SHANGHAI--As the Olympics near, Chinese consumers are being bombarded with messages from Olympic sponsors with seemingly unlimited marketing budgets.
With a wide ange of campaigns, from linking brands with national or Olympic pride to humorous takes on the height difference between Yao Ming and Jackie Chan, most consumers have no problem identifying the marketers who are Olympic partners.
Struggling to gain the same recognition, and sometimes forgotten, is another layer of sponsors--official suppliers that also forked out significant funds for a piece of the Olympic action. These companies promote diverse products like temperature control systems, chocolate bars, appliances, language tuition, logistics and stationary.
Are these supplier brands also able to reach out to consumers, catch their attention and influence their purchasing decisions?
To find out, Nielsen Co. evaluated adspend data and retail sales figures and conducted an online consumer survey in China to analyze the marketing strategy of three sponsors: Mars (Snickers), Kerry Oils & Grains (Arawana cooking oil) and English First Language Training.
Snickers a best-seller in western Europe and the U.S., but the Mars chocolate bar faces tough competition in China. As the exclusive supplier of the 2008 Olympic Games, Mars will provide money and chocolate products for the games, including the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games (BOCOG), the Chinese Olympic Committee and the Chinese sports delegation.
Unlike top-tier sponsors such as Visa International and Coca-Cola Co., Mars has not used athletes as brand endorsers for Snickers, focusing on an energy theme instead. That way, Snickers does not compete head to head with mass market chocolate brands in China, where the favorite brands are those viewed as indulgent treats, such as Mars' Dove.
The timing of the games has not favored Snickers. The Olympics fall outside the traditional October-April peak season for chocolate marketing in China. Snickers could move up its fall ad campaign to coincide with the Olympics, which start Aug. 8, or rely on on-pack logos and below-the-line tactics during the games.
Arawana, produced by Singapore-based Kuok Group's Kerry Oils & Grains, is the official cooking oil supplier for the Olympic Games. Arawana is the market leader in China, with 35% of all cooking oil sales by value in February 2008, according to the Nielsen Retail Index. Arawana enjoys strong levels of consumer awareness and brand preference. The majority of Chinese consumers (64%) list Arawana first when asked to name a cooking oil brand, and 85% are willing to pay a premium for Arawana, compared to 69% for its closest competitor, COFCO's Fortune cooking oil. Both companies spent about the same amount on advertising during the last two years.
For Arawana, the Olympics are an opportunity to further strengthen its already dominant position. The company emphasizes Olympic themes in TV advertising and consumer promotions that give consumers a chance to win tickets to the Olympics.
Even for a strong brand like Arawana, cutting through the clutter of Olympic-related advertising isn't easy. In a recent Nielsen survey, just over half of consumers correctly recognized Arawana as the official cooking oil supplier. Eighteen percent of consumers named another brand as the supplier and 30% didn't know.
English First Language Training
Established by Swedish entrepreneur Bertil Hult in 1965, EF Language is the official supplier of language training for the Beijing Summer Games.
There are several rivals at the top end of China's English-language training market in China, including Web International English, Wall Street Institute and Beijing New Oriental Foreign Language School. But EF Language is the only language school that has advertised significantly during the past year. Its ad spending peaked last year during August, and is likely to focus on Olympic ads this August.
Only 17% of consumers are aware of EF Language's Olympic status, with 62% replying "don't know" when asking which language tuition company is an Olympic supplier.
This is the second in an ongoing series of special reports by Nielsen Co. about the marketing aspects of the 2008 Olympic Games. The first report, "Who's leading Olympic adspend in China," was published on April 9, 2008.