Coca-Cola China's Virtual Olympic Torch Relay Programme at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games: Adding Interactivity to a Traditional Offline Olympic Activation

By Choi, J. Andrew | International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Coca-Cola China's Virtual Olympic Torch Relay Programme at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games: Adding Interactivity to a Traditional Offline Olympic Activation


Choi, J. Andrew, International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship


Pre-publication updates

The main body of this case study was largely based on Coca-Cola China's Olympic activation plan and personal interviews. It was also written and accepted almost a year prior to the start of the Olympic Games in Beijing. Two of the Olympic activations described in this paper were scheduled to take place in the months leading up to the publication of this work, while others are ongoing or scheduled to happen during the actual Games. The author has therefore attempted to verify the implementation status of the earlier initiatives and offered updates within the text.

Due to the difficulty of accessing highly-sensitive corporate information, no official announcement from Coca-Cola China has been made that bears on the outcome of the two events. However, through personal contacts in Coca-Cola offices throughout Asia, updates have been provided in the text.

Executive summary

The purpose of this case study is to examine the integration strategies of internet technology by Coca-Cola China Company (CCCC) in one of its marquee Olympic activation programmes, the Torch Relay programme leading up to the 2008 Summer Games.

The concept of the Torch Relay is as ancient as the Games itself. More recently, however, the Torch Relay has become an essential component of Olympic sponsorship for corporations such as Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lenovo, thanks to the physical and emotional connection that the Olympic torch can, universally, induce. Unfortunately, while this paper was at draft stage the offline Torch Relay programme on the streets of major cities around world was experiencing an unprecedented level of protest and disruption. China's alleged violations of human rights and its involvement with the Sudanese government brought hundreds and thousands of anti-China demonstrators onto the streets to oppose the celebration of the first global sporting event to take place in China.

All politics aside, the challenge for today's Olympic marketers is to exceed the performance and expectation of past Olympic activations and to inject freshness and novelty to such an age-old marketing asset as the Torch Relay. Furthermore, with increased talks about potentially terminating the street-level relays around the globe for future Games, Olympic sponsors are in need of new strategies and ideas to provide alternate ways to leverage the Olympic Torch Relay property.

Coca-Cola China's Virtual Olympic Torch Relay (VOTR) and other interactive Olympic marketing programmes bring new and interactive media to the Torch Relay plan, and provide contemporary marketing options for future Olympic marketers to consider.

The marketers at Coca-Cola China have the ambitious goal of providing rare Olympic experiences to their current and potential Chinese consumers by attempting to supply meaningful encounters that link its brand with that of the Olympics. They believe that the advent of internet-enabled technologies can ensure increased opportunities for Chinese consumers to become more actively engaged in the Olympic festivities. The brand architects at Coca-Cola China's Olympic marketing team hope that such interactions will eventually lead the Chinese consumers to develop stronger affinity towards and identification with the Coca-Cola brand in what is the biggest potential market in the world.

Examination of Coca-Cola China's VOTR programme also allows us to ponder the future direction of Olympic Torch Relay activation. By adding an online, interactive component, this programme did not occur in place of but in concert with the traditional Torch Relay runs throughout the world.

The levels of reception and participation in Coca-Cola China's VOTR and other supplementary interactive Olympic marketing programmes by Chinese consumers could determine the amount of future usage of online interactivity in other comparable Olympic properties.

For this case study, I relied on telephone and email interviews with senior executives within the Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola China as the two primary sources of evidence--individuals directly responsible for conceptualising and implementing Coca-Cola China's interactive Olympic marketing programmes, who prefer to remain anonymous. …

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