Branding theory has generally focused on explaining how to create, manage and understand successful brands from a strategic point of view. While of great importance to the brand creation process, the approach has tended to assume a static and stable brand environment (Arvidsson, 2006; Bergvall, 2006). A destination, in this case Hong Kong, and a major sporting event, the Olympic Equestrian Games, provide an example of service brands in collaboration, where an 'outcome' of their association can occur that influences the brand values of each of the service brands. This outcome is advocated by contemporary brand management theory (Keller, 1993; Kapferer, 2008) which is based upon the notion of 'goods logic'. By applying goods logic to a service setting, it becomes obvious that the concept of co-branding has many interpretations, since the experience of a destination and a sporting event both involve subjectivity and unpredictability (Hankinson, 2001; Richelieu & Pons, 2006).
Unpredictability is not unique to destinations and sporting events: most branding situations are, in fact, fragmented. This is supported by the assumption that meaning cannot be separated from context (McCracken, 1988; Belk, 1988; Elliott & Percy, 2007; Bergvall, 2006). The data for this research consists of Chinese newspaper articles, an interview with an equestrian sport governing body, and information about the officially-stated image and identity of Hong Kong.
The Olympic Games and equestrian sport share a long history, which has given rise to meanings and associations that could affect the overall perception of a collaboration. For example, the Olympic Games, as a brand and a symbol, could strengthen the association outcome and reduce the risk of a non-favourable co-branding alliance. However, the 'meaning' of the Games is subject to interpretation, as shown by the ongoing worldwide debate about whether it is appropriate that China host the event. The Games has been transformed from a global sports celebration to a political weapon that has been used by some to lobby against perceived unfair human rights policies.
This confirms that the meaning of the Games is changeable (Thompson & Troester, 2002); it also supports the view that the context in which a brand is used, as well as its institutional associations (i.e. the social realm within which the service brand is given context) are both of fundamental importance when examining the concept of co-branding. Furthermore, by exploring examples of co-branding, this paper elaborates upon the dynamic nature of such associations and their meanings; it also contributes to the theory that views branding as a dynamic system rather than a static experience.
One of the world's most spectacular and widely covered mega-events is the Olympic Games (Bernstein, 2000), which Beijing is hosting in 2008. The Olympic Equestrian event takes place in Hong Kong, a move announced in 2006. The officially-stated reason for this is that there were difficulties in establishing a disease-free zone for the horses on the Chinese mainland. This presents a golden opportunity to reinforce Hong Kong as a travel destination. Hong Kong calculates that it will have approximately 30,000 more visitors than usual during the Games, and the event will bring an estimated HK$350 million to benefit this 'special administrative region' of China (Chan, 2005b).
The equestrian events, which comprise show jumping, dressage and cross-country, will be held at a number of venues around Kowloon. The dressage and show jumping will take place at the Sha Tin racecourse of the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKCJ). Considering the substantial cost of hosting these events--approximately HK$1.2 billion (Chan, 2005a), Hong Kong would inevitably like to see a good return on this investment. One means of gaining this would be if the collaboration between Hong Kong and the Olympic events were to enhance the attractiveness of Hong Kong as a destination. …