The 2008 Beijing Olympics present an unparalleled marketing opportunity for global brands looking to expand their presence in the dynamic Chinese market.
World class companies including Johnson & Johnson, Samsung and Volkswagen will employ innovative marketing strategies and though companies aren't revealing spending plans, industry experts say they're likely to spend more money on the games than ever before in efforts to attract China's expanding consumer class.
"China is still a vastly under tapped market and Olympic sponsorship in China serves as both a brand building and broader market entry strategy for lesser known multinationals," says Scott Kronick, president of China operations for Ogilvy Public Relations World Wide.
"Currently only 150-200 million Chinese can afford the goods and services we are trying to market them," WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell told shareholders in the ad giant's annual report, "However, this is already equivalent to over half an America and this is a dynamic situation, one that will change rapidly in the coming years."
The Chinese economy has been enjoying double-digit growth for years and the IMF estimates that China's GDP will surpass that of the US by 2040.
Tom Doctoroff, CEO of JWT Greater China describes the Olympics as a "coming out party" for the country and its big companies, offering a venue for China-based sponsors such as Lenovo, China Mobile and Sinopec to project a more global, Western image.
As for major Western sponsors and advertisers, industry experts say they will tailor their marketing strategy to the Chinese consumer.
Doctoroff explains that many Chinese "individuals use the nation's status as a surrogate identity for themselves." That is to say citizens equate China's forward momentum and national ambition with their own. Advertising campaigns that capture a spirit of victory have a better shot at making their brand more meaningful to the Chinese consumer.
Johnson & Johnson, for instance, will use a "Golden touch, Golden mom" campaign that refers to the mother as a "winner".
Yili, one of China's major milk companies, is airing a television commercial that shows a boy winning a race against Liu Xiang, the world-record holder in the 110-meter hurdle and now super-star. Of course, the boy only accomplishes this athletic feat after downing a glass of Yili milk.
Other companies will rely on a more traditional approach. Visa is currently running a commercial featuring Liu Xiang racing kangaroos. Coca-Cola is one of the sponsors of the torch relay. (NBC will televise that event as well as the games.)
Doctoroff says that he expects an explosion of campaigns on August 8, the start of the year-long countdown to the games.
Eight is a very lucky number in Chinese society, signifying prosperity and fortune. No doubt, China and the many companies involved in the Beijing Games hope that they will be an auspicious occasion indeed.