24 AUG. 2010

No More Copycat: Li Ning Unveils New Logo and Slogan

Li-Ning, one of China’s leading local sportswear companies, recently underwent a major brand revitalization aimed at differentiating itself from rivals in global and local markets. A new logo stands at the forefront of its refreshed visual identity, and an apt slogan “Make the Change” describes the brand’s tweaked attitude.

For years, Li-Ning’s brand image has suffered from consumer perceptions as a cheaper, knock-off version of global sporting brand giants like Nike and Adidas. This copycat reputation was only strengthened by the uncanny similarity of Li-Ning’s past logo to Nike’s universally recognized Swoosh sign. Claiming coincidence, Li-Ning maintained that its version was actually designed in a competition from 1990, and is meant to depict the letters L and N as well as a patriotic red flag. Regardless, Li-Ning’s new logo preserves important elements of its old design, while also conveying a tougher, more energetic silhouette. It connotes human-oriented sportsmanship through a close resemblance to the Chinese character for “people” (人). The new logo also resembles the “Li Ning Cross,” a gymnastic pose closely associated with its founder, a national hero who won three gold medals at the 1984 Olympic Games.

The brand’s old slogan—“Anything is Possible”—also drew criticism for its similarity to Adidas’ inverted tagline “Impossible Is Nothing.” Although both versions debuted around the same time in 2004, Adidas has indisputably benefitted from more brand visibility. “Anything is Possible” subsequently seemed like a less effective duplicate. One blogger remarked that “It sounds like the Li-Ning product is so unreliable that it could fall apart at any time.” Following Li-Ning’s new outlook, “Make the Change” shifts the brand’s positioning away from a follower of western trends to an individualized, dynamic personality attractive to young and modern consumers both at home and abroad. It highlights the company’s ability to embrace change and make breakthroughs--in terms of both its innovative products and its role as a Chinese company in the global market. 

Along with the new visual packaging, the brand has also upgraded its sports events planning, distribution, product development and design. Specifically, the company launched an "Athletic Pro" line of high-end sports equipment for professional athletes, an "Urban Sports" range, an all-orange "Brand Heritage" collection, and a "Crossover" collection created through collaborations between Chinese and foreign designers. This well timed reinvention comes hand in hand with Li-Ning’s overall expansion strategy into US and other foreign markets. Although the brand is a formidable presence in China, with over $1 billion in annual sales and 7,000 retail stores, it has only recently begun to gain popularity abroad. The American flagship store opened in Portland, Oregon during February this year, winning a gold design award from Fast Company magazine. Fast Company praised Li-Ning’s “detailed, actionable strategy for rebuilding (the) consumer experience” based on a body of research “which included intensive China consumer research and a new understanding of Li-Ning’s brand heritage and DNA.”

Li-Ning’s USA flagship store in Portland, Oregon

Li-Ning decision to retain its competitive pricing will surely be a hit with consumers. But will it need to refine its positioning in the US market in order to stay relevant to American sports culture? On the current Li-Ning USA website, products are categorized into Badminton, Kung Fu, Table Tennis, Basketball and Tai Chi lines. Many of these sports are far less popular in America than in China, with tai chi almost falling to a niche market. Li-Ning could benefit greatly from aiming their products aimed at activities Americans enjoy far more, such as jogging, football and baseball. 

In attempting to appeal to foreign consumers and expand its brand identity, Li-Ning risks alienating Chinese fans with the onslaught of new brand ideas. Differentiating itself from competitors through its identification as a global but uniquely Chinese brand could be a tricky balancing act. But one thing is clear: Li-Ning is an example of how China is no longer satisfied with making the world’s products, and is ready to assert itself through internationally attractive brands.

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