Celebrity endorsement

P&G's sub-brands will also sponsor athletes in China, and they will be featured in advertising and retail campaigns.

Gillette plans to sponsor the Chinese "badminton superman" Lin Dan, and Crest has appointed He Wenna, who won a gold medal in the women's trampoline competition at the 2008 Games as its celebrity endorsement. Most of the Worldwide Partners, if not all, are using endorsements from sports celebrities in their marketing.

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, has started its own London Olympics' campaign entitled Move to the Beat, which in China is being called China Beat. It has also signed contracts with five world champions and Olympic champions, including 110-meter hurdles Olympic gold medalist Liu Xiang.

Elsewhere, Visa has selected the Chinese tennis French Open winner Li Na to form a Visa team with swimming champion Michael Phelps, pole-vault champion Yelena Isinbaeva and other international sports stars as a part of its Olympic marketing campaign, Go World.

"These Olympic Worldwide Partners attach a great deal of importance to the Chinese market, and are doing their best to provide local people, in their enthusiasm for local sports players, with what they want," said Zhou Gang, an independent analyst of the sports business.

Feng Bing, a 35-year-old Beijing resident, said he cannot say with certainty which athlete is working for which company.

"Liu Xiang has endorsed many brands," said Feng, who is a fan of football, basketball, tennis and racing. "What I can remember was from Yili, Amway and Coca-Cola. But I don't think I ever bought something from a company because it was endorsed by a celebrity."

Asked about Li Na, Feng said he wasn't certain if she is a spokeswomen for Visa, saying he knew she had endorsed Kunlunshan - a Chinese brand of mineral water.

Zhang Qing, CEO of the Beijing-based Key Solution consulting firm, said companies' attempts to market products in China as part of this year's London Olympics might not be as effective as similar campaigns that went on during the 2008 Beijing Games.

For one, China was the host of the 2008 Games, making it more likely that the Chinese would pay close attention to the event that year. This year, the sponsors cannot count on having such a following in the country.

As a result, their attempts to sell products in China will generally be regarded by the public as being indistinguishable from the routine marketing campaigns that big companies conduct during international sports events.

"(They are) not special at all," he added.

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