Branding Through the Olympics for Chinese and Global Brands

The Olympic Games has always been regarded as one of the most influential and competitive sporting events. Two years after the success of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, London anxiously awaits the arrival of the world’s best athletes. July 27th, 2012 will mark the beginning of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. This action-packed event is a great venue for brands to present themselves to a diverse range of audiences. Multiple brands use this event as a way to strengthen their brand awareness as well as look for new marketing opportunities. Why do brands sponsor the Olympics? How do global and Chinese brands differ in terms of leveraging this opportunity? The following article aims to discuss these questions and provide relevant branding examples from Coca-Cola, Yili and P&G.

Olympic Sponsorship
In exchange for financial, technical and product support, multinational corporations are granted specific marketing rights and access to Olympic intellectual property. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is in charge of carefully supervising this process. Over 40% of the total IOC revenues come from the contributions of corporate partners and direct sponsors.

Figure 1: Estimated Olympic Revenue Sources
Revenue in the Olympic Games is mostly generated through broadcasting and sponsorship programs.


Sponsorship programs can be generally categorized into different sections.
TOP Program
The Olympic Partner (TOP) members are granted the exclusive rights of worldwide marketing by the TOP program. This is true for both the summer and winter Olympics. The following chart shows the Worldwide Olympic Partners for the London 2012 Olympic Games. These games will mark the seventh generation of the TOP program (TOP VII family). Brands such as Coca-Cola, Panasonic and Visa have been members since the program was founded in 1986.

Other Sponsorships
Domestic sponsorship program: This entity is managed by the Organizing Committees of the Olympic Games (OCOG) and is under the direction of the IOC. However, brands that fall within the domestic sponsorship category can only be marketed within the country where the Olympic Games are being held.
Local Sponsorship program: Conversely, the National Olympic Committee (NOC) manages local sponsorship programs, which are known to support local athletic activities as well as national Olympic teams.


Why do brands choose to sponsor the Olympic Games?

The prestige of the Olympic Games enables brands to partake in a wide array of branding and marketing activities. A sponsor of the Olympic Games enjoys exclusive rights to the event and retains maximum exposure and minimum competition.
Sponsorship of the Olympics can benefit in the following areas:


Long-term Partners
Many brands have been loyal partners of the Olympic Games for several decades. Brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa, Dow, GE, Omega and P&G have all renewed their partnership with the IOC until 2020. The “Olympic” brand symbolizes the achievement for excellence; mature brands’ sponsorship will strengthen their brand equity on a long-term basis in terms of brand esteem and knowledge.


As one of the very first TOP members, Coca-Cola and the Olympic games have cultivated the same vision. For London 2012, Coca-Cola recently launched a new integrated marketing campaign themed “Move to the Beat”, inspiring teens to cultivate their passion for music.
Of course, the reasons behind sponsoring the Olympics go beyond that. Coca-Cola has been a sponsor since 1928, consumers are fully aware of the association between Coca-Cola and the Olympics. Terminating the relationship means opportunities for competitors, especially Pepsi.


But of course, non-sponsor brands also want to leverage the Olympics to enhance themselves as well. To prevent any kind of potential ambush and guerrilla marketing, this year’s the Olympic committee has seriously tightened specific branding regulations. Spectators attending the Olympic venues will not be able to wear any type of attire that attempts to make an unofficial marketing statement.


Branding Strategies for China and Global Brands


Yili was one of the main sponsors of the Summer Olympics in 2008 and has continued its involvement through London 2012 as a national team sponsor. This year, the brand has launched a campaign themed “Let’s Olympic Together”, which integrates print ads, online UGC platform and microfilm TVCs. With their recent partnership with Youku, Yili inspires people to share their own stories with the purpose of inspiring people’s active participation in sports activities and advocating the ‘Olympic spirit’. Yili’s campaign is endorsed by a number of Chinese athletes including Olympic gold medal winner Liu Xiang and French Open winner Li Na. On every Yili dairy product, the Olympic logo is visibly placed next to the Yili logo clearly showing their association. The tagline “London Olympic Chinese Team’s Exclusive Dedicated Dairy Products" is placed under the logos.

While YIli has high brand awareness in China, its brand equity faces challenges. For Chinese consumers, Yili may just be one of the big Chinese dairy brands; the idea of what Yili stands for hasn’t been effectively conveyed to Chinese customers. Yili is trying to strengthen their brand equity by announcing their ties to the Games loud and clear. Through this, Yili wishes to establish the brand as “the best” dairy product in China in terms of quality and enhance their brand esteem.
However the claims this company is making are not enough to convince the concerned Chinese population given the country’s unraveling milk scandal. Yili opened their factory doors in order for people to visit the factory and confirm that the purification procedures were safe.

Yili is not alone in terms of clearly announcing the ties to Olympics in every means possible. Ice Dew is a sub brand of Coca-Cola that is not yet well recognized within the Chinese market. In order to increase brand awareness and stand out from competition, the brand especially put great emphasis on the words “Official Portable Water of the Olympic Games” at the end of their commercial in order to captivate people’s attention.


Procter & Gamble

P&G is the sponsor of team USA and one of the “Worldwide Olympic Partners” of London 2012. All P&G brands are allowed to use the Olympic Games logo in their branding campaigns. P&G has made the Olympics campaign a tribute to the millions of moms around the world. The P&G Team USA Youth Sports Fund has been launched as part of the global “Thank you, Mom” campaign. The fund will help moms raise happy, healthy children by providing them with larger access to youth sports. P&G will donate a dollar to every ‘like’ on their Facebook campaign page.

Different from Yili’s strategy, P&G uses their sponsorship as a way to support to their global campaign. With the tagline of “P&G, proud sponsor of moms”, the brand shifts the focus from the international sports event to ‘moms’. This strategic move not only links ‘moms’ to the Olympic Games, but also showcases the brand’s sincerity. Established almost 200 years ago in 1837, P&G has captured a stable market share. As a leadership brand, P&G is now engaging itself in corporate social responsibility practices to further reinforce brand equity and boost brand reputation.
Similar cases can be found amongst other program members. Leadership brands usually integrate the sponsorship message with their own brand messages. Let’s take a look at what they say.
Move to the beat, in London 2012. (Coca-Cola)
More people go with Visa. (Visa)
London 2012. Fuelling the Future. (BP)


The Olympic Games are a very good method for brands to convey their positive message to the world. A brand that is an official sponsor of the Olympic Games is a brand that embodies the Olympic values, which include perseverance and excellence to name a few. The ways in which brands leverage this opportunity clearly differ. Some Chinese brands adopt straight forward communication by simply announcing the sponsorship loud and clear in order to establish the association with the Olympics first. However, for global brands that have already developed into a mature business, the sponsorship might serve only as a push to their branding strategy. During the upcoming Olympic Games, these brands will have to live up to their name and give the best that their product can offer.

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