Surekha Ragavan
Nov 2, 2018

Defining 'internationalisation' through events

Pico+ and George P. Johnson are among the agencies responsible for overseas brand activation activities and business forums for Chinese brands.

Jack Ma takes the stage with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau during the Gateway '17 summit.
Jack Ma takes the stage with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau during the Gateway '17 summit.

One thing the 2018 World Cup taught us is that Chinese brands are spending big money to reach international audiences. Brands such as Wanda and Mengniu Dairy scored through exclusive sponsorship deals, exciting marketing campaigns and player partnerships. 

However, most Chinese tech companies go down a different route when marketing overseas—one where audiences are more narrowly targeted. Take for instance, the recent CES gadget show in Las Vegas where Chinese brands had their biggest showing yet with a total of 1,551 registrations from Chinese companies, 482 of which were from Shenzhen. Agency Pico+ worked with clients Huawei, HiSilicon and Alibaba to create immersive experiences beyond brick-and-mortar booths.

For Alibaba, Pico+ created a striking geometric form for the booth to help it stand-out, then kitted it out with interactive technology. 

Besides that, George P. Johnson (GPJ) was responsible for the Gateway ’17 conference by Alibaba that took place in both Detroit and Toronto. The event was marketed as a “gateway to China” and Alibaba founder Jack Ma took to the stage to encourage American and Canadian small business owners to collaborate with China.

Taking the show on the road

The agency has also been responsible for international activations for brands including Tencent, Huawei, WEY and Xiaomi. For Huawei, for example, the agency worked on its booth and VIP experience area at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. 

The brand also held a party in a historic building in Barcelona to better engage with its audience. But logistical challenges meant the team was only allowed to bring in lights and had to be careful of the flooring. 

“Unlike China, they’re very protective of historical buildings so what we could do was very limited. We approached this by doing more stock preparation,” says Joe Wong, general manager, integrated marketing services, GPJ China. 

“In China, we can do mock-ups. With some brands, we can guarantee some sort of policy by fabricating certain things, packing it up, and shipping it to the venue. But there are restrictions overseas.” He adds that customs clearance and specific international regulations need to be taken into consideration by Chinese clients. 

“Clients need to know a lot more than just the marketing or event aspects. They need to know about contingencies and obstacles beforehand,” he says. 

On another front, mindsets and working culture too can vary from what Chinese brands are used to. “Some [clients] are not familiar with procurement overseas,” says Wong. “They use the Chinese method where things can be changed at the last-minute.” 

Despite that, Wong is positive Chinese brands are now better at messaging to international markets. “There was a time when clients were only going overseas to target overseas Chinese consumers,” he says. “But it’s getting better as they’re more aware of how to internationalise their brand.”


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