Tsingtao backs Olympic cheering contest

Nationalism plays a role in new media campaign

By Published on .

QINGDAO, China--Local Olympic sponsor Tsingtao Brewery Co. is taking advantage of growing Chinese nationalism with an interactive campaign that invites Chinese to support their country and athletes.

The  “Cheers for China” campaign for the brewery, partly owned by Anheuser-Busch, is built on a web platform. Visitors can upload photo and video “cheers” for China and its Olympic teams and athletes to the company’s Olympic web site, www.cheers-china.com, through the end of June.

They can also vote on other submissions to the site for hundreds of rewards like Tsingtao merchandise. Although the idea isn't original--numerous marketers are doing campaigns urging consumers to cheer for China--the idea has proved popular and Tsingtao predicts the site will attract more than two million votes.

The strategy behind the campaign, said Shanghai-based Violet Wang, exec creative director of Publicis Worldwide, Tsingtao’s creative agency, is giving consumers a chance to say, “We are Chinese [and] we are proud of it.”

After collecting the photos and videos submitted to the web site, “we will select the good ones and reward them,” she said. "The best will be edited into a TV commercial, so people can see their own work on national television.”

The campaign is a “call for action from all Chinese to share their passion to celebrate in some way on the site, whether it’s a cheer for Beijing, for China and for athletes...Whatever they want to express,” said Emily Wang, general manager of Publicis, Shanghai.

This week, Tsingtao launched a TV spot in China to promote the contest. Print, outdoor and online will follow in the next few weeks. The 30" spot, edited into three versions, features colorful vignettes of both Chinese and non-Chinese consumers drinking Tsingtao in iconic settings in Paris, London, New York, Sao Paulo, Alaska, Beijing and Shanghai.

“Many brands are using celebrities and athletes” in their Olympic marketing, said Sheena Jeng, CEO, China at Publicis in Shanghai. Tsingtao wants to celebrate China and Chinese people, particularly young hip consumers who are interested in foreign travel but consider Tsingtao a stodgy, old-fashioned brand.

Tsingtao’s strategy is becoming a common one in the mainland. Similar cheering programs have been launched already by marketers from China Mobile to PepsiCo and McDonald’s Corp. They play into the staunch patriotism of Chinese consumers, which is growing as China’s government comes under attack by political activists and some Western government leaders  over the China's brutal crackdown in Tibet.

Weak winter sales

Tsingtao shareholder Anheuser-Busch's  Budweiser brand is the official international beer sponsor for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Tsingtao’s net profit rose 20% last year, thanks to overall rising beer sales in China, but missed analysts' estimates, pushing the Hong Kong-listed company’s share price down over the past month.

Earlier this month, the company reported an expected fourth-quarter loss, due to weak sales during the winter, one of the coldest in China in several decades, and rising prices for raw materials. Tsingtao also faces strong competition, from local and imported beer brands and increasingly popular foreign spirits.

The brewery was founded in 1903 in Qingdao when the city was under German rule. Tsingtao now has 50 breweries and has become one of China's few global brands. Exported to more than 70 countries, the beer is a staple at Chinese restaurants around the world.

In China, Tsingtao is the largest beer maker by revenue, but not market share. Exact figures are difficult to obtain in China but most analysts believe Tsingtao had a 13% market share at the end of 2007, compared to 15% for Snow Beer.

Owned by SABMiller and China Resources Enterprises, Snow's popularity in northeastern Chinese cities like Harbin have turned it into the No. 1 beer brand in the mainland, despite Tsingtao’s efforts to position itself, through Olympic sponsorship and other events, as the country’s only national beer brand.

Multiple beer sponsors

Tsingtao faces a strange hurdle as an Olympic marketer. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, or BOCOG, selected three brewers as sponsors to provide money, beer  and services for the 2008 Olympic Games: Tsingtao, Anheuser-Busch and local brewer Beijing Yanjing Brewery Co.

It's unusual for Olympic organizers to select more than one company in any category as a sponsor, but BOCOG made an exception for beer. Industry analysts speculate that BOCOG wanted a sponsor based in Beijing, but couldn’t ignore the market leader based in Qingdao, another Olympic site. That city on China’s eastern coast will host the sailing events this August.

“There are other beer brands sponsoring the Olympics. They have tried to use a similar cheer slogan. But they will be overpowered by our message, because Tsingtao represents Chinese beer,” said Ms. Jeng.

Awareness of Tsingtao as an Olympic sponsor has been consistently in the top 15 to 20 of all sponsors, according to ongoing research by TNS Group's CSM Media Research division in China. The survey measures the brand awareness of Olympic sponsors in China with Beijing-based consulting firm R3 through thousands of in-person interviews in ten key Chinese cities.

“In terms of above-the-line advertising spending, [Tsingtao] just breaks into the top 40 of all spenders,” said Matt Brosenne, CSM’s international business director in Beijing.

“This indicates they have been efficient in the work they have done activating the sponsorship, which is a good sign. At the same time there is a long road ahead for them to climb over the last 100 days before the games if they want to move into the top 10 sponsor awareness group.”

Tsingtao has invested much of its media budget in a national TV show it created in June 2006 with Hunan Satellite TV, a provincial broadcaster with nearly national reach through cable and satellite networks in China. The show, “Tsingtao Beer--I Am the Champion,” supported a national fitness campaign and competition.

Another program, called “Qing-Guo-Qing-Cheng,” presents Chinese cities to the world. Created by Tsingtao with China Central Television, China’s state-run national broadcaster, and the National Geographic Channel, the show debuted in April 2007 and will run through the end of this year.

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