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Advertising fight to the finish ahead of Beijing Olympics.

Byline: Sports giants battle each other in a bid for supremacy in the Chinese market ahead of the Beijing Olympic games.

In Beijing Dongdan subway station, Nike posters featuring Chinese Olympians cover the walls floor to ceiling. Above ground, the same images look down on the pickup basketball and football games at Dongdan Park, a Nike-branded outdoor sports complex that takes up half of a city block. And just one street over, similar billboards line Wangfujing pedestrian shopping street.

But visitors to Beijing during the Olympics in August probably will not see those ads due to a blackout that the host city organising committee is imposing on Olympics-related advertising by non-sponsors during the Games. Nike's top competitor, adidas, will have free advertising reign in the city since it is an official Olympics sponsor.

It's just one of many differences in the China marketing strategies of the world's top two sporting goods brands. With sports apparel a $3.8 billion industry in China in 2006, and projected to grow to $7.2 billion by 2009, the stakes are high and right now, Beijing is at the centre of the battle.

"adidas and Nike both see China as becoming their largest market in the world very soon," said Li Li Leung, managing director at the Beijing office of Atlanta-based sports marketing firm Helios Partners.

Nike has 16.7 per cent of sports apparel market share in China, adidas 15.6 percent and Chinese brand Li-Ning is third, with 10.5 percent of the market.

The brands' different approaches are especially clear in their current advertising campaigns. adidas's Olympic pitch, "Together in 2008: Impossible is Nothing," plays on national pride and collective spirit. It features athletes such as diver Hu Jia and footballer Zheng Zhi performing with the aide of a sea of enthusiastic fans. The TV ads are animated in slow motion and the billboard images are painted with a light stroke.

Nike, on the other hand, has taken a fiercely individualistic approach. Its "Who are you?" ads feature close-up shots of Chinese athletes with their game faces on.

"I am a fighter. Who are you?" reads an ad featuring basketball player Yi Jianlian. Nike's campaign draws heavily on the celebrity of two of the country's most famous athletes, Yi and hurdler Liu Xiang. It also uses its deals with national federations in various sports to gain access to Olympians.

When Zheng Jie became the first Chinese tennis player to reach the Wimbledon semifinals less than two weeks ago, Nike quickly inserted her into the campaign with text that translates, "I am a breakthrough. Who are you?"

Tourist attractions

If Olympic guests won't see the "Who are you?" campaign in Beijing in August, they will still see plenty of the Nike logo as they pass several Nike stores along Chang'an Avenue, en route to major tourist attractions like the Silk Market and the Forbidden City.

Last week, Adidas' big retail play, the Adidas Brand Centre, opened in Beijing. Adidas' largest store in the world at 3,170 square metres, it has four floors packed with apparel, and interactive elements.

The store occupies a brand new building in Sanlitun, the entertainment and nightlife hub of Beijing. Down the street is the Workers' Stadium-where Olympic football competitions will be held-and Workers' Gymnasium, the Games' boxing site.

The centre is drawing crowds of Beijingers. "It's really fun. It's like a museum and a store at the same time," said a female customer surnamed Yang who had just measured her foot speed and vertical leap at the store's interactive miCoach area.

Even more museum-like is Nike's display space in Dashanzi, home of Beijing's trendy 798 art gallery district. Compared to the Adidas store, it is further off the track that's likely to be beaten by most Olympic guests. The uniquely designed building houses a rotating series of exhibits; currently, "100 Innovations" shows off Nike's contributions to the science of sports.

While Nike's 798 space appeals to the fashion-forward crowd, its park at Dongdan caters directly to active lifestyles. The rows of well-maintained basketball courts and soccer pitches are busy daily with hundreds of kids, surrounded by swooshes, playing well into the evening. Li-Ning recently opened a similar area in Chaoyang Park. Adidas doesn't have such a space yet in Beijing, but they are shopping.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jul 14, 2008
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