Global corporations such as Coca-Cola, Johnson
& Johnson and Adidas, along with Chinese businesses like China
Mobile and Bank of China have paid a total of $850 million to be
official sponsors of the Beijing and Turin Olympic Games.
With Western economies slowing down, one of the main aims of this
spending spree is to gain a foothold among China's middle class
(numbering approximately 250 million).
But research by the China Marketing Research Group, reported in Forbes Magazine,
has investigated the effectiveness of Olympic sponsorship as a tool for
developing brand awareness, brand loyalty and sales. This research
suggests that on these measures, Olympic sponsorship may not be
The vast majority of Chinese consumers interviews “did not care” who
the official sponsors were, and “did not consider official Olympic
sponsorship” when buying. According to the publishers of the research,
it is more important for multinationals to reach out to Chinese
consumers by fitting “their image of the ideal life” and focusing on
longer-term brand image than looking for a quick Olympic fix. Indeed,
the research appears to contradict a prevailing belief that Chinese
consumers and not brand loyal and would be easily swayed by association
with the Olympic Games.
An example of this insight is that consumers, when asked to identify
the official sponsor from a number of choices, often plumped for the
brand that they considered “best” in the market – using already
developed perceptions. Specifically, unless they could recall a
specific Olympic ad for Adidas, they tended to believe that Nike
(perceived to be the superior brand) was the official sportswear
sponsor. Rather than splashing out on offical sponsorship, Nike appear
to have gained from their association with Liu Xian, the World and Champion (and World Record Holder) in the 110m hurdles.
Perhaps this will lead to a change in tack over branding in China, and
may even influence future decisions to pay huge sums to sponsor the
Olympics. But then again, maybe the multinationals are not as naïve and
narrowly focused as the publishers of the research imply. Perhaps for
many of the Olympic sponsors, there are other strong benefits – for
example the potential cost of allowing competitors to have the global
platform provided by the games – or even the feelings of pride and
prestige that may be experienced not by consumers, but by employees, of
the official sponsors.