China's Olympic-Year Ad Growth: 22%

Forecasters Don't Expect Spending to Subside Even Now That Event Is Over

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BEIJING (AdAge.com) -- China will avoid the curse that often afflicts hosts of the Olympic Games -- an economic slowdown after the games leave town.
Now that the Olympic Games are over, the country's regulatory advertising environment will loosen up again, attracting advertisers like Coca-Cola back into the marketing arena.
Now that the Olympic Games are over, the country's regulatory advertising environment will loosen up again, attracting advertisers like Coca-Cola back into the marketing arena.

For China, there is "no real sign of a significant hangover for the remainder of 2008," said Alex Abplanalp, the former head of ZenithOptimedia in China, who now runs China Media Consulting in Shanghai. "Many non-Olympic-related advertisers held back media activities during the whole Olympic period, in the lead up and during the games, to avoid the intense advertising clutter."

Media forecasts
Hosting the 2008 Olympic Games will help boost the growth of China's ad market to $35 billion, up 22% over 2007, according to WPP Group's Group M media division.

Group M forecasts 19.5% growth in ad spending in 2009 to $42 billion and predicts China will overtake Germany in 2010 to become the world's third-largest ad market, trailing only the U.S. and Japan.

"The rising domestic demand and limited supply of airtime will be at the root of the thriving ad economy over the next post-Olympics years," said Lucy Zhang, futures director at the Group M knowledge center in Shanghai.

Another forecaster, Aegis Media's Carat division, is a little less optimistic but still predicts double-digit growth for China. Last month Carat cut its 2009 forecast to 10.9% growth in 2009 from 13.2%, largely because of the devastating earthquake in Sichuan in May 2008.

Even so, the market is still expected to see double-digit growth next year, a rate "still well ahead of predictions for the developed world," said Singapore-based Patrick Stahle, Aegis Media's CEO, Asia/Pacific.

Consumer consumption
Consumption in China's largest and most-developed markets, called first- and second-tier cities, show few signs of slowing, and multinational marketers such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble are reaching out to hundreds of smaller cities and towns across China. New consumers in those markets "will attract more funds from marketers aiming to get additional market share," Ms. Zhang said.

Other factors besides China's overall economic growth are spurring advertisers to spend. Now that the Olympic Games are over, the country's regulatory advertising environment will loosen up again, attracting advertisers back into the marketing arena. During the Olympic Games, for instance, most outdoor advertisers were shut out of Beijing to protect Olympic sponsors from ambush marketing. Nonsponsors such as Mizuno and Burger King are planning campaigns in an effort to get back in the game.

And the Summer Games' 60-plus official sponsors and partners aren't going away. "Olympic sponsors will continue to spend at higher levels than the same period last year to maximize sponsorship benefits through to the end of the year," said Matt Brosenne, international business director at CSM Media Research in Beijing.

Coke says thanks
Coca-Cola, for example, launched a nationwide TV campaign, "Thank you, China," as soon as the Olympic Games ended last month. It was created by Red Lounge in Shanghai. "Following the Olympics, Coke is definitely planning to continue investing in advertising for the Chinese market," said Kenth Kaerhoeg, a Coca-Cola spokesman in Hong Kong.

But not everyone agrees there is no reason for concern next year.

Mr. Abplanalp said 2009 is "less clear-cut" due to economic uncertainty in the U.S. and Europe. Pressure will be intense on multinationals in China to deliver higher revenue and profits in 2009 as they look for additional growth from the "BRIC" markets -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- to compensate for shortfalls elsewhere.

Games gains

How much bang did Olympic sponsors get for the 72 million bucks they paid to be able to call themselves official? With the help of YouGovPolimetrix, Ad Age tracked how they did in terms of mind share before and after the games.

Well-known brands such as Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's and Samsung tended to eke out increases in brand awareness, while smaller, lesser-known brands gained the most ground. Lenovo, for instance, went from a 6% mind share a week before the games to a 13% mind share by the end.

Two notable exceptions were General Electric and Visa. Visa had the largest decline in mind share from week one to week two, slipping to 36% from 44%. GE lost three percentage points in mind share in week one but gained them back in week two.
-- Max Lakin
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