By the time the Olympics start on Aug. 8, global sponsor GE will have sold about $500 million worth of equipment and technology to the Chinese, including wind and gas turbines, solar-powered lighting and water purification systems.
The Olympics are only the start of GE’s ambitious plans in China, but offer a prized opportunity to show the company's green card to average Chinese consumers, through advertising, events and a two-story imagination center in Beijing’s Olympic Green, home for half of the city’s competition venues.
This marketing to consumers falls outside GE's normal target audience--the business decision makers at private firms, heads of state-owned companies and government officials driving China’s phenomenal development pace--but Chinese are starting to demand cleaner air and water. The Olympics, and concerns about the impact of Beijing's murky haze on athletes, is drawing attention to China's pollution problems.
GE is breaking print and outdoor ads for China that link the U.S. company’s eco-friendly technology and expertise with the Olympic Games using strong, colorful images and the logo of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG).
Vivid landscapes are metaphors
“To leverage GE's Olympic sponsorship, the new creative incorporates Olympic cues into the scenic landscapes where we feature GE product messaging,” said Kevin Bogusz, business director at GE's ad agency, BBDO Worldwide, in Shanghai. “We continue to maintain the impressive landscape imagery [depicted in earlier GE ads globally] while using a visual metaphor of GE products working with nature.”
In one execution, a vivid rice paddy has been landscaped into the shape of a green racetrack with staggered starting points, by the tagline, “Sometimes success is measured in green, not gold.” Another shows track lanes on a lake, with lily pads separating the lanes.
In a third ad, wind turbines are grouped on a lush green hillside into the shape of the Beijing National Stadium, popularly known as the “Bird’s Nest,” which will host the main track-and-field competitions as well as the opening and closing ceremonies, by the tagline, “May the wind be at your back at the 2008 Beijing Games.”
Text describes GE’s role in providing clean energy and water for the games, such as wind farms located near Beijing to help power the city's energy grid during the event and water purification facilities that will transform rain water into drinking water for the National Stadium and other Olympic venues.
“Energy and water are two of the main challenges for Beijing and for all of China. They are national priorities that the government is focusing on. We believe we are echoing the government’s campaign and the messages that BOCOG wants to bring forward,” said Geoff Li, GE's Shanghai-based director of communications in China.
Taxi game played 13 million times
GE is also reaching out to Chinese through a digital game using local taxis. The company converted a web-based set of games called “Geoterra” into a touch-screen format through a partnership with TouchMedia, a Shanghai-based media company that operates PDA-like screens in taxi networks across China. (The game can be played online at www.ge.com/geoterra)
The taxi game is “a clever way to increase our brand awareness in China,” said Jennifer Walsh, global director, digital media at the company's headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut. “This was a fun way to communicate by letting people play some games and learn more about GE and our ‘ecomagination’ products.”
The pilot program was conducted in 6,000 cabs in Shanghai that reached over seven million passengers during the first 40 days. During that time, Geoterra was played more than 13 million times, or nearly two games per taxi passenger. GE will extend the program to Beijing, where it plans to bring to life GE's Olympic heat map (www.ge.com/beijingmap), an application that describes all the Olympic venues where GE plays a role.
Olympics are historic opportunity
The new campaign is consistent with the brand strategy started in China a few years ago, when GE embarked on its “Imagination at work” theme, said Mr. Li. “When China became a global priority and we thought it would be important that we grow our business in this huge market, we knew branding would be a critical element in our overall strategy. Many Chinese are aware of the GE name." But, he said, they don’t have a clear idea of what the company does.
"Luckily, along came the Olympics and it has brought tremendous opportunities. We started planning the whole campaign in 2003, when research told us that not only are the Olympics a big deal for Chinese, they are also a good platform on which we can talk about our diversified businesses," added Mr. Li. GE's interests include airplane engines, electric power-generating equipment, plastics products, financial services and entertainment. It owns 80% of NBC Universal, which will broadcast the 2008 Olympic Games in the U.S.
GE’s early campaigns in China focused generally on what its divisions could contribute to the Olympics. In 2006, the company introduced its global “ecomagination” campaign in the mainland, to educate Chinese about GE's background with environmental technologies.
Early on, GE “thought about doing a campaign around the green Olympics, one of the three themes of the 2008 Olympic Games, but first we needed to bridge that gap, people don’t know we provide environmental solutions,” said Mr. Li. “The games have been a historic opportunity.”
GE aims to double revenue by 2010
It’s also an opportunity GE hopes to recreate at other events in China. After securing agreements to provide energy, water and other resources for the 2008 Olympics, GE is seeking similar deals for other major events like the Shanghai Expo and the Asian Games in Guangzhou, both in 2010.
“China has embarked on many mega events,” said Mr. Li. “We want to use our Olympics to continue our growth elsewhere in China, using the business model, sales methods and bidding practices gained in Beijing.”
GE aims to double its revenue in China to $10 billion by 2010 through powerful alliances. Besides energy companies like Harbin Power Equipment Energy, GE’s partners in China include Jiangsu Little Swan Group Co., Anshan Iron and Steel Group Corp., and nearly all of China’s major airlines, which buy engines and lease planes from the U.S. company. GE is also active in the healthcare industry, and has forged a strategic partnership with China Life Insurance.
With a surging economy, China is a major buyer for equipment, technology and expertise that can help manage its thirst for better power, construction and transportation. China is also eager to improve the notoriously bad pollution in many Chinese cities.
But GE faces strong competition from companies like Germany's Siemens and Japan's Mitsui & Co. And right now, China accounts for just 3% of GE's global revenue, said Mr. Li. “Clearly, branding has to play an important role for our growth plans in China.”