As the NBA playoffs shift into high gear, the NBA's new beer partners in China are hoping business, and their brands, do likewise. Indeed, the most prominent of the NBA's new beer brand partners, Harbin Brewery, is stepping up, giving 110 percent and leaving it all on the court to peak at the right time and finally get the consumer respect it deserves.
In conjunction with the playoffs, Harbin Beer has been promoting its NBA partnership through large media buys as well as at least 150 small, local events in 70 cities across mainland China. These focus on basketball tournaments, a touring NBA Jam Live all star game including NBA stars, and cheerleading showcases, such as this one in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
Harbin Brewery is also producing limited edition NBA-branded cans with eye-catching point-of-sale materials featuring brand ambassador Shaquille O'Neal.
The brand is also giving away NBA prizes as well as hosting an NBA Playoffs-themed online competition on its website for Weibo users. (Most popular team so far: The Chicago Bulls.) During the playoffs, the NBA has regularly trended in China's top social media topics on sites such as Weibo.
At its brewery, Harbin Beer is also hosting a kind of NBA World fun park. It's no surprise that Harbin is doing everything it can to capitalize on its new partnership. The brand stole the NBA away from rival Tsingtao, which had inked a deal with the league in 2008.
Founded in 1900, Harbin Brewery, in far north Harbin city, is China's oldest brewery and one of its largest. In recent years, the brewery have ramped up production, worked its way into all of the domestic market and begun to explore (local) international markets. In 2004, Anheuser-Busch outbid SAB Miller for control of Harbin Brewery. The brand is now a subsidiary of AB InBev.
To launch the NBA cross-promotion, Shaquille O'Neal toured China in March, hamming it up and generally being lovable giant dope Shaquille O'Neal. In Changsha, he did, yes, do kung fu, as seen in this photo by China Daily:
Of course, O'Neal is no stranger to Chinese brands, although his new "Whoever wins, drinks" commercial message for Harbin Beer is easier to swallow than his 2007 line for Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning: "Are you ready to die?"
Harbin is not the NBA's only beer partner in China. Sedrin Beer, headquartered in Fujian, is also running (less high profile) NBA-branded promotions during the playoffs, including three-on-three tournaments all under the tagline "GO兄弟" ("Go Bro"). Its All-Star NBA partner ambassador: Atlanta Hawks star Tracy McGrady.
But Sedrin is not exactly a true competitor to Harbin, as it is owned by AB InBev as well.
Combining beer and basketball makes a great deal of brand-building sense as the two are some of the fastest growing, most popular products in China. China now drinks nearly a quarter of the globe's beer, or about 44 million kiloliters annually. What's more, in the next two years, China's beer market is predicted to hit 458 billion yuan ($76 billion), an increase from 2009 of 152 billion yuan ($24.5 billion).
Meanwhile, the NBA, no slouch, is booming in China. "Linsanity" has only made it grow more so. (The NBA plans to tour Lin through China this summer.) It is the most popular pro league in the nation, with tens of millions of fans. Almost all men. Beer drinking men.