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ShangHai Expo Fires Brand Enthusiasm

2009. 9 October

As China begins the build up for the 2010 Shanghai Expo, brands are looking at ways to make the most of a unique marketing opportunty.

by Michael O'Neill
( Less than two years after the Olympics made a huge impact on Beijing and beyond,China’s second city is preparing to host an international gathering of its own. But whereas the 2008 Games were ushered in with the customary Olympic hype and hoopla,the Shanghai Expo is looking like more of a slow burner.
That isn’t to say it won’t be spectacular,however.Combine the world’s largest business-focused event with China’s most extrovert city, eager to prove itself on the world stage,and a big show can be expected.

And, as with the Olympics, brands are increasingly keen to get on board, and for a number of reasons.

For one, the timing of the Expo couldn’t be better. Many indicators suggest that by 2010 the global economy should be clear of recession, with many observers looking to emerging markets such as China to take the lead
in the recovery. Add to this, China’s continuing shift from an export-driven economy to one built on consumption,
and the Expo is just too good an opportunity for brands to miss.

Then there is the sheer weight of numbers, a compelling argument for any marketer.In a country that thrives on superlatives,the Expo will be no exception.In terms of its size and the number of participants,the event is already
guaranteed to be the biggest Expo in history.And,in China at least, public awareness is at record heights. According to research from Ipsos, 97 per cent of those surveyed had heard of the Expo, while 80 per cent expressed a solid interest.

Meanwhile, an online study by Ogilvy PR, MillwardBrownACSR and Lightspeed Research, suggests the 2010 Expo is expected to attract more than 70 million visitors from around China and the world.For comparison, just over 22 million attended Expo 2005 in Nagoya, while only five million visited Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain. The make up of those planning to visit the Expo in 2010 is also interesting, with only 15 million expected to be from Shanghai itself, and a further two million from overseas.

“That means that those brands that want to raise their visibility and demonstrate their capabilities to a much broader Chinese audience stand ready to gain access to more than 55 million Chinese consumers that they typically wouldn’t have direct exposure to,” says Debby Cheung, group managing director at Ogilvy PR China.

Even the Beijing Olympics,as popular as it was, cannot match up to this potential.“The Olympics had a lot of hype but it was only two weeks in duration,” says Michael Wood, CEO, Greater China, at Leo Burnett. “Obviously there was a substantially longer build up, but in reality only seven million or so tickets were sold to the events themselves. The Expo, in contrast, is expecting 70 million plus visitors over six months — this offers a very different opportunity to sponsors involved.”

But the attraction of the Expo is not a simple numbers game. More significant is the kind of opportunities the even i will present to sponsors.According to David Zhao, managing director, Hill & Knowlton Shanghai,one of the drawbacks of the Olympics was that marketing was limited to sport and the Olympic spirit.

“The Shanghai Expo is not as limited as the Olympics in this respect,”he says. “There are a range of messages
that brands can associate with the Expo, regarding a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle, technological development, social development, urban environments, and economic development. It is of a broader spectrum
and allows for opportunities to cover a wider range of industries, products,and brands.”

This wide sweep of messaging potential is reaffirmed by the Expo slogan of ‘Better City,Better Life’.

“This means different brands can take different approaches”, says Wood. “Some can go down the sustainability
road,while others can promote a better life. For those brands with a real purpose in people’s lives, the expo offers the ultimate stage to activate that purpose for 70 million people.”

Expo sponsorship itself will be twofold. On the one hand there is the sponsorship of the event itself, which is dominated by Chinese state-owned companies. For these domestic brands, the Expo puts them on the same stage in a global event as many of their international competitors, while allowing them access to influential
foreign businessmen.

“Participation in the Expo gives Chinese brands the weight and visi- bility they need to compete against international competitors both at home and abroad,” says Cheung. “At the same time, many Chinese brands see
Expo sponsorship as one step towards pursuing their global ambitions as participation helps to increase awareness among over overseas consumers and businesses and strengthens perceptions of them as truly ‘international’ brands.”

On the other hand,there is the sponsorship of the individual country pavilions, which gives great exposure to brands such as Pepsi-Cola,Swatch, ANZ Bank and even Ikea. Involvement in the pavillions gives brands a window to promote themselves to a relatively captive and engaged audience over an extended period of time.

“Remember this is a six-month event,”says Wood.“Every day will be a new day. People will make multiple visits and they are not going to be going to the same pavilions on every visit. Sponsors need to look at pavilions as a continuous experiential programme —184 new days.”

Cheung points to the example of Ogilvy client Swiss Expo, which has announced that it will build a chair lift on the Swiss Pavilion roof that will transport visitors into the tree planted meadow and flower beds on the rooftop. This not only ties into the main themes of the Expo — sustainability and quality of life — it also promotes Switzerland’s skiing and winter sports culture in an interesting and experiential way. Likewise, the French Pavilion has announced it will play host to 2,010 real weddings to highlight France’s reputation a romantic destination.

But while brands need to make sure they are playing the long game, they also need to also make sure they are
activating interest in the Expo — both before it kicks off and through its duration.“ With more than 200 pavilions
on exhibit at the Expo, all brand categories will be highly competitive so brands need to look at maximising their sponsorship investments in a 360-degree way,”says Cheung.

Cheung thinks that digital will be the ideal communications platform. “Expo sponsorships enable brands to allow consumers to ‘experience’ them,”she says.“This is very different than reaching them through various media channels. Brands need to find ways to excite and engage with consumers before they arrive on site.This means that the internet, word-ofmouth, social networking sites and key opinion leaders will be important influencers on visitors to the Expo.”

This also extends to connecting with the many millions of consumers who will be looking on from the outside. “Brands need to focus on going digital in order to reach beyond just Expo visitors by expanding on their digital
communications,”says Zhao.“Brands need to be able to communicate with those who may be interested but who
cannot attend the Expo by engaging them online.”

Most of all, though, brands need to ensure they are making the most out of a unique opportunity whereby business, China and economic recovery look set to collide for a full six months. “Besides engaging and reaching out to the people of the host country, the Expo also provides a platform and many opportunities for brands wanting to set a global agenda, as the Expo is not just to showcase what human beings are capable of doing now, but what can be achieved in the future,” says Zhao.

“Brands associated with Expo are not just marketing now, but are also marketing for their future.”