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Business trends

China wins the World Cup advertising game

Wanda and other Chinese companies spend a collective $800m

BEIJING -- China's national team did not make it to the World Cup, but the country's advertisers have. The quadrennial event is serving as a global coming-out party for China Inc.

Four of the 12 official sponsors of the world's most-watched sports spectacle are Chinese.

The signboards that ring the fields at the tournament, which began last week in Russia, are almost constantly flashing the logos of these sponsors -- in the Roman alphabet and in Chinese characters.

Collectively, Chinese companies are said to be the largest World Cup ad buyer; estimates say they have splashed out more than $800 million on the tournament.

The campaign is apparently part of President Xi Jinping's initiative to encourage the globalization of Chinese brands. Xi is known as a big soccer fan.

The Chinese sponsors are also "trying to tell consumers at home that they are now global brands," a Chinese ad executive said.

When the signboards show the Chinese characters for real estate conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group and dairy product maker China Mengniu Dairy, the ads are particularly eye-catching.

Mengniu is also displaying the names of its products in Chinese.

Wanda is the only Chinese sponsor categorized as a FIFA partner, a status that allows it to be involved in various events put on by soccer's world governing body.

But the group finds itself under a pile of challenges. During an acquisition spree, Wanda bought American cinema chains, a Madrid soccer team, hotels and other trophy properties. But since Chinese authorities began keeping an eye on the group's heavy debt, Wanda has struggled to raise funds. The conglomerate is now working to improve its overall finances by selling off assets and taking other measures.

While most of the world cannot read the Wanda and Mengniu ads, home appliance maker Hisense and smartphone maker Vivo Communication Technology are displaying their Romanized logos around the fields.

Hisense, which bought Toshiba's TV-making operations last year, is keen to raise its brand power overseas. In April, the company announced seven new models, including a World Cup Special Edition TV.

Vivo and Hisense are advertising as official sponsors of the 2018 World Cup. In addition, three Chinese brands -- Diking; Luci, a virtual reality company; and Yadea, an electric scooter maker -- are listed as region-restricted FIFA National supporters, according to the association's website.

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