Alibaba kicks off Olympics sponsorship with first global brand campaign

The Chinese e-commerce business is looking to reach two billion consumers and “tens of millions” of merchants worldwide by 2036 as part of a decade-long sponsorship of the Olympics.

Alibaba has kicked off its eleven-year Olympic sponsorship deal with the launch of its first ever brand campaign, as the multi-billion pound Chinese e-commerce business looks to not only “digitally transform” the Games, but also expand its international footprint and secure itself as a long-term global player.

Marking the arrival of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games next month, the campaign ‘To the greatness of small’ will run across five major global markets. It focuses on celebrating the underdogs of the sport world – from the Kenyan ice hockey team who are unable to compete in the upcoming games, to Australian Rower Bobby Pearce who stopped during an Olympic rowing race in 1928 to make way for a family of ducks.

The multi-platform campaign includes billboards in host country South Korea, social media ads in the US, UK and Japan, and TV ads and billboards in China.

Chris Tung, Alibaba’s chief marketing officer, says the campaign harks back to Alibaba’s founding in 1999, and was inspired by its ongoing commitment to supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

We want to reach two billion consumers and tens of millions of merchants and small businesses, and our Olympic partnership will support that goal over the long term.

Chris Tung, Alibaba

“The first company Jack Ma and his fellow founders built was to help small businesses in China export their best products to the world,” Tung explains.

“Then came Taobao – the largest online marketplace in the world, home to millions of small merchants who started businesses and built brands fulfill their own dreams. There are millions of people selling and half a billion people shopping on our platforms today. We have a vision to make it possible for any small business to be able to sell to consumers anywhere in the world, seamlessly.”

As well as promoting its commerce proposition, Alibaba is also looking to engage young people – especially in China – with the launch of a global Olympic channel that will combine e-commerce, music, news and information on various Olympics sports and athletes.

“We believe the best way to engage the younger generation is to create a digital ecosystem that surrounds your life but with relevant information,” Tung said, speaking on a press call yesterday (29 January). He added that “interactive and immersive” cloud-based tech, including facial recognition, will play a key role in “bringing the Games to life”.

Growing brand Alibaba

With half a billion consumers buying more than $547bn worth of goods and services, 100,000 brands and 10 million small businesses currently using its platforms, Alibaba is already the largest online and mobile commerce company in world; however, it is not well-known outside of China.

But the business has ambitious plans for growth and has its sight set on reaching two billion consumers and “tens of millions” of merchants worldwide by 2036.

“Our Olympic partnership plays an integral role in our overall globalisation efforts,” Alibaba told Marketing Week. “We want to reach two billion consumers and tens of millions of merchants and small businesses, and our Olympic partnership will support that goal over the long term.”

The campaign is just one part of Alibaba’s partnership with the International Olympic Committee, which was made for an undisclosed sum, as it looks to build on a “shared vision” for the role technology can play for sport in a digital era.

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Alibaba said it will use three benchmarks to judge the initial success of its Olympic partnership: overall brand awareness, engagement with the advertising campaign and foot traffic at the Olympic Showcase.

“We’re also focused on using PyeongChang 2018 as an opportunity to listen, learn and build relationships that will ensure the success of our long-term strategic alliance with the IOC and Olympic Family,” the company added.

Meanwhile, the IOC’s president, Thomas Bach, said Alibaba’s unique positioning will help the IOC achieve a variety of key objectives outlined in Olympic Agenda 2020, while “positively shaping the future of the Olympic Movement”.

“This is a ground-breaking, innovative alliance, and will help drive efficiencies in the organisation of the Olympic Games through 2028, whilst also supporting the global development of digital opportunities including the Olympic Channel,” Bach said.

The IOC has struggled with sponsorship over the last year – with McDonald’s ending its 41-year deal three years in 2016, alongside departures from AT&T and Budweiser.