China firms shoot for the big leagues

Chinese solar-panel maker Yingli Solar was little known even at home before the tournament but two weeks in its swirling sun logo has been seen by football fans around the planet.


“Chinese fans feel very excited when they see our ads on the pitch. When they see the ad with Chinese characters, they feel proud China is still participating in the tournament – just in a different way,” Yingli vice president Jason Liu told AFP from Johannesburg.

As the first Chinese company to sponsor a World Cup, Liu said Yingli wanted to send a clear message: “We are a world-class company.”

China’s global trading reach can be seen throughout the World Cup, even if it is not immediately apparent. The buzzing vuvuzela horns, stadium seats and even the footballs on the field were made in China.

But by building their brands at an event that marketing bosses say will be watched by half the world, Yingli and fellow World Cup advertiser Harbin Beer herald a new phase for Chinese firms, industry experts said.

Their exposure underlines progress in the country’s desire to shift from its reliance on being a mere factory for foreign names, to building up its own globally recognised brands.

Harnessing sports star power

Chinese firms are shrewdly harnessing sports star power for that transition, said Richard Young, managing director of Xinhua Sports and Entertainment Ltd, a media company in China unrelated to state-run Xinhua news agency.

Appliance maker Haier is a major NBA sponsor, sportswear makers Li Ning made history in recent years by signing Shaquille O’Neal to an endorsement deal and other firms have followed suit, he notes.

But Yingli’s debut as a World Cup sponsor marks a new level.

“It’s a big first move. Just being in the industry, you hear people say ‘wow, that’s a real coup’. It’s getting the company a lot of visibility,” Young said.

Young expects more companies to follow, “more Chinese companies that sell both internationally and domestically, sponsoring events themselves, because many of these companies are sitting on quite a bit of cash”.

Yingli advertising

At the World Cup, the New York Stock Exchange-listed Yingli is advertising to utility companies and home-builders in its main markets – Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States, the company’s Liu said.

But it is also trying to raise awareness in potential markets such as China, the rest of Asia, Africa and South America, he added.

Everyone benefits, he said, when Yingli’s customers can pitch their company’s wares by in turn telling their clients: “This is a product by Yingli Solar and Yingli is a World Cup sponsor.”

Harbin Beer advertising

By contrast, sideline ads by northern China brewer Harbin Beer are aimed at China’s growing market of beer-lovers watching the World Cup back home, said Guo Yanhong, spokeswoman for Anheuser Busch Inbev China, which owns the company.

“In the case of Harbin Beer, we want to build it into a leading national brand in China. So all the marketing, theme advertisements and the branding initiatives target Chinese consumers,” Guo said.

Neither Yingli nor Anheuser Busch Inbev would say how much their sponsorship cost but they are among a group of brands that collectively paid an estimated 43.5 billion dollars for advertising rights.

Prestige at home

The impact for a Chinese brand in terms of prestige at home can be huge, said Seth Grossman, managing director for media consultants Carat China, whose clients include Adidas, Nokia, and Philips.

“It’s about the prestige. When Chinese customers are watching the matches on (state television), they see a brand like Harbin step alongside that pitch next to some of the world’s most iconic brands,” he said.


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