Yesterday was the end of the Paralympic Games. Last month, Paralympic and Olympic news dominated our local news outlets. In fact, according to Meltwater data, we saw 560,000 mentions from Hong Kong athletes during the Olympics this year.
This is largely due to the phenomenal performance or other incidents of Hong Kong athletes. For example, Edgar Cheung Ka-long made history when he took home the gold medal in the men’s singles football event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; while Siobhan Haughey won two silver medals in making the history of the Hong Kong swim team in the 200m freestyle and 100m freestyle races.
Leung Yuk-Wing won a bronze medal in the Boccia Mixed Individual BC4 event; Chu Man-kai won the silver medal in the final of the SH6 badminton and the mixed bocce team also won a silver medal in the BC4 event finals at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
The controversy surrounding Hong Kong badminton player Angus Ng, who was heavily criticized by pro-Beijing lawmakers and some internet users for wearing a black jersey lacking the Hong Kong Bauhinia emblem at a Tokyo Olympics game, also attracted some attention .
After the athletes returned, many local brands also celebrated their successes. It is understandable that brands that support athletes with international fame should do this support sustainably and with continuous effort – and not with a flash in the pan.
Some brands like VISA Hong Kong paved the way, endorsing Edgar Cheung and naming him VISA Hong Kong Brand Ambassador since 2019.
Jonathan Cummings, APAC President of Landor & Fitch, speaks to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE about the need for brand support regardless of victory or defeat.
“Brand advocacy is a one-way street,” he said. Just as brands partner with successful athletes to raise their profile, brands also have the opportunity to raise the profile of aspiring sports stars. “The raw star power of many athletes is an immediate way to appeal to and attract consumers.” Cummings added that sustainability is important in any sponsorship – whether through marketing or advocacy.
One form of sustained and continuous effort is to support an aspiring star until they become a mature athlete in their field. Too often, however, brands shout about superstar athletes rather than aspiring ones.
How can collaboration with athletes benefit from brands?
Cummings added that athletes can offer some benefits. For example, the momentous and short-lived nature of live sports is often followed by an ongoing excitement for off-field athletes. “Sport is universal, it is not tied to cultural or linguistic barriers and the athletes’ followers come from everywhere. That’s why footballer Cristiano Ronaldo has the most followers on Instagram, while Nike, adidas and Under Armor are some of the top quality apparel brands. “That’s because they use the universal appeal of the sport in their own branding.”
When it comes to forming a partnership, both brands and athletes must carefully weigh the merits of the partnership. “To be truly valuable, athletes must be clear about the brand’s goals and brands must be aware and empathetic about athletes’ careers,” said Holly Millward, regional managing director for APAC at CSM Sport & Entertainment.
In addition, from a moral perspective, customers expect more from brands. Millward stated, “Obviously, brands are becoming increasingly important for proper ‘behavior’, with the protection of the mental health of athletes at the fore, where competition and corporate obligations are combined.”
The rise of content marketing in sports
The maintenance of fame that an athlete acquires today also has a shelf life. Content marketing plays a major role here. Millward stated, “Athletes are creators. If they offer a compelling narrative, it will be inexpensive and authentic. “
Not only is such content a way for an athlete to stay relevant, but it also creates strong value for brands that support those athletes. Brands are now also applying successful data strategies to advertising content, providing the ability to better understand and grow audiences and increase loyalty, Millward said.
But of course, when working with an athlete, brands also need to allow plenty of space for the athletes’ regular workouts, exercises, and preparation – which makes working with them pretty bumpy for some brands.
Get noticed by a global sporting event
Numerous Chinese brands also made themselves felt at this year’s Olympic Games. For example, according to the Global Times, Alibaba launched products and services related to the Tokyo Olympics and introduced the Alibaba Cloud Pin, a cloud-based digital pin for broadcast and media professionals at the Tokyo Olympics. The digital wearable enables users to share daily activity updates while maintaining social distance.
Alibaba also announced that one of its key initiatives for the Tokyo Olympics will be to expand the Olympic Broadcasting Services Cloud as it leverages Alibaba Cloud technologies to transform the media experience related to the Games. It also worked with Intel to host AI-powered 3D athlete tracking technology via Alibaba Cloud, which uses AI to analyze videos of athletes and create 3D models of them to aid their workouts.
Erica Kerner, SVP, Marketing Strategy and Partnerships, ONE Championship, said Chinese brands’ participation in the Olympics has changed a lot since 2008 – the year China first hosted the Olympics and many Chinese brands have an audience on which the international stage.
“At the time, most of the leading Chinese partner brands or the International Olympic Committee (IOC) mainly focused on the Chinese market and the Chinese fans. Even if the Chinese market may still be the core of her reasons for sponsoring the Olympic Games, it is now also about opening up international sales channels and taking market share from global competitors, ”she said.
In 2017, Alibaba announced a long-term partnership with the IOC until 2028. The Alibaba Group joined the global sponsorship program The Olympic Partner (TOP) and became an official partner for cloud services and e-commerce platform services as well as a founding partner of the Olympic Kanal.
Meanwhile, Kuaishou also won the broadcast rights for the next two Olympics and planned to set up a channel that would broadcast more than 600 games. According to the same Global Times report, these games are expected to be viewed more than 60 billion times.
Ashley Dudarenok, founder of ChoZan and Alarice, said this year’s discussion on the Olympics has been unprecedented. “Increasing digitalization has accelerated the spread of information about the Olympic Games on Chinese social media. Live streaming and short videos also made it easier to access information quickly, ”she said.
In addition to the online presence, Chinese companies paid attention to the viewing experience. Dudarenok said that Migu Video, an app that wasn’t popular before the Olympics, got a lot of attention because it offered free real-time broadcasts of the Olympics and therefore topped the App Store download list.
Speak to a global audience
Participation in the Olympic Games, according to Kerner, also meant that many Chinese brands achieved an internationalized reputation and image. Kerner cited an example for Samsung when Seoul hosted the 1988 Olympics. She explained that when Samsung first took part in the Olympics, Samsung was viewed as a “very Korean brand” but now they are a real global powerhouse recognized by fans around the world, as many Chinese brands may expect same fate.
“When fans know these brands better at the Olympics and other major sporting events, they will see them as top international brands. This already applies to Alibaba and other non-Olympic brands like Vivo, Hisense and Oppo, all of which are making significant international sports investments, “she said.” Also, we shouldn’t forget that these international sponsorships work well at home in China too and have strong patriotism and spark nationalism among Chinese fans. “
Courtesy photo: Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee, China
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