There’s no Olympic medal for sports apparel marketing, but the race this summer between the category’s top two brands is hotly contested. Ahead of the Beijing Olympics, Nike and Adidas are employing very different strategies to court the Chinese market.
One key difference is Adidas’ decision to invest in being an official sponsor of the games. This grants advantages like the right to use trademarked images (the rings, the event’s logo, the words “Beijing 2008”), access to prime tickets and hotel rooms and the opportunity to set up hospitality areas close to Olympic venues like the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube.
Nike is not an Olympic sponsor, and one of the consequences of that is restriction of its advertising in Beijing during the Olympic period. Until about a week ago, Nike had a large advertising presence around shopping hot spot Wangfujing, but that changed after the restrictions went into effect July 19.
Nike ads that plastered the nearby Dongdan subway station have been covered in white. The athletes whose faces hawk Nike from above the shops at Wangfujing have been replaced with “Beijing 2008” posters bearing the images of the Fuwa (the official mascots of these games), Beijing opera singers and the Great Wall. At the nearby basketball and soccer park that Nike owns rights to, the 15-foot ads that usually hang on the fences have been taken down, though the swooshes that mark half field and center court are still there. Even Nike’s ads in Titan sports newspaper now bear only a simple swoosh and the “Just Do It” slogan. Gone are the images of Nike-sponsored Chinese Olympians.
Along Wangfujing, though, it’s hard to see a disadvantage for Nike. All of the billboards, including the Adidas ones featuring the Chinese women’s volleyball team, have been replaced with Beijing ’08 signage. And Nike has bought up several retail locations in the area, along Chang’An Avenue (which intersects with Wangfujing a short distance east of Tian’anmen and the Forbidden City) and Wangfujing Street. It has two Wangfujing shops, including one with huge windows that afford passersby a good view of the life-size mannequins of hurdler Liu Xiang and basketball player Yi Jianlian, as well as a montage of several different Chinese Olympians wearing the brand.
The area around Wangfujing will be a favorite place for Beijing’s Olympic visitors to spend time between basketball games and swim meets, but when the action starts it will focus around the actual events, where Adidas should have a complete monopoly over its biggest competitor.
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