On The Shoulders of Giants

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BEIJING--Adidas is engaging Chinese consumers and their passion for the 2008 Olympic Games that Beijing will host next summer with an ad campaign that is unusually emotional and sophisticated for the Chinese market.

The German sportswear company "has started a ten-month conversation with 1.3 billion people. This campaign is about quiet power, not in-your-face action," said Singapore-based John Merrifield, creative at large for Asia/Pacific at TBWA Worldwide.

The company's global ad agency has a reputation for developing audacious stunts in Asia, like playing soccer with players and ball suspended vertically from a billboard in Tokyo, organizing races up the side of office buildings in Hong Kong and Osaka, and putting consumers inside a bungee replica of a soccer ball that was fired into the air at high speed in Sydney.

The new China initiative, dubbed "Together in 2008, Impossible is Nothing," does not involve any brazen stunts. Instead, Adidas has launched a 60" TV spot and a series of related print and outdoor ads featuring Chinese Olympic hopefuls, including diving sensation Hu Jia, basketball superstar Sui Feifei, soccer legend Zheng Zhi and key members of China's women's volleyball team.

The campaign kicked off on Nov. 30 at Beijing's Yongdingmen Gate, the former front entrance of the capital's old city walls. Additional TV and print ads featuring the same athletes will roll out in phases until the games begin next August. The effort includes events at retail locations, roadshows across the country and online activities at www.2008.adidas.com in the coming months.

Created through a delicate blend of pencil drawings, action photography and computer graphics, the ads show the athletes competing atop oceans and mountains of people, emphasizing the support and inspiration the nation is offering to China's Olympic heroes ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games.

They also acknowledge the enormous responsibility placed on China's athletes. The country's powerful Communist leadership as well as its population hope, even expect, Chinese athletes will perform extraordinarily well at next summer's games. China has consistently been the No. 2 winner of gold medals, following the U.S., since the breakup of the Soviet Union, but the gap between the top two performers is narrowing. China is determined to be the top winner of gold medals next year.

"Can you imagine the pressure on these athletes?" asked Mr. Merrifield. "Adidas wants to try to alleviate some of that and, as a brand, turn China into the world's largest sports market." By depicting the athletes in dramatic renderings alongside thousands of Chinese, "we are recognizing that the spirit of the nation is behind them."

The "Together" strategy is the largest campaign created by Adidas for a single market to date, illustrating the scale and opportunity for sportswear marketers overall in the mainland.

"This campaign is by China, for China," said Hong Kong-based Celine del Genes, Adidas' communications manager, marketing & sales. "China is very important, it's a key nation for Adidas. We needed to find a way to express ourselves and Olympic spirit, but we also need to address China in the proper manner."

The Olympic campaign, she added, "is a unique situation for us, it's the first time we have developed such a local campaign in China, and the first time the company has given such freedom to one country to develop ads around the needs of a single market, for the events in that country."

China is now Adidas' second-largest market in Asia by revenue and is likely to overtake Japan by 2008. Adidas will have 4,000 stores in China by the end of this year, with roughly two new stores opening each day. The company has retail sites in 450 cities across the country. As a group, including Reebok and TaylorMade Adidas golf, Adidas believes China will be the company's second largest market in the world by 2010.

Other brands like Adidas-owned Reebok, Nike and Japan's Mizuno brand also are investing heavily in China this year and next year while the spotlight in China is firmly placed on athletes and sports activities in the mainland. But Adidas is the official sportswear partner of the next Olympics, a national sponsorship deal it is eager to leverage in one of its most important markets.
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