Chinese brands on a charm offensive overseas

Big Tech names such as Huawei and Alibaba seek to impress delegates in Europe and US with prestigious venues and glitzy programmes.

When it comes to Chinese brands going global, few can claim to have a wider footprint than Huawei. The Chinese behemoth overtook Ericsson as the world’s largest telco equipment maker in 2012 despite being locked out of the US market.

The Shenzhen-based company has also made good headway in Europe, for both its telco and smartphone businesses. It is no surprise that Huawei spends significant resources on B2B events in Europe, and it has become a tradition for the brand to launch its flagship phones on that side of the world. Its most recent high-profile event was the launch of its Mate 20 Pro model, held at Excel London on the Royal Victoria Dock with Uniplan last month, which was followed by a glitzy VIP party at One Marylebone.

For Andrea Barcaro, creative director at Uniplan China, the specs of phone itself made the launch a conspicuous event. He hailed Mate 20 as the ‘luxury’ Chinese smartphone with its premium price tag, Leica cameras and sleek design. “It’s quite interesting, the perspectives are shifting," Barcaro told CEI. "We are very happy to be part of the change because we like to see more Chinese brands going global. We like the new ‘perfection’ of Chinese brands on the global stage, which is [edging] more towards luxury."

To achieve that effect, prestigious venues are chosen to host such events, especially for business forums and the subsequent gala dinner. “If we talk about B2B forums, Huawei wants to position itself as the innovator and thought leader,” said Barcaro.

For example, guests at a gala dinner at the 2017 Huawei ICT Finance Forum in Paris were feted under the glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum. The year before, the company hosted the gala dinner for its Annual Global Antenna & AAU Forum at a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. Barcaro explained that most of the major global events are led out of Uniplan’s Shanghai office since the Chinese headquarters is overseeing the large-scale projects. Uniplan is one of the three suppliers working with the Chinese brand to carry out events within and beyond China.

While landmark locations certainly add prestige to offshore events by Chinese brands, the historical sites often place heavy restrictions on event organisers. Joe Wong, general manager, integrated marketing services, George P. Johnson China, told CEI in an earlier interview that in certain cases, organisers overcome that by doing mock-ups in China and then ship the props to Europe later.

George P. Johnson recently announced it won an AOR nod from Alibaba, which Wong said was the first global multi-service agreement that the ecommerce giant had ever awarded. As per the tradition of Chinese brands, all Alibaba events are led out of GPJ China. The agency is taking the lead on procurement and setting the process for other agencies working across Alibaba’s plethora of business units.

Among the events that GPJ helped to execute include the Gate '17 conference in Detroit and Toronto, as well as a showcased at Cannes Lions for Alibaba to promote its portfolio, such as Uni Marketing and Ali Cloud, to global advertising agencies. The ongoing trade war between US and China may stall a few events, but Wong said Alibaba has always taken a dynamic approach, where no two events are the same. “The whole thing about Alibaba is that they try to do breakthroughs every year to lead the whole marketplace,” said Wong. “I just find that working with them is quite liberting as we are doing new stuff all the time,” he added.


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