Is it only the Olympic Sponsors and Licensees and Beijing who will benefit from the Olympic Games or will all of China?

In this fourth article, in an exclusive series for Fortune by Michael Payne – one of the world’s foremost authorities on  the Olympics and Global marketing, we examine the extent to which companies beyond the immediate group of Olympic sponsors and licensees might benefit from the staging of  Olympic Games.

Will there be any benefit to the brands of non sponsors, will the benefit focus mainly on Beijing, or will the economic returns spread throughout the whole nation? And as it is the world’s media – whose commentary  will ultimately dictate how the World views and remembers the host nation and these Games – that will set the agenda on how China is seen and understood around the world, this article also examines the impact of media coverage and how before nearly every Games, international press coverage is nearly always universally negative towards the Host Nation, and only once the Games start, does the media coverage turn positive, and all of the negative reporting forgotten after the Closing Ceremonies.

Although much of the media focus talks of the benefit that official sponsors and licensees receive from  their partnership with the Beijing Games, it is often easy to forget that companies who are not sponsors will also likely receive significant long term benefits from China’s decision to host the Olympics.

Without question, the single most important benefit will be the wholesale rebranding of  China, in the eyes of the rest of the world. The Olympics has often been referred to as the most important rebranding exercise a nation can ever embark upon – and to the extent that China succeeds in the staging of a successful Games this summer, the benefits of a ‘new China’ will eventually reach down to every company and community in the land.

Firstly, let me address the question of success. Reading some of the most recent international press coverage, one might begin to doubt whether the Games will be as successful as everyone hopes. Talk of challenges of pollution, health of athletes, concern over food, headlining grabbing statements from a few naïve and self serving politicians calling for boycotts, or from people declining invitations when they had not even been invited and a long list of other issues, dug up by a small but noisy section of the media – might lead you to question whether the Games will be such a success.

Let there be no doubt – these Games will be the most successful ever. Never before has a nation committed itself to welcoming the world, in the way that China has prepared itself. The sports facilities are the greatest, with in some case the most innovative and awe inspiring architectural designs the world has ever seen.

Some key sections of the international media will sadly continue to carp at China’s hosting of the Games up until the Opening Ceremony. As the torch relay travels around the world – there is a risk that criticism will increase – but the moment the world’s media land in Beijing, and experience the Chinese welcome, the moment they see first hand the transformation of the nation over the last couple of decades, all will change.

The moment Greece steps into the Birds Nest Stadium, leading the parade of 205 nations into the Opening Ceremony in front of what will likely be the largest television audience this planet has ever seen, the past negative media coverage will be quickly  forgotten, and for the next 17 days China will glow in the world’s spot light.

And when the athletes and media leave China at the end of August, I predict that the world’s headlines will be universally positive. This will be the defining memory and report card of the Games – not the pre Games negative media coverage. And this is how it nearly always has been at the Olympics – the world’s press continually question whether the IOC was right to award the Games to this or that nation; whether the facilities would be ready on time; whether the public would turn out to support the Games; whether there would be environmental melt down and a whole host of other horror stories. And there guaranteed predictions and forecasts rarely ever happen – and in the most recent Games, the world’s press had to issue a universal apology.

Athens was pilloried by the world’s media – especially the anglo saxon media in the lead up to their Games .‘Everybody knows that the Summer Olympics in Athens will be a mess at best – or a disaster at worst.A remarkable case of self denial … A bad idea that has gotten worse with each passing year,’ was how one Canadian media commentator put it,capturing the prevailing mood.

As the final countdown began, the world’s media warned people to stay away, predicting impending disaster against a continual back drop of political bickering and impossible construction deadlines. The Australian government even issued a formal travel advisory about travelling to Greece.

The UK’s Independent newspaper, kicked off its coverage with the statement that ‘the Olympics were meant to reverse negative stereotypes that have followed Greece for decades. But it has been instead, a public relations disaster.’

Yet the moment the Games began, the apologies soon began to flow. The Times, which had been perhaps the most critical of all the Anglo-Saxon media was the first to apologise. ‘From Tragedy to Triumph’ ran the front page headline following the opening ceremony, to be followed 17 days later by ‘Shame on us for having little faith – Greeks pulled it off with style’. The day after the closing ceremony, The Times ate more humble pie: ‘To Athens an apology. The world media has let you down. What we in the media have done was to make completely
the wrong call.’

Sports Illustrated in the US continued the apology. ‘Sorry about the way we acted. We were paranoid and stupid and just flat out wrong. It was all done and it was beautiful’. ‘Let’s give these Games a Gold Medal,’ continued the Washington Post, ‘the first order of day is to extend a big sorry to the Greeks. Nothing collapsed, and nothing less has been accomplished than the full restoration of Athens as a splendid world capital. The Greeks have proved a very pointed point. There is more than one way to throw an Olympics’.

Athens succeeded in dispelling its image as a smoggy Third World Argian backwater. It redefined the country as a ‘can do’ place, instead of a poor European relation.

And it was the same story counting down to Sydney – with the IOC and the local Organising Committee beset by scandals in the lead up to the Games, that kept Games planning on the front page of the world’s press, in a less than positive note. Barcelona – well the prevailing attitude then was the Games would be an unmitigated disaster. Seoul – would be impossible to stage the Games due the daily civil student unrest on the streets. Los Angeles – well all the athletes would die in the California smog.

Yet all these nations, despite the views of the world’s press went on to stage truly stunning Games – and this is what the world remembered, not the negative headlines. And the same will be true for China.

The Seoul 1988 Olympic Games helped to dramatically rebrand the world’s perceptions of Korea – from a poor, developing nation, with a  manufacturing base of poor, cheap quality with questionable copyright practices , where ‘Made in Korea’ – was at the time certainly not a statement of quality, into a manufacturing nation seen for it’s innovative products, leading edge technology and design, where ‘Made in Korea’ is now a badge of distinction, and a guarantee to the consumer, that the products are the best in the world.

Barcelona had a weak tourism agenda before the Games – ranking 17th in the European Tourist destinations. The Games quickly catapulted the City into the top 5 of European tourist destinations.

The same will happen to China – only I believe on a far greater and more impressive scale.

The world’s consumers know very little about China. Having been fed a barrage of western media headlines about product recalls, food safety, human rights issues, their understanding of the modern China is still very limited. The presentation of the Games is going to be a major wake up call – as the world for the first time gets to see China up close, and meet the Chinese people on mass.

The Olympic Torch relay will show off a whole new side of China totally unknown to the world. Few foreigners, can probably name two cities in China – Beijing and Shanghai. The rest of the nation, and the thriving modern metropolis from Shenhzehn to (Sean please name best examples) is totally unknown. As the torch makes it’s way around the nation, the world is going to be shocked and amazed at what they see – some of the most modern, dynamic cities on the planet, with touristic marvels that they have never heard of.

As the Ceremonies and Olympic Cultural programmes present China’s past, the world will learn that China was playing organized sport, nearly 3,000 years before the ancient Olympic Games were launched in Greece in 760BC.  That China has been playing sport for 5,000 years, and is able to clearly document it, will come as a major surprise to much of the world, and lead to a new basis of understanding and respect for the country’s history.

Every nation prides itself on it’s architecture and design. Nothing is preparing the world for what they will see, from the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube – in my view two of the greatest and most innovative sports venues ever built. This will transform the world’s perception of design, innovation and quality. The visual identity programme developed to all dress the Olympic Venues and the City, is by far the strongest and most dynamic ever developed for any Olympic Games to date – and will show a whole new side to the breadth and dynamism of Chinese design, to date rarely seen outside of China.

The presentation and showcasing of some of China’s new leading edge innovative technologies will show a very different side to China’s manufacturing and production base. Whether it is  Aigo’s AiPen (check current term) a revolutionary new language reading device that will provide tourists with a whole new visitor experience, or Crystal’s 3D digital presentation technology, that will establish a whole new standard of visual imaging at the Ceremonies, the world will see China is inventing whole new industries, not copying them.

The greatest gathering of world’s industrial leaders ever assembled, will be attending the Games. The Olympic sponsors and broadcasters alone are expected to invite over 50,000 top business executives to Beijing – and who will leave China with a whole new understanding of the country’s true capabilities and potential.

And when the world’s media, athletes and international guests  go out on the streets of Beijing and meet the Chinese people – and see their true pride in their nation, their real feelings – not some carefully scripted and controlled set media piece – but a true insight, they will gain a much better appreciation of the Chinese people, their optimism for the future, and how quickly and far they have come in such a short period of time, and importantly a recognition that it would be wrong to judge everything by western standards or time lines.

Brand China will  be radically transformed by the Olympic Games. The change in understanding that China’s manufacturing base is no longer founded on cheap low cost factories with questionable employee practices, but now based on some of the world’s most dynamic and technological innovate factories yet seen, will help to add a whole new quality and dimension to the ‘Made in China Label.’

The breadth of Chinese design presented at the Games, from the venues through to tourists visiting Beijing’s new modern art complex at Factory 666 will show that China is no longer designing for the account of others, and copying the world’s designs, but producing a series of innovations and designs that the world will soon be wanting to copy.

This fundamental change in understanding will benefit every single Chinese manufacturer – whether sponsor or not, who wishes to take advantage of the opportunity and repositioning of the Chinese image. In time companies will no longer be having to defend the ‘Made in China’ label, and even be embarrassed by it, because of the earlier repeated media onslaught questioning perceived quality standards, but see the brand label as something that will actually help sell and differentiate the products, and even to be able to charge a premium, as Korea has successfully migrated its brand image post Olympics.

The impact on the tourist agenda will be equally dramatic. The images of China – from the depth of its cultural heritage to the quality and breadth of it’s 5 star accommodation, and modern new airports will catapult China into one of the top tourist destinations in the world. The legacy of the world’s largest ever hospitality operation – will leave behind a whole new understanding of world class hospitality operating standards, that will help to provide a strong foundation for the future tourist industry throughout the country.

The Director the Australian Tourist Commission, John Morse  described the hosting of the Sydney Olympic Games ‘ as the best thing that has ever happened to Australia’s tourism industry and forever changed the world’s view of Australia.’

The Games will became the hook the media had been waiting for to truly explore and present China to the world – and in doing so add a depth and dimension of the world’s knowledge of China.

Other key industries and sectors will also see dramatic and immediate benefits – from the Chinese broadcasting industry, after CCTV will have developed one of the most advanced broadcasting systems in the world, through to the advertising and marketing industry, which was in it’s infancy when Beijing was first awarded the Games in 2001, and now has been exposed through the programmes of the international Olympic sponsors, and some of the world’s best marketers.

It is unlikely that an Olympic Games will ever again have an impact on a nation in the way that the 2008 Olympics will have on China. The full benefit will not be fully appreciated perhaps for a full decade after the closing ceremony. The Games will showcase a new China to the world – one that few people have been exposed to date. Part of the real value to the Host nation of the Olympic Games is that the broadcast and international media presentation will focus as much on what is happening outside of the sports stadium as on the sports fields. This is what really drives the world’s fascination with the Olympic Games – to learn about a nation and its people and culture. It is not just about watching the athletes on the field of play setting new records.

The Olympic Games will be a 17 day non stop advertisement to the whole world – with nothing else to distract the world’s attention. No other competition. The 17 day advertisement is not about the Olympic sponsors. It is about China and Chinese people. And when the IOC President, Dr Jacques Rogge brings the Games to a close on 25th August, 4 billion people around the world will have a whole new understanding of the real modern China; 1 billion Chinese will feel a new sense of pride and confidence in their nation’s achievements on the world stage. China will have a whole new image – and that has the potential to benefit every corner of the nation and every company.

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