Genki Forest, a Chinese beverage company, has signed three gold medalists from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics back in 2021, making it one of the hottest searches on Weibo (微博). Some Chinese netizens even referred to Genki Forest as the “biggest winner of the game on social media. Indeed, Genki Forest’s partnerships with the three world champions – Eileen Gu (谷爱凌), Yiming Su (苏翊鸣), and Mengtao Xu (徐梦桃), have all revamped the brand to a whole new level, in terms of its brand image and popularity. So why have brands like Genki Forest chosen to sign these Olympic athletes prior to the game and why are sports stars preferred over entertainment stars in China?
Betting on the Olympics athletes
Big brands like China Mobile (中国移动), KFC, and Unilever, have all signed contracts with at least two Olympic athletes before the 2022 Game. For Olympics athletes like Eileen Gu, winning a gold medal did not simply represent the pinnacle time of her freestyle skiing career, but this event also rewarded an estimated commercial value of over RMB 100 million. According to the CEO of iPlus Marketing, Xiaoting Luo (罗小亭), “Competitive sports are constantly changing, and the difference between sports marketing and other marketing lies in its uncertainty.” The ambiguity of not knowing who the winner is until the last minute creates even more excitement and buzz for brands to bet on these Olympic athletes. Likewise, by benefiting from the soaring commercial value of athletes, brands require less advertising cost if the athletes they have signed won a medal.
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Another interesting case, Goski (去滑雪), a Chinese online ski service platform, have signed Eileen Gu and Yuming Su back in 2016, who are both gold medalists for China during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Goski’s return on investment on Eileen Gu and Yuming Su resulted to be way beyond their expectations. As of March 2022, the documentary “少年志” Goski collaborated with these two talented youngsters six years ago has attracted over 1.73 million views on Bilibili (哔哩哔哩, Chinese equivalent of YouTube), drawing a great deal of attention to the brand and is considered to having a great vision.
Brands are preferring rising athletes over entertainment stars in China
Brands like Genki Forest are scrambling for the endorsement of rising young sports stars for a variety of reasons. Choosing whom to represent the brand could be a double-edged sword. After a series of scandals of entertainment pop stars being exposed on Chinese social media, brands who partnered with them suffered from great losses. For instance, brands that signed Chinese Canadian rapper and actor, Kris Wu (吴亦凡), including Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Lancôme, and L’Oréal Men, had to undertake negative influence on their brand image, along with potentially great loss on their sales revenue in the future due to the sex scandal last year.
Signing a young talented female athlete like Eileen Gu, on the other hand, is not just a reliable choice to make. For brands, Gu is also a breath of fresh air that can bring a more inspiring and positive image to them. As a result, brands need to do their homework on the background of their potential candidates instead of only focusing on how much traffic these rising stars can bring to the brand when choosing a brand ambassador.
In addition, this kind of shift may also imply subtle changes in the value orientation among Chinese young people. The new top-notch idols in the minds of the new generation of young people in China may no longer be the so-called cutout stars (抠图明星), but a smart, healthy, and hard-working young woman like Eileen Gu who can stand on top of ice and snow.