How Sponsorships Can Work for Chinese Brands

Events like the Olympics or World Cup offer plenty of visibility. To pay off, the right metrics are essential.

Recently, there has been an outflow of cash from Chinese brands into global blue-chip sponsorships.

In January, Alibaba shelled out $800 million to become a top-tier Olympic Games sponsor until 2028, and last month Vivo signed a $450 million deal to sponsor the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, joining Wanda and Hisense on the roster of FIFA’s top tier partners.

It is well-publicized that Alibaba has aggressive growth goals, and with less than 10% of revenue coming from outside of China today, it must win overseas in order to meet its targets.

“Alibaba shelled out $800 million to become a top-tier Olympic Games sponsor.”

With the recent signals from Beijing that brand-building is a key growth imperative for China (as evidenced by the proclamation that May 10 is now “Chinese Brands Day”), it is likely that we will see more and more Chinese brands using global sponsorships as a platform to drive greater awareness and consideration as they enter new markets.

It remains to be seen whether these sponsorships will promote consideration of Chinese brands in Western markets, but spending the cash needed to get their brand in front of more than 3 billion eyeballs is certainly a good start.

3 Key Elements of Successful Brand Sponsorships in China

To create a return on the investment, brand sponsorships must amount to more than putting a company logo on a T-shirt or billboard. They need to deliver on three things:

1. Serving Clear Goals that can be Measured

Surprisingly, many companies focus more on what to sponsor than on the business impact the sponsorship will make. First, identify the objective of the sponsorship. (e.g., Are you trying to increase awareness, advocacy or engagement?) Make sure leadership is aligned on the goal, and then build the team and capabilities needed to deliver against your objective.

2. Authentically Linking to the Brand

Sponsor companies often struggle to show a connection between their brand and the event that customers can easily understand. For any brand sponsorship to be effective, there must be congruence between your company and the values of the property you’re sponsoring. For example, Visa sponsored members of the IOC refugee team. This resulted in customers associating positive values of “acceptance, partnership and innovation” with the Visa brand.

3. Ensuring Sponsorship Activation is Integrated

Every brand associated with the Olympics or World Cup (officially and unofficially) competes for the same customers’ attention, making it hard for any to stand out. So companies need to look for integrated experiences across digital and physical channels that elevate their sponsorship to a bigger idea. (e.g. Abbott nicely linked social media and smart offline tactics with their sponsorship of World Marathon Majors to encourage advocacy among fans and reinforce their message of “human potential.”)


In short, to best leverage sponsorships to strengthen brand relevance in new global markets, Chinese brands need to set clear and achievable goals, focus on opportunities they can credibly associate with their brand, and activate in an integrated way that taps into the passion of their target customers.