Li-Ning and Anta, two Chinese shoe sport manufacturers, took a nationalistic twist in their marketing after the US National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Houston Rockets triggered off criticism from China’s government. Marketing expert Tom Doctoroff comments on the slippery slope of nationalism in China marketing for Al Jazeera.
These companies have also made efforts to tap into rising nationalism among China’s youth.
In the case of Li-Ning, the company rebranded itself and began running advertisements rooted in national pride in an effort to capitalise on political tensions with other countries, Tom Doctoroff, senior global advisor at Prophet, a global brand and marketing consultancy, told Al Jazeera.
The controversy surrounding the US National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Houston Rockets earlier this year also provided Li-Ning’s domestic competitor, Anta, with an opening to burnish its credentials as a patriotic Chinese company, says Doctoroff.
Anta severed its relationship with the NBA after the general manager of the Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted a message in October supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The tweet provoked a fierce response in mainland China, where state television stopped broadcasts of the league, multiple companies suspended or terminated cooperation and social media was flooded with criticism.
Both Anta and Li-Ning are trying to “make inroads driven by nationalist sentiments”, said Doctoroff.
The Houston Rockets incident was a “shot across the bows” of the sneaker industry, the sports teams connected to it, and business in general, he said.
“If a brand makes a hint at supporting dissolution of what China considers to be its legitimate territory, then the brand will suffer,” Doctoroff noted.
Every brand will have to grapple with balancing “freedom of expression and commitment to maintaining China sales,” he said. “Most will be cautious … These are delicate times.”
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