Adidas turns to handsets to attract football fans

Mobile platform offers rich content with a soft sell

By Published on .

SHANGHAI--To capitalize on the popularity of mobile phones in China as well as the ubiquitous enthusiasm for soccer that has swept the globe this month, Adidas has launched a mobile campaign to publicize its sponsorship of the 2006 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament.

Designed to promote specific product lines, drive customers to points of sale and highlight Adidas' sponsorship of the World Cup through content, the campaign “is one of the most aggressive and concerted mobile efforts by a consumer brand to date in China,” said David Turchetti, CEO of 21 Communications. The mobile media company in Shanghai executed the campaign with a technology firm, London-based Minick, and Inside, a mobile marketing agency that developed the underlying mobile strategy.

“The idea was to entice fans with the richest content available worldwide, some of which is only available through premium services elsewhere, then introduce them to product offerings and hold on to them long enough to lead them to store locators and offers that are relevant to where they live and shop in China,” said Mr. Turchetti. “Because the content gives Adidas consumers value, it seems to be working.”

90 million Chinese surf with phones
The potential audience for mobile marketing in China is enormous. The country is home to the largest mobile population in the world at 404 million subscribers as of February 2006, according to China’s Ministry of Information Industry. The market grows at approximately four million subscribers per month, and China is expected to have 560 million mobile subscribers by the start of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Although the country also has more than 110 million web users, particularly the young, urban adults coveted by multinational marketers like Adidas, mobile-based marketing efforts are appealing because 90 million Chinese now access the internet through mobile phones.

WAP, technology that allows phone users to access information instantly via handheld wireless devices, "is a good way to reach young adults in China’s tier two and tier three cities, in particular, compared to other types of new media, because home computers are still largely unaffordable in these areas,” said Mr. Turchetti. “By the time of the Olympics, based on current trends, more Chinese will be accessing the Internet through phones than computers, because it’s more affordable and accessible.”

He won't say how much Adidas invested in the promotion, which will run through the end of the World Cup, but said "generally speaking, brand clients spend $10-20,000 to build up a mobile platform and we generally recommend [that they spend] $10-20,000 per week for advertising on operator and publisher mobile portals."

Engaging consumers through content
Sponsored content on portals operated by the country’s two mobile phone service providers, China Mobile and China Unicom, ranges from free news alerts about World Cup games, mobile ring tones and wallpapers to opportunities to win prizes like branded hats, socks and wristbands. The mobile sites also offer MTV-produced videos of David Beckham, Spanish star Raul and other famous football players localized for the China market. Most of the content was sourced in Europe, although Chinese consumers can participate in mobile-based forum discussions.

The sites are marketed by China Mobile and China Unicom, both of which placed text links on their own mobile portals. China Unicom has distributed multimedia messaging services (MMS) and wireless application protocol (WAP) links to opt-in customer databases. It's also marketed via the German company’s Chinese web site (adidas.com.cn), which invites surfers to SMS the word “Adidas" to their mobile phone service provider to get a free text link to the Adidas World Cup mobile site (wap.adidas.com.cn).

“It brings a valuable football experience to the Adidas target audience while engaging them with relevant brand communication on a device that they have with them all the time,” added Lydia Zhu, Shanghai-based senior event manager for Adidas in China.

A pre-campaign promotion launched ahead of the World Cup launch generated nearly half a million page views. Since the June 9 kickoff, the interactive promotion has attracted millions of consumers. Although Adidas declined to reveal the exact figure, nine out of 10 Chinese internet users aged 15-54 expressed interest in the World Cup, according to an ACNielsen survey conducted earlier this month. Almost half (49%) are “very much interested,” while 41% are “somewhat” interested.

While the company has created other country-specific mobile sites around the world for the World Cup, this year the focus was on China, one of the fastest-growing sportswear markets--and the stage for a growing battle between Adidas and Nike, which still has a bigger market share.

Gap narrowing in China
But Adidas has revved up its marketing and product lines in North Asia, and its efforts are paying off. It now leads Nike in Japan, Adidas’ largest market in Asia and the second-largest market globally after the U.S. The marketer who helped turn the company around in that country, Christophe Bezu, has turned his attention to China, where the gap is narrowing.

Now based in Hong Kong as CEO of Adidas's marketing & sales division in Asia/Pacific, Mr. Bezu said China is “the center” of his attention and predicted it would overtake Japan in revenue by 2010, through overall market growth and the expected bump from sponsoring the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The portal follows the company’s history of creating edgy, alternative below-the-line marketing activities in North Asia. The unusual initiatives developed by Mr. Bezu and the company’s global ad agency, Omnicom Group’s TBWA Worldwide, such as a vertical football billboard in Tokyo and Osaka and the "Impossible Sprint" extreme sports contest, have not only impressed consumers. They have raised the company’s profile in the industry. On June 24, Adidas will be named Advertiser of the Year at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

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