The absence of the Chinese national team in the World Cup -- not
usually a concern -- seems more important this time around.
Huang Jianxiang is back for the 2010 World
Even local media brands are looking for a new hook. The Chinese
portal Sina.com has hired controversial pundit and former CCTV
commentator Huang Jianxiang to lead its online coverage aimed at
office workers and younger fans in internet cafes.
CCTV parted ways with Mr. Huang during the 2006 World Cup after
an emotional on-air tirade celebrating Italy's elimination of
tournament upstart Australia. Subsequently, Mr. Huang has made a
healthy living from fighting the status quo.
Sina announced the collaboration with an ad featuring Mr. Huang
digitally altered to look like an African man in traditional tribal
clothing, playfully suggesting it will offer livelier broadcasts
than the stuffy state-run broadcaster.
Tencent's QQ.com, China's largest online community, introduced
their World Cup coverage with a playful ad featuring Argentine
soccer star Lionel Messi igniting a chain reaction of local chefs,
white collar workers and sports people performing ball-juggling
tricks. The ad finishes with a convincing Chinese-language cameo
from Mr. Messi.
Asian Games give Chinese sports fans more to cheer
Exacerbating low enthusiasm for the World Cup, local brands are
producing highly emotional campaigns focused on the 2010 Asian
Games that will be hosted in Guangzhou this November. Chinese
athletes are expected to dominate the event, rekindling the glory
of the Beijing Olympics.
Local sportswear brands like 361 Degrees and Anta Sports, for
instance, have created emotional ads about the pre-game
preparations of the national athletes. The Chinese beverage brand
Wanglaoji reinforces the same message with ads showing ecstatic
spectators cheering as local athletes power to victory.
So in an effort to drum up enthusiasm about the World Cup, some
marketers have focused on the experience and celebration of the
McDonald's Corp., an official global sponsor, offers customers
the opportunity to "score" prizes and giveaways daily in stores,
while a TV spot shows an exuberant prizewinner performing his own
post-goal celebration with McDonald's delivery staff.
The campaign also highlights new behaviors the World Cup can
create, such as late-evening viewing and impromptu gatherings of
friends and colleagues. Supporting snack promotions, for instance,
suggests to consumers the suitability of McDonald's outlets for
enjoying mid- and late-evening games, with tray coasters providing
details like the tournament broadcast schedule.
Sponsors focus on fun experiences, not
Similarly, ads for Anheuser-Busch InBev's brand Harbin Ice
acknowledges the soccer tournament's timing at the peak of summer,
an ideal time for alfresco spectatorship at bars and restaurants.
Ads show an icy bottle of Harbin Ice transformed into a World Cup
trophy as a celebration of summer. The idea of icy refreshment is
further supported by a series of online games and contests for
soccer fans at harbin-beer.cn/worldcup, under the theme of
"freezing over South Africa." The campaign started in April 2010,
with a Harbin Beer Soccer Skill Challenge
Another sponsor, Castrol, activates local fans' passion for
analysis and banter. Castrol's Chinese website (cn.castrolfootball.com) provides visitors with a
comprehensive set of performance trackers alongside expert posts
from past players and coaches. Themed around the idea of tracking
performance, the site arms casual fans with the ammunition to come
across as a seasoned expert, comfortable in even the most heated
The messages around the World Cup with the most impact focus on
individual players. Cristiano Ronaldo's image is ever-present in
out-of-home ads for brands like Nike and Unilever's Clear
PepsiCo has also deployed its formidable international roster of
soccer superstars to good effect. A poster featuring top names like
Mr. Messi, Fernando Torres, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Michael
Ballack, Didier Drogba and Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (better
known as Kak�) is almost a default wall decoration at small
Soccer celebrities are a big draw
The impact of celebrity players is all the more powerful due to the
inconsistent coverage of international soccer in China over recent
Coverage of the sport has become reliant on highlight reels, a
format made popular with young Chinese by the NBA's presence in the
market. Also, personalities provide a ready-made point of
engagement and a way to passionately adopt another nation's team --
Ronaldo vs. Rooney, rather than Portugal vs. England.
In this context, an interesting part of Harbin Ice's interactive
campaign is an online photo-sharing contest where visitors can post
images of a body part they feel resembles that of their favorite
soccer superstar. So far, fans have uploaded images to suggest
their lips resemble those of Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho, their
smile is similar to David Beckham's; or they have the nose of
former Italian star Roberto Baggio.
In a year when the World Cup has to compete for attention,
recognizable soccer celebrities provide an enviable way to
personalize the event for fans in the absence of China' s
participation. Campaigns that celebrate the actual enjoyment and
passion of watching the tournament are most likely to resonate
strongly with fans and newcomers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is a Shanghai-based associate director at Oracle Added Value, a WPP
company offering brand development and marketing insight services