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Business

Corporate Asia cashing in on Olympic fever

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Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling flashes his new prized possession upon arriving at Singapore's Changi Airport on Aug. 15.   © Reuters

TOKYO/BEIJING -- Today's Olympic Games aren't just about the medals, heroics, athleticism, bromance or even womance. They're also about money. From handing out free smartphones and anti-mosquito body care sets to selling life insurance to Olympians, companies around Asia are using the Olympics as a rare marketing opportunity.

The easiest and quickest way to get in on the act is simply sponsoring the Olympics. South Korean electronics maker Samsung Electronics is an official partner of the Rio Games.

Samsung has issued a commemorative limited edition of its Galaxy S7 handset. The Olympic rings are printed on the case and show up on the lock screen and wallpaper. The company handed out 12,500 of the things to Olympians and support personnel in Rio. It released the edition to the public in July.

Samsung is No. 1 in global smartphone shipments, but its shares are slowly being eaten up by Chinese makers like Huawei Technologies. By handing out handsets to Olympic athletes, who wield great influence through the mass media, Samsung hopes to regain lost ground.

Chinese sportswear brand 361 Degrees International is also an official sponsor of Rio 2016. It has supplied clothing to all volunteers, technicians and torch relay participants. The Olympic sponsorship is the first for a Chinese sports brand.

"We would like to take this opportunity to let sports fans in Brazil and the rest of the world know China's sports products and brands," said Ding Wuhao, president and executive director of 361 Degrees.

If sponsoring the event itself is beyond reach, then sponsoring a national team is another avenue.

Edelweiss Group, a diversified financial services conglomerate, is the principal sponsor of the Indian team, the country's largest ever. Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, a joint venture, has announced a 10 million-rupee (nearly $150,000) life insurance policy for each of India's Olympians this summer.

Dairy giant Amul has paid 10 million rupees in total to be an official sponsor of the Indian contingent, while Reliance Jio, the digital arm of Reliance Industries, has reportedly shelled out 40 million rupees for the same right.

In China, Anta Sports has been an official partner of the country's Olympic Committee since 2009, providing outfits for Chinese athletes. At the Rio Games, all of China's medal winners are attending their award ceremony in Anta's red Champion Dragon outfits.

"Anta Sports has always strongly supported the development of sports in China," said Ding Shizhong, chairman and CEO of Anta Sports. "Carrying the torch and the spirit of the Olympics through different marketing campaigns in China, we share a mission of providing opportunities for the general public to experience the culture and spirit of the Olympic Games."

Malaysian companies have come up with Brazil-specific sponsorship deals. Before the games started, there were widespread fears over the mosquito-borne Zika virus, suspected of causing microcephaly in newborns. Biotech company Entogenex Industries has provided Malaysian Olympians with anti-dengue lotion, while spa products maker Pax Flora has provided anti-mosquito body care sets that include body and hair soap, body mist, body balm and roll-on oil.

In Japan, sportswear seller Xebio Holdings has seen official gear and other Olympic-related products accelerate their sales pace since the games began. T-shirts emblazoned with "JAPAN" and the country's flag are particularly hot sellers.

Dome, which runs American sportswear brand Under Armour in Japan, has drawn attention for its sponsorship of sprinter Aska Cambridge. The company is selling shirts featuring the track and field star's name at four Under Armour shops in the country; the shirts are nearly all sold out.

Even in Cambodia, where general interest in the Olympics remains low, companies have been enthusiastic sponsors of the country's six participants. NagaWorld, a hotel and entertainment complex in Phnom Penh, has said it will hand out $20,000 to any of the six who bring home a gold medal, $12,000 for a silver and $8,000 for a bronze.

Even for companies that do not sponsor the Olympics, the games can be a boon. Taiwan's Pou Chen, the world's largest contract footwear maker -- its factories make Nike, Adidas and New Balance shoes -- said it believes the Summer Olympics boosts demand. Spokesman Amos Ho said that over the past 16 years, revenue from the company's footwear manufacturing business takes year-on-year leaps every time a Summer Olympics comes around. Sometimes, Ho, said, the jump is more than 10%.

"We do think the international sporting event helps the whole industry create healthy demand and business opportunities," Ho added.

HijUp, an emerging e-commerce platform in Indonesia that offers modest Muslim wear, is making use of the Rio event to promote its latest fashion line. The company's website and Youtube channel feature photos and videos of hijab-wearing models showing off outfits while posing on a running track, doing a yoga pose or on a bicycle.

Singaporean businesses have jumped on the Olympics bandwagon, too. It seems swimmer Joseph Schooling, who has become the city-state's first gold medalist, got their attention. "Thank you for igniting the Singapore spark," read an advertisement by DBS Bank and POSB, lenders under DBS Group Holdings.

The banks on Monday took out two full-page advertisements in the state-backed The Straits Times. "He is a huge inspiration, and we join all Singaporeans in celebrating this Singapore son and to say how proud we are of him," a DBS spokesperson said.

Companies such as Singapore Telecommunications and Cerebos Pacific took out full-page ads in Sunday's papers to congratulate Schooling.

All the congratulating has re-energized the local advertising industry, which in the past had little reason to participate in Olympics-related campaigns.

"I am sure brands are talking to [Schooling] already," Giri Jadhav, Regional Vice President of Ogilvy & Mather said. In a small country where a sporting celebrity is a rare breed, "it is a beginning of a new chapter of having local stars [in advertisement]", he said.

Corporate Vietnam has been quiet on the Olympic front. No companies there have made sponsorship deals with the country's Olympians.

Vietnamese athletes have had little success on the international stage and therefore bring little value to a corporate brand.

According to Li Ning, the former Chinese Olympic gold medalist who founded the sportswear maker donning his name, sponsorships, endorsements and promotions miss the point. "We did do some promotions during the Olympics," Li said. "[But] nowadays we don't really do this for reputation, anymore."

Still, Li's company is sponsoring table tennis players Ma Long and Ding Ning in Rio. "We don't need everybody to wear the Li Ning brand to receive their medals," Li said. "That doesn't bring a lot more benefit. The real function of such an event is to inspire more people to take up sports such as diving, badminton, table tennis. And these sports are what we can sell."

Nikkei staff writers Kentaro Ogura and Koichi Kato in Seoul, Kiran Sharma in New Delhi, Ching Yee Choo in Kuala Lumpur, Nguon Serath in Phnom Penh, Cheng Ting-Fang in Taipei, Erwida Maulia in Jakarta, Mayuko Tani in Singapore, Kim Dung Tong in Ho Chi Minh City and Joyce Ho in Hong Kong contributed to the story. 

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