China gripped by Yao vs. Yi duel

And other news in Greater China

By Published on .

BEIJING--Millions of Chinese turned on their television sets at 9:30am, Beijing time, last Saturday morning to watch history in the making. They were witnessing the first on-court meeting of Yao Ming, the nation’s greatest basketball player, and countryman Yi Jianlian, a highly touted rookie who is expected to be China’s next basketball superstar.

The duo have met before and even played together on China’s Olympic basketball team at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. They will be Olympic teammates again at next year’s games in Beijing. But the milestone game on Nov. 9 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, was the first as members of rival National Basketball Association teams, since Mr. Yi only relocated to the U.S. a few months ago.

The Guangdong native was No. 6 in the NBA 2007 draft and, after a prolonged negotiation last summer, signed a multi-year contract with the Milwaukee Bucks in late August. Mr. Yao, a Shanghai native already familiar to basketball fans worldwide, plays for the Houston Rockets. Their teams will play again in Milwaukee on Feb. 2.

Neither the NBA nor local media research companies have ratings information for the game yet, but they predict more than 200 million Chinese tuned into the game. It aired on 19 television stations, including CCTV-5, sports channel operated by the country's government-run network, which can be seen in more than 210 million households.

The game was also available via webcasts on and, and Kong Zhong Corp., a wireless value-added service provider, made the game available live via mobile phones in China. Viewers weren’t disappointed. Yao Ming earned 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Yi Jianlian scored 19 in the Rockets' 104-88 win over the Bucks.

"Anecdotally, we know the viewing numbers were high. The game was a great highlight of the early part of the season here," said Mark Fischer, the NBA's Beijing-based senior VP for China.

While Mr. Yi is a newcomer on the global basketball stage, he’s well known to marketers such as Coca-Cola and Nike, who have already inked sponsorship deals with the player. Sports marketing experts in China say his talent, on-court charisma, off-court geniality and good looks could easily make him a bigger celebrity, and corporate endorser, than Yao Ming. Although the superstar athlete has contracts with companies like Reebok, McDonald’s, Visa, and Pepsi, he has never seemed at ease promoting commercial products like hamburgers.

“We think Yi has great potential and believe he will boost more energy into the Chinese basketball culture,” said Shanghai-based Ginger Zhu, a spokesperson in China for Nike, which is “very happy” he has joined the NBA. At least 100 million Chinese watched his first televised NBA game earlier this year, even though it aired at the same time as a Rockets game playing on regional cable channels.

AdAgeChina Digital Marketing conference coming up on Dec. 6
SHANGHAI--Major marketers will share their innovative strategies for China, one of the most advanced and sophisticated markets in the world for digital advertising and marketing, at AdAgeChina’s Digital Marketing conference on Thursday, Dec. 6 in Shanghai at the Westin Hotel.

Top decision makers from global marketers Lenovo, Procter & Gamble, Pepsi Cola, Nokia, Volkswagen, Adidas and Chinese companies including Youku and Tencent will talk about their own programs and industry trends. In addition to keynote speeches from Lenovo’s chief marketing officer and the CEO of video sharing site Youku, in-depth panel discussions will focus on building brands online, mobile marketing, and the upcoming Olympic Games that will be the most digital Olympics ever.

Conference attendees will be welcomed by Scott Donaton, publisher of Advertising Age; Shi Xuezhi, secretary general of the China Advertising Association; and Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of GroupM, followed by keynote speaker Deepak Advani, the Lenovo Group’s chief marketing officer & senior VP, E-Commerce. The afternoon keynote speaker is Victor Koo, CEO of leading Chinese video sharing site Youku.

Harry Hui, PepsiCo’s chief marketing officer for Greater China, will talk about Pepsi’s digital marketing programs for reaching young Chinese. Duane Kennedy, CEO of Dai-Biao, will describe starting a new Chinese hip hop site and how marketers are using it to reach young Chinese consumers.

Three panels will explore different aspects of digital marketing:

--Mobile Marketing: More than any other country in the world, the Chinese live on their mobile phones and marketers must meet them there. Explaining how to reach consumers using this newest digital ad medium are Dan Wong, Nokia’s VP, multimedia sales & channel management for China, and the CEOs of China’s largest interactive mobile media agencies, Madhouse’s Joshua Maa and David Turchetti of 21 Communications. The panel will be moderated by Normandy Madden, editor of AdAgeChina.

--The Olympic Games: This panel brings together marketers who are leading the way in creating the marketing platforms for the world’s most digital Olympic Games ever. They include Jochen Haase, Adidas’ communications director for China; Paul Hu, Volkswagen Group’s marketing director for China; and Peter Tang, marketing director in charge of the Beijing Olympics Project for UPS. This panel will be moderated by Greg Paull, partner at R3, a Beijing-based consultancy that tracks Olympic branding.

--Building Brands Online: An in-depth look at how brands today are built online. Panelists include: Alfonso de Dios, associate director, media, Greater China for Procter & Gamble, the biggest advertiser in China; Lau Seng Yee, EVP of Tencent, a pioneering Chinese online community and creator of the legendary QQ instant messaging system; and P.T. Black, a partner at youth marketing consultancy Jigsaw. The panel will be moderated by Laurel Wentz, Advertising Age’s international editor.

An online program is available at

Starbucks and PepsiCo debut international alliance in China
SHANGHAI--Starbucks and PepsiCo have expanded their marketing alliance for Starbucks’ ready-to-drink coffee beverages beyond North America, starting with China. Bottled beverages produced by the Seattle-based coffee company, such as Frappuccino and Iced Coffee, will now be sold via PepsiCo's beverage distribution channels in the mainland, including grocery and convenience stores and kiosks on street corners and in subways. The retail price of the drinks varies from 18 to 22 RMB ($2.40 to$3).

Starbucks already sells ready-to-drink coffee beverages in three other Asian markets--South Korea, Japan and Taiwan-- through relationships with other companies. But the deal with Pepsi will significantly expand its footprint in Greater China, where distribution is a major challenge for multinationals. On store shelves, its coffee drinks will face stiff competition from local and Japanese bottled drinks, namely water, juice and tea products that sell for vastly lower prices.

Since Starbucks opened its first store in the mainland, in Beijing's China World Hotel mall in 1999, the company has opened about 300 outlets in China. Including Hong Kong, a relatively developed beverage market, Starbucks operates more than 540 stores in Greater China.

"With our coffee expertise and PepsiCo's extensive sales and distribution network, this joint venture will allow us to provide an authentic Starbucks coffee experience to millions more consumers around the world anytime and anywhere they want it,” said Gerry Lopez, Starbucks’ president, global consumer products group. “This could include countries that may not currently have Starbucks stores."

The deal with Pepsi will not slow down Starbucks determination to expand in China, however. Despite the historical preference for tea among local consumers, the company plans to add up to 80 new coffee shops in China in the next year. Starbucks predicts the mainland will become its second-largest market in the world after the U.S., by 2011.

Motorola builds massive R&D center in Beijing
BEIJING--Motorola has set up another R&D center in China, one of the most critical markets in the U.S. company’s bid to regain its leadership position in mobile phone sales globally.

The huge complex, located in Beijing’s Wangjing district, includes a 16-floor office tower, three R&D buildings and a lab building. More than 3,000 Motorola employees will work there, including 2,000 R&D engineers. Motorola entered the Chinese market 20 years ago, and established its first R&D facility in China in 1993 and has five others in Tianjin, Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu and Hangzhou.

China’s government believes the number of Chinese mobile phone subscribers will reach 520 million by the end of this year, up from 460 million in 2006. While that figure makes China the largest mobile phone market in the world, the penetration rate is still just under 40%.

The country’s leading mobile operator, China Mobile, signed up about 5.6 million new customers in August 2007 alone, bringing its total subscribers to 344 million. China Mobile controls about 80% of China’s mobile phone market, according to Lehman Brothers. Rival China Unicom, reported adding around 1.4 million subscribers in August. Foreign-owned handset brands like Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson account for about 70% of sales in China. Nokia is the market leader, with Motorola and Samsung vying for the No. 2 spot.
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