2008: Why China is the prize
The Beijing Olympics has already unleashed a wave of emotional support among China’s population, and promises a unique opportunity for marketers to target the country’s burgeoning consumer class. In this extract from his new book, Billions: Selling to the New Chinese Consumer, JWT’s Tom Doctoroff outlines how companies can leverage the Games’ potential
FOR FOREIGN enterprises, the Beijing Olympics represent a very big opportunity. There is not much faith in the Government's ability to throw a party devoid of Orwellian overtones, not to mention local corporations' willingness to "depoliticize" marketing units prior to the Games.However, if multinational corporations (MNCs) implement a longterm, market-driven strategy, 2008's potential is huge.
"Chinese ego repression ensures that individual identities are linked to national pride. Beijing 2008 will be epic motivational therapy. It will touch Chinese individuals at the deepest, personal level"
Two questions spring to mind. First, how does a savvy company avoid throwing its advertising and promotion budget down the drain in the midst of what is sure to be the most orgiastic, cluttered spending extravaganza in commercial history? Second, are the Olympics important to Chinese consumers and, if so, why? To address the first question, we must begin by answering the second.
Do they care?
The Chinese care enormously about the games. Public support for the Beijing Olympics runs deep, and is universal. The recent political slugfest in New York over a proposed stadium cum 2012 Olympic arena was, to PRC apparatchiks, a petty little affair. Beijing is literally being rebuilt, and the entire public is cheering, despite a traffic situation that would turn even the most ardent Jets fan into a twitchy mass of putty.
2008 is more than modern China's debut on the world stage. It is more than an acknowledgement of the nation's rightful place as a budding superpower, soon shoulder to shoulder with the United States, astride the globe. It is even more than a confirmation of a new glorious era, the end of the eclipse that has enveloped China since the Opium War.
"Culture," not Buddhism or Communism, remains China's spiritual adhesive. It transcends any doctrine or "ism," for it ensures survival. The rise of an Olympics-worthy China validates the Middle Kingdom's entire worldview and confirms, in no particular order, the ebb and flow of history, the cyclical essence of yin and yang, as well as a fresh Mandate of Heaven. Beijing 2008 represents a vindication of Han culture.
Therefore, a successful Olympics - i.e. positive PR in both media and political circles - will yield a confident China, one less inclined to stir up trouble abroad. A country's most potent asset is a strong national identity. From the Philippines' destructive "crab mentality" (i.e. schadenfreude elevated to a boardroom blood sport) to the swathe of authoritarian Southeast Asia still burdened with post-colonial resentment, an insecure country is an unproductive country. After the Olympics, China will be haunted by fewer demons. The PRC, never an expansionist power, will finally smile, brightened by a belief that the external world, at least for the next few decades, poses no threat.
At last, a confident Middle Kingdom can emerge from its self-protective cocoon. It will look up and out, no longer toward shielding itself from indignity or worse. It will become a modern member of the international community, no longer baring the teeth of frightened mother bear. (We hope.)
The unloading of historical baggage will ensure Chinese consumers' huge emotional investment in the games. They will actively embrace MNCs who boast integrated, insightful, China-centric sponsorship strategies. Chinese ego repression ensures that individual identities are linked to national pride. Beijing 2008 will be epic motivational therapy. It will touch Chinese individuals at the deepest, personal level. It is, therefore, a much better tie-in vehicle than Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.
How to connect
So how can the Olympics best be leveraged? Marketers must tap into the emotions that will swell in advance of, and throughout, the games. Avoid the limpness signaled by the phrase, "official sponsor of the Beijing 2008." The Olympics can make your brand "a friend of China," the best designation of all. Here are six ways to do this:
Don't forget China. 2008 boasts two massive audiences: Chinese(mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas Chinese) and global spectators. Perennials like Visa tend to run the same campaigns everywhere and now elicit yawns. Your global Olympic strategy, even if you're a global Top Olympic Promoter (TOP) sponsor, will require tailoring - even radical reconstruction - to achieve the optimal "China effect". The games celebrate humanity, a relevant calling everywhere. But, in China, they're also about super-sized nationalism and personal self-esteem.
Don't go soft and fuzzy. Do not get overly sentimental about the Games. Applaud achievement, victory, stars, and advancement. Embrace forward momentum. Kindness and dignity are lovely but, in a land where human rights are an abstraction, messages must hit home hard. Chinese revere (and fear) winners. (Losing members of the Olympic team still feel obligated to apologize to the Motherland for their inadequacy.) Directly link your product to the conquering spirit of victors.
Don't underestimate local companies. Although PRC enterprises are sports marketing neophytes, a nationalistic impulse is second nature. Lenovo, Li Ning (the leading local athletic shoe brand) and Haier, not to mention legions of less familiar companies, are preternaturally clued into the power of Chinese pride. Their tactics may be crude and their advertising less than polished. However, they pull heartstrings. China Mobile, for example, recently used Liu Xiang, China's first track and field gold medalist , to help position its mobile network, including state of the art 3G services, as "in touch" with the hopes of all Chinese, "spreading new joys" to every corner of the country.
Don't get locked out. If you are not a global or local sponsor, try a little ambush marketing. Sure, you won't be able to show the rings, and your packaging will be naked. But no one owns the Olympic spirit. So turn limited exposure into moral superiority. Nike, not an Olympic sponsor, associates itself with individual athletes, ones that personify the brand's values. During the 2004 games, it signed up Liu Xiang. In a quickly shot TVC, Liu was transformed into a champion of Chinese aspiration, an understudy finally sent up to the show. Nike was subsequently perceived as the company "most associated with the Olympics."
Don't ride one-trick ponies. Olympics are usually quadrennial supernovas, lighting up the sky with a brief flash of brotherhood. But the spirit of Beijing 2008 is an invisible force that, even today, permeates every dimension of national purpose. The games are already upon us, rallying the nation to reach for the stars. Clever marketers should orchestrate a multi-year, integrated "Olympic build," regardless of sponsorship status.
Don't be a carpetbagger. Chinese are nervous about 2008. Multinational sponsors (i.e. official ones) can enhance relevance by highlighting how their goods and services will increase the chances of success, both operational and athletic. Lenovo, the first Chinese TOP sponsor, should enhance its technology credentials by stressing how its information technology products "make the games run smoothly." In conclusion, the Chinese have more at stake in a successful Olympics than an expanded subway system and a few new stadiums. The games represent an affirmation of everything China represents and will become. As 2008 nears, MNCs should signal respect for the bold aspirations of the nation and its people, riding the games as an express train to the heart of desire.