Forget about sponsor-fatigue and jaded consumers.
With the Olympics less than five months away and the torch relay just two weeks off, enthusiasm among local Chinese is "soaring," said Beijing-based Scott Kronick, president of Ogilvy PR in China. The agency works with Olympic sponsors like Adidas, UPS, Volkswagen, Johnson & Johnson, Great Wall Wine, Sohu.com and Ticketmaster.
Pride in China and Chinese athletes is driving much of the excitement, according to The Project 2008 Poll, a survey conducted by Ogilvy Group and research firm Millward Brown, both part of WPP Group. The survey asked Chinese residents in cities along the torch relay route about their attitudes and opinions toward the Olympic Games. Conducted in early January, the poll surveyed 2,687 Chinese aged 12-54 in 20 provinces as well as four major Chinese cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Tianjin.
This week, Mr. Kronick spoke with AdAgeChina's editor, Normandy Madden, about Chinese attitudes towards the games, as well as some of the unwanted attention China has received over Darfur.
AdAgeChina: When you say Chinese are excited, what do you mean exactly? Is it about patriotism, support for specific athletes or teams, or just the entertainment and spectacle value?
Scott Kronick: I think it’s just looking forward towards the Olympics, and pride in the fact that China is hosting the Olympics. There is a combination of factors, but when we dig deep down, a lot of it comes from national pride and patriotism.
Interest was very high during Athens too, though. The Olympics as a brand has been growing for a while, especially because of China’s improving performance. [The Chinese] look at the Olympics both as a sporting platform and as proof that they have arrived in the world. During the Olympics in Athens, I heard more than 90% of Chinese tuned in at least once.
AdAgeChina: Is this response really any different from what other host countries experience before the games?
Mr. Kronick: We’re looking for data about that from Athens and Sydney. I think there was pride in both of those cities too, but one thing we have noticed in Athens and Sydney, most residents didn’t want to be in those cities when the games were happening and the cities were so crazy-busy. In Beijing, however, only 2% of residents are planning to leave. That was quite surprising. You also don’t hear many people talking about renting out their apartments to make money during the games, even though Chinese on average earn less than residents of Athens and Sydney and Chinese traditionally are very entrepreneurial.
AdAgeChina: Your research showed residents in Guangzhou, a city in southern China’s Guangdong province near Hong Kong, registered the most enthusiasm, even more than people in Beijing. Why?
Mr. Kronick: It could be because there is a tendency to be more influenced by the outside world in Guangzhou, but that one is hard to figure out. They haven’t been left out economically. Some of the soccer games will be held in Guangdong. It’s good to see, particularly their interest in coming to Beijing for the games.
AdAgeChina: Your research showed sponsor fatigue has not set in, even though the games have never had so many sponsors before at the local level. Is that surprising since there are so many sponsors and so much media clutter, and some consumers have been confused about which companies actually are sponsors?
Mr. Kronick: What we’re hearing is that sponsored campaigns are contributing to the excitement, not detracting from it. We’ve had people lining up for tickets to come to sponsor events for companies like Adidas. We haven’t felt any backlash towards the commercialism of the games, just to the contrary. It could be that everyone is advertising and marketing around sports. The challenge from a marketing standpoint is how do you cut through the clutter, how do you stick your stake in the ground and be meaningful and then make it last.
AdAgeChina: So far, have you seen any tangible benefits to being a sponsor, which costs tens of millions of marketing dollars, between buying sponsorship status and leveraging it in the marketplace?
Mr. Kronick: I got to tell ya, I don’t hear anyone saying they wished they hadn’t sponsored it, particularly with these games, because of the attention they are getting. When you sponsor games in China, you also show a commitment to doing business in China. It communicates something to people inside and outside China. You get a multiplier effect. Also, many of the companies we work with are very much a part of the games like UPS, the logistics supplier, and Adidas, which is outfitting the games.
AdAgeChina: Lately, it has become a liability in some ways to show a commitment to doing business in China. Sponsors are getting attacked for supporting China, which is Sudan's leading oil customer and supplier of weapons. That has created a backlash overseas, but not in China. Why aren't Chinese people as upset about the Darfur issue as those outside China, and why don't they consider it a big Olympic issue?
Mr. Kronick: First of all, people here just don’t associate the Olympics with political causes. And sponsors don’t support the games for political reasons. What some parts of the world have found is that the Olympics are such a powerful platform that it’s become a platform for expression of political beliefs as well. But not in China, where most people in the Olympic movement don’t see it as anything political.
AdAgeChina: So what issues or concerns related to the Olympics do they care about instead?
Mr. Kronick: Doping, they care a lot about that. Fair play. The integrity of the games and now pollution is coming into it. You need a clean environment to put on the games.
On a deeper level though, China cares about stability, first and foremost, more than the games. They have 1.3 billion people. They care about social harmony, and things like having enough food, housing and fuel to keep the society going, which goes right along with social harmony. Rural communities need to be sustainable.
At the same time, the Olympics is a global event, it focuses the world’s attention on China and is part of China’s progress. As part of that, it has been a catalyst for lots of reforms, such as cleaning up the environment and increasing media freedom. The government has already said it will allow Chinese journalists covering the games more freedom vs. what they had before.
After the games, the government will review that policy but it is a positive step forward and I really do believe they’re going to clean up the environment here. The games have also spawned some great architectural landmarks in Beijing.
In those ways, I think people here see the games as a good thing. But nothing will stand in the way of stability and that fact is where you start to get discord with the rest of the world.
AdAgeChina: Is there any chance that Chinese will organize their own protests at the Olympics?
Mr. Kronick: I think people are worried about protests in general but you won’t see it among the Chinese. The government is expecting some by foreigners and it has already asked us questions about how to deal with that situation, if it happens. We told them how they deal with protests during the games is the most important thing in the world, because the world will be watching.
Other people news in Greater China
[shanghai] Aquent, a head-hunting firm specializing in marketing, communications and creative executives, has hired Sam Wong as area manager of its Shanghai office, following the promotion of Duncan Cunningham to the role of regional director, Greater China. Previously, he was based in Sydney as national team leader, healthcare at Cadden Crowe, now part of Rubicor Group in Australia.
[hong kong] Turner Entertainment Networks Asia, the Hong Kong-based entertainment arm of Turner Broadcasting System Asia, has appointed Benjamin Grubbs to a newly-created position, regional director, interactive media. Previously, he was eBay’s marketing director for Hong Kong and Macau.
[hong kong] JWT has appointed Jeffree Benet as copywriter-creative director in Hong Kong. Previously, he was based in Singapore, where he was publisher and general manager of Think magazine while working for various agencies on a freelance basis.