While China was winning all the on-field golds at the Olympics, their local brands were little more than also-rans in the biggest competition of them all; the Global Brand Stakes.

Brand China missing out

China certainly captured the attention and imagination of globe-spanning audiences with its image-obsessed stage management of the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics. Yet this belied the sloppy displays of its state-owned brands in comparison to their ‘western’ counterparts.

At ABT Creative, we conceptualised and created Austrade’s highly successful Business Club Australia at the Beijing Hilton – but we were dismayed by the quality of the local pavilions.

Chinese brands failed to engage

For behind the buzz of the main stadium – in a nearby market street – China’s state-owned ‘Sponsors Showcase Pavilions’ scored poorly in terms of attracting and retaining visitors and representing Chinese brand savvy to international business audiences and stakeholders.

Check out this weird Showcase Pavilion (more shots in the images at the end of this article);

did they think that covering the venue in real
grass would gloss over somewhat questionable corporate environmental
credentials? It resembles a weird
science Lamington, with external windows that only look into a back
view of display panel wiring, plus a few half empty coke bottles and a
disused lunch wrapper.

Well-recognised western marques such as Adidas, Coke, General Electric and Johnson & Johnson triumphed by creating brand experiences that strongly reinforced their values and commitment to the local market.

Check out the images at the end of this article for some examples of Western brands who got their presence at the Games right.

These stands were constantly filled with long queues of locals and internationals keen to experience dynamic, vibrant and genuinely engaging brand culture.

Dropping the baton

Taking a stroll along the sponsors’ Market Street, you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the Chinese pavilions were yet to be finished: Rows of yesterday’s flower pots had fallen over their little plastic picket fences. They lay strewn beside an empty pond filled with cracked tiles, in front of a temporary building still covered in workers’ dirty hand marks. And all before you stepped inside, along a dirt-stained red carpet.

I’m sorry, but Chinese brands totally dropped the baton.

Sure, there were attempts to attract visitors via competently staged audio performances, but the experiential follow-up was hugely disappointing. Along with a few hundred locals, we were visually assailed by a variety of PPT files being changed and tested on a huge main screen. After multiple public sound checks that went on for over an hour we left, as did the locals.

Must try harder

Inside many of the other local brand venues, the performance got worse. Push-up banners provided the sole signage in a space that resembled a disused scout hall. Cheap, inflatable toy mascots were meant to provide a photo opportunity for the locals. Even display panels were crammed with bombastic text taken straight from the legal department.

The Olympics put brands on a world stage, but gaining global awareness is of little value if you don’t step up to the platform in the right manner. From the start, China certainly tried to dominate the field with a strong number of local sponsor entries, yet all failed to qualify in the all-important brand stakes.

As BOCOG (Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) stated prior to the games:

“For Chinese firms, the Olympic Games provide an honorable opportunity to enhance their image and demonstrate their strengths in key technologies, products and services while gaining recognition for their commitment to Chinas national quest for professional excellence in all realms of business.”

Well, in all honesty, there was nothing professional or progressive about the way Chinese brands sought to communicate with their key stakeholders. In fact, if brand communications and customer experiences were Olympic sports, China’s medal tally would be more akin to the Republic of Moldova.

Let’s hope China takes on some serious brand training before it hosts the World Expo in 2012, another global event that will shine the spotlight on Chinese brand performance.

For more information, email Peter Grose, CEO, ABT Creative, China