Case Study

Lenovo's Race Has Already Started

Chinese PC Maker Bets on Olympic Sponsorship to Build Global Brand

By Published on .

Lenovo bus passes by Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing
Lenovo bus passes by Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing
BEIJING ( -- Even though the Olympic Games are based in Beijing this year, only one global sponsor, Lenovo Group, is a Chinese company. It may also be the sponsor with the most to gain -- or lose -- from its association with the games.

Since Lenovo took over IBM's personal computing division in 2005, the company has doggedly tried to build its brand overseas, and not just as a cheap Asian knock-off. It wants Lenovo's image to be as solid as Big Blue, and more profitable.

The company has used the games not only as a branding launch pad, but also to carry out one of the most ambitious product demonstrations in history. Virtually every aspect of this year's Olympics, including the torch relay, which Lenovo sponsored alongside Coca-Cola Co. and Samsung, will depend on the company's technology.

Hundreds of its PCs, monitors and servers are being integrated into game management systems like accreditation, staffing and scheduling, transportation, sports entries and qualifications; timing and scoring; ticketing; and installation of internet cafes for athletes and coaches in Olympic villages.

All together, Lenovo provided more than 30,000 pieces of computing equipment to manage the operations of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

The company is heavily promoting its technology connection to the games with a massive activation campaign in Beijing. Outdoor ads have blanketed strategic locations like the city's international airport, around the Olympic Green and downtown shopping districts.

The campaign combines corporate branding with products ads for its IdeaPad and ThinkPad X300 products, using the slogan, "Lenovo technology powering the world's biggest ideas." As the key sponsor of's Olympic channel, Lenovo will have a strong national presence online during the games.

Building a world-class image

The image of Chinese products has taken a hit in the past few years after some serious and sizable problems with safety and quality. Lenovo knows this and is eager to prove it is a world-class company. A technical stumble during the games could be devastating.

Lenovo's brand challenges aren't just overseas, or in China's wealthiest cities, where foreign computers made by Hewlett- Packard, Dell and Apple are trendy. Like many multinationals who find themselves outsmarted in China's third, fourth and fifth tier cities by nimble local companies, Lenovo has problems at the rural level too. It faces cheaper local brands like Founder Group, which claims to be the second largest manufacturer of PCs in China after Lenovo.

Winning at home is critical, since China generates nearly 40% of Lenovo's global revenue. Even worse, sales growth is likely to be a trickle this year, due to the major earthquake in China last May and an economic slowdown in the U.S., Lenovo's second-largest market.

To cement its position at the bottom end of the market, this month Lenovo announced plans to offer a low-cost notebook computer, priced at $399. It will be marketed to first-time computer owners in China and other emerging markets.

An i.lounge in Beijing
An i.lounge in Beijing
I.lounges turn athletes into bloggers

When it comes to the Olympics, Lenovo isn't just thinking about viewers watching the games at home on TV. It is also eager to impress the tens of thousands of reporters, athletes and officials using its products, and watching Lenovo at work, during the Olympic Games as well as the Paralympic Games in September.

On July 28, Lenovo opened six internet cafes, known as i.lounges, in the Olympic Villages in Beijing as well as two other cities hosting Olympic events, Qingdao and Hong Kong. Stocked with 260 computers and staffed by in-house engineers, the i.lounges will allow athletes to communicate with unprecedented access.

According to Lenovo, more than 100 athletes from more than 25 countries and 29 sports have signed up to blog during the competition time period for the first time in Olympic history. Their blogs will be presented at
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