. For companies specialising in the service sector, the Olympics is also an opportunity to learn from foreign companies and improve.

Air China’s air hostesses are practicing the ‘perfect smile’. Earlier media reports said the company was teaching them to smile flashing eight teeth—no more, no less—and even circulated pictures to justify it.

“It is not that simple,” says Jin Hongguang, an official in charge of air attendant training and an experienced air attendant herself. “You have to smile in a way that makes passengers feel good, make them want to talk to you and accept your service.”

Jin says attendants have to practice in front of the mirror every day, though she denied the media reports about eight teeth.

But better service is more than smiles and make-up. A bigger challenge for domestic brands is to fill a cultural gap when offering services to international customers. And when trying to be international, even the tiniest of things could matter.

For instance, Air China was in a quandary on how to help disabled passengers. “If an attendant helps a disabled person to get on the plane by holding his arms, the Chinese might find it a nice gesture but a foreigner might interpret any physical touch as impolite behaviour,” says Zhang Chunzhi, general manager of Air China’s marketing department.

The company has spent 568 million yuan ($82.54 million) to purchase wheelchairs and other facilities for the disabled. “Without the Olympics, Air China’s services and marketing would not have improved this fast,” Zhang says. (By DIAO YING In Beijing/ China Daily/ AsiaNews)

MySinchew 2008.08.24

 

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