Agency: Leo Burnett, Beijing
BEIJING--Li Ning Co., China's leading local sportswear manufacturer, has tapped the National Basketball Association's Damon Jones to promote a new shoe series, Fei Jia (Flying Armor). In addition to appearing in ads and taking part in sponsored events, the Cleveland Cavaliers guard will wear Fei Jia shoes in every game he plays.
Li Ning has launched a marketing campaign to publicize the breakthrough sponsorship deal signed earlier this month, which itself is a milestone for the company. Mr. Jones is the first current NBA player to form a marketing agreement with any Chinese sports brand, and the partnership could give the local company a stronger defense against foreign rivals like Nike and Adidas, who are investing heavily in China.
The agreement "marks a major step in Li Ning's internationalization strategy," said Li Ning's CEO in Beijing, Zhang Zhiyong, and helps the company "advance further to be a world class sportswear brand."
The creative, developed by Leo Burnett, Beijing, stresses Li Ning's Asian roots (its founder, an Olympic gold medal winner, is well-known in China) and original style in an "Ink Ball" spot. The tagline, "Only oriental basketball play-style is our original style," is illustrated with a stylized use of calligraphy to trace the movements of the player. The campaign will also run in print, in-store and outdoor media, supported by court side initiatives and a promotion asking local players to create their own unique style of play via the Internet. Ads featuring Mr. Jones will break later this year.
Bringing American basketball players to China, rather than sponsoring local athletes, has become a common tactic for all sportswear companies. An early Nike ad in China, for example, featured one of the country's best basketball players, Wang Zhizhi, "based on an American mentality about how to create a local hero," recalled Brook Lamar, author of Operation Yao Ming: The Making of a Chinese Hero and His Journey to the NBA.
But Chinese, longtime fans of NBA games on television, prefer to draw inspiration from the best players in the world. "Nike, and the NBA, realized they would have to get someone from the U.S. [into local advertising] to get the sportswear market to explode in China," he said.