Minnie Wang
Feb 16, 2022

Panda mascot, Eileen Gu among winners in Olympics brand fest

Brands are snapping up deals with star athletes and the Games' impossibly cute panda in a partnership frenzy this season.

Panda mascot, Eileen Gu among winners in Olympics brand fest

This Winter Olympics season in Beijing has seen a myriad of international advertising and marketing campaigns with many iconic stars winning the hearts of audiences. Brands everywhere are benefiting from athlete partnerships, a surge of CNY sales, and increased interest in winter sportswear.

A panda becomes the most coveted mascot

Bing Dwen Dwen (冰墩墩), the Winter Olympics' official mascot, is a giant panda wearing a transparent icy ball-like coat, inspired by a traditional Northern Chinese snack of candy mountain hawthorn.

The mascot was unveiled on 17 September 2019. More than two years later, it has become one of the most difficult products to buy in China. Yahoo Sports wrote about the Bing Dwen Dwen mania, “What's harder than winning an Olympic medal? .

Bing Dwen Dwen was unveiled during a launching ceremony in 2019. (Getty Images)

As people queue outside department stores in Beijing to buy a Bing Dwen Dwen stuffed toy, millions of consumers have had to resort to online stores via lucky draws. The mascot also had a boost on Chinese social media's list of hot topics when Japanese journalist Gido Tsujioka shared his collection of pandas for a Japanese NTV programme and called himself “Gido Dwen Dwen”.

Fuelled by the slogan “one Bing Dwen Dwen for every family” in China, manufacturers went back to work earlier in the holiday season to produce more panda toys.

Athletes help brands win over consumers

Another name to rival Bing Dwen Dwen's fame is Olympic skier Eileen (Ailing) Gu, who has more than 5 million followers on Weibo. As of 10 February, the number of followers on her Douyin (Chinese TikTok) account exceeded 110 million.

Sonja Prokopec, professor of marketing at ESSEC Business School Asia-Pacific, believes that “for athletes like Eileen Gu, this represents a massive market of young consumers who are inspired by her athletic accomplishments, but also her beauty, and will relate to her due to her Chinese heritage.”

From Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) to Tiffany, from Anta to Estee Lauder, Chinese media have reported that 30 brands are currently working with Gu in the categories of F&B, luxury, fashion, skincare, sports, furniture, telecom, banking, insurance, automotive, social media and others. It is reported that the number of brands grew from less than five in 2019 to 2020, and her endorsement fees more than doubled in 2021.

Among these brands, Luckin Coffee seized the opportunity and began to partner with Gu last year. Though the brand experienced delisting and bankruptcy in the US, Gu-endorsed drinks immediately sold out, and the coffee brand said it would launch more products.

Chinese media reported that even if Mengniu is not an official partner of the Olympic Games, it managed to sign the hottest athlete, which has shown to improve brand sentiment. The dairy brand is said to have signed the contract with Gu in 2019.

Despite the complex marketing scene of the Winter Olympics, Prokopec said as long as Gu is carefully selecting the right brands to promote—ones aligned with the image that she has built for herself—there is no issue with the fact that she is also working together with global brands and international markets.

She associated Gu's branding power with Gen Zs, since worldwide, “brands are looking for more authentic faces to resonate with Gen Zs, and athletes like Eileen Gu and Emma Raducanu are good examples of this.’’

Yiming Su has been snapped up by many brands this season

Another rising star is Yiming Su. The 17-year-old snowboarder and former child actor who won a gold and silver medal is working with at least 11 brands including Buick, Adidas, KFC, Burton, Oakley and Clear, according to his agency Endeavor. Yili, Mengniu’s biggest competitor in China and a Winter Olympics partner, announced that Su joined as brand ambassador on Tuesday after he won the gold medal.

Genki Forest too has invested plenty in Gen Z marketing. After suffering several brand crises last year, it is now perceived to be the biggest winner of all brands thanks to its cooperation with three Chinese gold medalists: Gu, Su, and Mengtao Xu.

Audiences are moving away from TV to online video channels

In China, sports fans have been enjoying sports coverage and short videos on mobile phones and social-media channels such as the WeChat video channel, Tencent sports and Kuaishou. More video clips were shared and reposted on social media and digital platforms, which pushed the Winter Olympics as a topic to the top. It helped that the panda mascot is a sought-after KOL and 'social currency' in China at the moment.

Audiences shifting from TV to online-video platforms is not limited to China. The Washington Post explained why NBC's ratings are terrible, but the Games could be “one of the most-viewed video events in US history”. YouTube, TikTok, and other digital platforms contributed to viewership but were not calculated by the broadcaster.

Sales of winter sports products spike

Digital platforms, together with brands, also amplified the marketing and branding impacts of star athletes and sports products online sales.

Sports agency Mailman noted that Chinese ecommerce giant JD.com said sales of ski products on its platform during January 31 to February 4 tripled from the same period last year, while ski-goggle sales jumped 15x and sales of figure skates and ice hockey sticks also soared. Incidentally, JD.com has partnered with Gu.

According to data from Alibaba's global shopping festival last November, ski product sales jumped 120% year over year. Last December, Fliggy, the online travel platform of Alibaba, said bookings for snow and ice travel increased more than two-fold comapred to the previous month. The IOC's official sportswear uniform supplier Anta, led the competition when the brand began to cooperate with Gu in 2019.

Campaign China

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