Beijing '08: GE jump-starts Olympic push

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[Beijing] General Electric Co. is virtually unknown in China despite its 90-year history in that country. So the company is using its Olympic sponsorship to position GE among Chinese consumers as an innovative, high-tech multinational.

Years ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, GE has started its first-ever global campaign revolving around the Olympics, and broken its first consumer brand advertising in mainland China. The outdoor ads visually connect GE's products and services with making the Games happen. One combines an image of a relay baton with a GE fluorescent-light tube. "We've never done a big sponsorship around the Olympic Games before, it's a great opportunity," said Matthias Hanssen, GE's director of Olympic marketing in Brussels, Belgium.

GE is so eager to tap into national enthusiasm for the 2008 Games, it even swamped Beijing's high-traffic airport with ads three months before its global sponsorship agreement officially takes effect this month.

The campaign, created by Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide offices in China, New York and London, also rolled out in Torino, Italy, site of the Olympic Winter Games in 2006 and will be introduced globally late in 2005.

The event's connection to China, the world's fastest-growing economy, is one explanation for GE's new interest in Olympic sponsorship. Another reason is the massive business opportunity the relationship brings. "The Olympics are always a big business opportunity, but the Games in China will be huge compared to the Games in the past. The city of Beijing is spending $30 billion to $35 billion to get ready," he said.

immelt's strategy

GE's energy division will literally power the Games in Torino and Beijing and it has found a ready market for about 100 other GE products in areas such as seating, lighting, roofing and water supply.

GE's sponsorship also stems from a new desire to raise its brand profile worldwide, following the appointment of Jeffrey Immelt, who took over as chairman-CEO in 2001. Mr. Immelt restructured GE's 300 brands into 11 core businesses and renewed the company's focus on marketing to encourage organic growth rather than acquisitions.

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