Philip Ellis
PR & Influence
Chinese Brands Win Big at 2018 World Cup

China’s football team might not have qualified to compete in the 2018 Fifa World Cup, but there was still plenty for Chinese companies to celebrate this summer. The games proved to be a huge success for a number of Chinese brand campaigns, with the competition providing an unprecedented opportunity to advertise on the global stage and show international markets that they mean business.

After a number of western corporations pulled their sponsorship from Fifa, Chinese firms seized the opportunity to step in and bring their brands to billions of international viewers. It is estimated that Chinese brands spent US $835 billion on sponsorships during the championships, comprising more than one third of the World Cup’s total sponsorship revenue.

Property and entertainment conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group was a top-level sponsor, and took over 200 children from China to Russia to be flag bearers. “Wanda has long been devoted to delivering rich experiences to soccer fans in China and all over the world,” says Yang Hengming, President of Wanda Sports Group. “One of the primary reasons for us to sign the partnership with Fifa was to inspire the next generation of Chinese soccer players.”

The rest of the Chinese sponsors comprised a mix of big and mid-sized companies, including electronics firm Hisense, smartphone manufacturer Vivo, tech company Luci, and dairy producer Mengniu, who released a prime-time TV spot featuring Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi which aired repeatedly before matches and during half-time.

Each of these companies has seen a positive impact on revenues due to their World Cup activities. Hisense’s TV sales in Russia increased 300 per cent on the previous year, further bolstering the company’s decision to invest in sports marketing as a long-term strategy (having previously partnered with Red Bull Racing and the Australian Open). Meanwhile, Vivo’s brand VP Deng Li has confirmed that its World Cup sponsorship (which it has signed on to repeat in 2022) has already played a key role in growth both domestically and internationally.

“Chinese companies get two things from sponsoring the World Cup,” says PR Week’s Sam Burne James. “The first is access to western audiences that they will sooner or later be trying to win over, as their companies expand. The other is a cosmopolitan veneer to their brands, which they hope will resonate with their sizeable domestic markets.”

One such ad targeted at the domestic market was Nike China’s ‘Dare To Become’ campaign, which taps into the widespread public interest in football inspired by the World Cup. The film imagines a world in which the world’s greatest football players are Chinese. Starring a number of young Chinese athletes, ‘Dare To Become’ aims to keep this national passion for football going after the World Cup draws to a close.

Another Chinese brand which attuned itself to the national mood was Vatti, an oven manufacturer which offered refunds on its “champion products” if France won the World Cup final. While this ultimately came to pass and Vatti now has to cough up sums of approximately $4.3 million, the stunt generated significant earned media via Weibo, resulting in a 30 per cent increase in online sales and 20 per cent increase in physical retail sales. The company has described the refunds as “controllable spending” which will only account for 10 per cent of its total World Cup revenues. And it’s still small change compared to the $300 million that Mengniu paid in sponsorship.

“Chinese companies can afford the cost because they have a huge market behind them to support the pace of globalisation,” He Wenyi, Director of the Institute for Sports Value at Peking University, told the Straits Times, adding that “it is a historic moment and a natural choice for Chinese companies to join the sponsors’ club.”

However, independent analyst Liang Zhenpeng says that sponsoring big sporting events like the World Cup is “just one step of overseas expansion,” and states that Chinese firms should not compromise on their investments in R&D, product quality and customer experience when seeking to attract global consumers.

Chris Reitermann, CEO of Ogilvy China, believes that in order for a Chinese enterprise to reach an international consumer base, it has to think about what kind of brand it wants to built on the global stage. “A lot of these brands are technology brands, and so by the very nature of their business they are innovators,” he says. “A lot of brands come to us as innovators in their categories, who want to build something that’s longer lasting and connects with the consumer in a stronger way than just having the best camera or processor… A well-considered approach is needed if you’re interested in building a global brand. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

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