It's been a long eight years of anticipation, occasionally interspersed with skepticism and even apathy. Living in Shanghai, I've had the luxury of dropping in and out of Olympics mania at my own leisure. Let Beijing worry about hosting a bunch of picky journalists in high-security compounds -- Shanghai is happy to wine and dine its foreigners at martini bars on the Bund.
But August is here and the excitement is contagious. I finally find myself smiling when I see the five Beijing mascots, and I have been appropriately awed by the massive construction. I have sung along to Jackie Chan and friends' saccharine "Beijing Welcomes You" theme song. This past week, I've even found myself tearing up while watching sports marketing commercials. The strength! The perseverance! The courage! The shoes!
For a lot of folk overseas, these Olympics will be the first chance to have an in-depth look at life in Beijing. It's not an easy city. Frankly, it's huge, it's flat, and it's dusty. But the Beijing I expect to see this week will be Beijing as capital of a truly vast multiethnic empire. That's the Beijing that rules over the factory workers in Hubei as well as the bankers in Shanghai, the nomads in Mongolia along with the monks in Tibet. Beijing will spend the next few weeks boasting of its role as capital of the Chinese empire. Expect lots of big intimidating architecture shots and happily dancing ethnic minorities.
It's a pretty impressive shtick and people here do have a positive, visceral response to images of China's might and glory. But, as they say, does it move product? Smiling ruddy-cheeked peasants are all well and good for government PR clips, but how will they help Samsung sell its latest 3G fashion phones? The youth market in China is high-speed and very demanding, and many of Beijing's images are familiar, if not stale. How are marketers accommodating the two?
So far there have been a few noteworthy attempts. Coca-Cola's red-carpet television commercial is a pretty predictable example of the imperial majesty school of advertising. Their red carpet rolls through the whole country -- starting near the Olympic "Bird's Nest" National Stadium, then past the terra cotta warriors in Xi'an, and even up Mount Everest. Cue smiling peasants, cue cuddly pandas.
On the other end of the spectrum, America's basketball team has been playing some exhibition games that barely mention the Olympics. These have been straightforward basketball games -- letting the outsized stars shine on their own.
While I am not the biggest fan of Adidas' outdoor advertisements (one Shanghainese friend compared that campaign's faceless legions of ink-brushed fans to a "Hell of 10,000 Souls"), I was captivated by their window display of all the shoes that the company has designed specifically for these Olympics. It is an educational, fashionable and relevant display and does a great job of being for the whole nation of China while also showcasing Adidas' role as a cool brand.
There is a lot more street-level marketing to write about, and I hope to cover some of it over the next two weeks. I head up to Beijing on Aug. 7 for several days, writing about what I'm seeing on the ground, ugly or exciting. Then I will be back in Shanghai, blogging about how the Olympics are looking from here, China's largest and most sophisticated market. See you in Beijing!