Five questions for Octagon's Ivan Brixi

And other people news in Greater China

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BEIJING--Sports fans around the world look forward to each Olympic Games, and nationalism often fuels their enthusiasm. With the pressure on sponsors to excel in China’s fast-growing economy, however, there is confusion about what makes Chinese sports fans tick and how to effectively leverage sponsorship investments.

“Most marketers may be aware that national pride is an important factor when trying to engage Chinese consumers,” said Ivan Brixi, managing director Asia of Octagon. The Interpublic Group of Cos.’ sports and entertainment marketing division recently conducted a survey called "Passion Drivers," based on interviews with 3,200 Chinese fans of the Olympics as well as sports like football, basketball, athletics, swimming, gymnastics, motor sports, badminton, golf and table tennis.

The study shows "how nationalism manifests itself can vary significantly depending on what type of consumer sponsors are looking to engage," said Mr. Brixi. His research revealed four distinct fan groups in China:

--Competitive Obsessives. Mostly male and comprising 20% of the Olympic fan base, they are totally consumed by the competition and are greatly affected by the performance of the Chinese team. They are also very interested in the lives of the Olympic athletes away from competition and follow them through media coverage. The Games is a topic of much conversation and debate for this group.

--Proud Traditionalists. Primarily young men who make up 20% of the fan base, they view China hosting the Olympics as integral to their personal lives. They tend to be idealistic in their emotions about the games and are inspired by the opportunity to play a role in history in the making. They are heavy consumers of media coverage of the games.

--Family Fun-Seekers. These fans are less passionate about the games and tend to view the event more as an opportunity to talk and socialize with family and friends. Members of this fan segment tend to be women. However, even for this less-passionate group, devotion to the national team is their primary emotional connection to the Olympic Games.

--Social Nationalists. Primarily married women from higher income households, they are 30% of China’s Olympic fan base. Their passion for the games is derived from a sense of belonging to a group of like-minded fans that share a loyalty to their team and pride in serving as host nation.

A native of Prague in the Czech Republic who has lived in Beijing since 2003, Mr. Brixi, 47, was a tennis champion who later managed athletes like Martina Hingis and Jelena Dokic. He and Nick Griffith, 33, Octagon's Beijing-based director of Olympic consulting, spoke with AdAgeChina Editor Normandy Madden about how to connect brands with Chinese sports fans ahead of the next Olympic Games.


AdAgeChina: Your survey identifies national pride as the dominant factor that contributes to Chinese fans’ passion for the Olympics. From the perspective of two marketers from different areas and parts of the world, Germany's Adidas, which competes against strong local brand Li Ning, founded by China's most famous Olympic athlete, and Samsung Electronics in South Korea, a rival Asian country, what is the impact of nationalism?

Ivan Brixi: By the nature of their products, Adidas can be at almost every medal ceremony, automatically tapping into the games. But it's more about China coming out into the world. Its athletes had great success in Athens, now there are very high hopes and expectations, the whole country is watching them. Being part of the Olympics and the medals matters the most, so there is an automatic benefit by association in standing by the winners at the awards ceremony when the athletes are receiving medals.

Nick Griffith: Our research showed that in terms of patriotism, a strong driver for consumers who are fans of the Olympics is love of the national team more than the country itself, that’s what really gets people going. We tell sponsors they shouldn't just associate their brand with general support of the games, they should also support 2008 Chinese Olympic teams. Consumers value sponsor support of their teams above all else.

Mr. Brixi: I agree, I don’t think it matters where the company is from. Samsung is not Chinese but it is established and looked upon as a successful global brand through its Olympic association. They were quite smart to become associated with China's gymnastic team, too. That and diving are two sports in which the Chinese generally do quite well.

AdAgeChina: From another perspective, how do sports fans from western countries feel about China sponsoring the games?

Mr. Brixi: It's having a very positive impact. It will bring China much closer to the world. Many foreigners will be surprised at how advanced China is once they are here or see it on TV during the games. And it will be good for China to have interaction with other countries.

AdAgeChina: Your research points out four types of Olympic fans. Are sponsors reaching them effectively at this point?

Mr. Brixi: Some of the global sponsors have been doing a lot of advertising, and you do see roadshows from a lot of sponsors, but most of them are not really designing them yet to draw people to retail sites, it's more for the benefit of communities. But in terms of activation, we are probably behind Athens at this point, one-and-a-half years before the games.

AdAgeChina: Given the importance that multinationals and Chinese companies have placed on these games from a commercial perspective, why are they letting themselves fall behind?

Mr. Brixi: As far as Chinese companies go, they are all doing this for the first time. They paid large sponsorship fees because the bidding process was so competitive. But when it comes to carrying out programs, it seemed nobody dared to take the first step and they weren’t sure how to do it. So they waited until someone else started to get on the bandwagon. And it looks like some of the state-owned companies like China Netcom, Sinopec and State Grid were just doing their duty to the nation by sponsoring the games and they aren't doing more than putting the Olympic logo on ads.

Lenovo has been active among the Chinese companies, but that's because they have global ambitions. Regarding foreign companies, the cycle is starting now, first they had to deal with [the Winter Olympics last year in] Turin and then the World Cup, other activities that took precedence and now the focus on Beijing is starting. The difference is that Athens had better support early on from local companies, which China didn't have.

AdAgeChina: What are some other mistakes you've seen Olympic sponsors make in China so far?

Mr. Brixi: Not using the Olympics, being complacent and satisfied with slapping a logo onto a product or ad. That’s what a lot of them are doing. They are too conservative, and too afraid to get out there and do something different.

Mr. Griffith: Ambush marketing is also becoming a problem among sponsors, because some of the big companies have divisions that overlap. With the foreign companies like Samsung, there is experience about where the line is, how and where they can promote their sponsorship. But some local companies have certain product categories that are not within their sponsorship rights. It comes down to a lack of experience.


Other people news in Greater China

[shanghai] Steve Lin, Grey Global Group's president and CEO, Greater China, adds the role of general manager at Grey Worldwide's Shanghai office, taking over from outgoing General Manager Alan Lo. In addition, Beijing-based Exec Creative Director Chee Guan Yue will take over the creative duties previously handled by Benson Lam, exec creative director at Grey, Shanghai until a successor is found.

[shanghai] Rapp Collins Worldwide, the direct marketing arm of Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, has appointed David King as managing director of its first office in China. Based in Shanghai, Mr. King has worked in China for five years, first running Tarantula's Chinese operation, acquired by Publicis Groupe in 2005. His last position was general manager of Publicis Dialog in Hong Kong.

[shanghai] Desgrippes Gobe Group has appointed Anh-Huan Tan as director of strategy, Greater China, based in Shanghai from executive strategy director at Publicis Worldwide, Paris.

[shanghai] Antonio Chen succeeds Carol Choi as general manager of SUM Entertainment, a joint venture between Universal Music and the Shanghai Media Group. Ms. Choi left the company at the end of 2006. Based in Shanghai, Mr. Chen joined the company in April 2006, as senior artist and repertoire (A&R) consultant, China & Hong Kong at Universal Music. Before that, he was general manager of Shanghai Epic Entertainment Co., Sony Music's joint venture in China.
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