Female Weightlifters, Spanish Basketball Stars, and Kim Jong-il – Jacob Leibenluft

Slate looks into the sometimes unconventional methods Chinese sneaker companies have taken to market themselves as they compete against Nike and the other big players:

With the world’s sneaker giants fixated on conquering East Asia, you’d think China’s domestic shoe producers might be feeling the pinch. But remarkably, local manufacturers have more than held their own. Even as Nike and Adidas have become the two largest sports brands in China, they still account for no more than a third of the sports-shoe market. Li Ning, which first found success in the 1990s through the popularity of its namesake founder, an Olympic champion gymnast, now earns $400 million a year in revenues. Anta, another leading local brand, saw its sales increase by 87 percent last year.

…At the same time, Chinese shoe companies’ Billy Beane-like quest for hidden value has led to a few questionable decisions. Most sneaker companies would shy away from sponsoring the North Korean Olympic team. At the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, the DPRK won a grand total of five medals, none of them gold. Besides, the Hermit Kingdom doesn’t exactly conjure up the kind of brand associations most shoe companies are looking for. But Erke’s sponsorship of North Korea has a simple explanation. North Korea’s strongest sports include gymnastics, table tennis, and diving, all of which draw huge support and TV audiences in China. [Full text]

July 26, 2007 6:34 PM
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