Olympics: Samsung wired over games

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Samsung Electronics hopes its cutting-edge wireless phones-showcased as the official wireless telecommunications equipment supplier to the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City-will give its brand some much-needed luster with consumers.

The Korean electronics giant has spent $50 million on its Winter Games sponsorship and will leverage it to drive its fast growing wireless communications business. This push is especially important, as Samsung has tried to gain a toehold in the U.S. consumer electronics market with mixed results.

"We regard Samsung mobile handsets as flagship products out of all the electronics that we produce-TVs, white goods [appliances], even components," said Il-Hyung Chang, senior VP-head of Olympic projects at Samsung's Seoul headquarters. "It is not an easy task for one company to launch a very global marketing program in such a short period of time, but we have established very good relations with our subsidiaries and are working hard to come up with marketing programs," he added.

Samsung was a latecomer to the U.S. market compared to well-established rivals Sony Electronics and Matsushita Electric Industrial Corp.'s Panasonic. Samsung was the worldwide wireless equipment provider to the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan and for Sydney 2000.

While Samsung has dialed down brand advertising in the U.S. over the last couple of years, it did launch a global brand campaign last summer with agency Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote Cone & Belding Worldwide, New York. Samsung has put most of its estimated $400 million in media outside the U.S. In 2000 it spent an estimated $71 million on measured media in the U.S. and $31 million for the first 10 months of 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

In January, Samsung broke a 30-second TV spot to promote the sponsorship (AdAge.com QwikFIND aan14z).

Samsung Telecomunications America, the company's U.S. wireless subsidiary, has received the lion's share of U.S. ad dollars as the company's share of handsets grows. Samsung is using the Olympics sponsorship to raise brand awareness in North America, but has also implemented marketing programs around it in Europe and other markets with its retailers.

Wireless analysts peg Samsung at No. 5 in the U.S. in handsets. Nokia ranks No. 1, followed by Motorola, Ericsson/Sony Electronics and Kyocera or Audiovox, which tie for fourth.

In Salt Lake, Samsung has a huge presence with The Olympic Rendezvous @ Samsung, a reunion center for athletes and their families that also serves as an exhibition venue to showcase state-of-the-art mobile handsets. All visitors to the center will get to make a free three-minute wireless call.

Samsung has provided 20,000 wireless handsets to the International Olympic Committee to help run the event.

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