While the 2008 Games were in Beijing, it was the London Olympics that provided a mature opportunity for athletic wear names -- both international and domestic -- to brand-build in the China market.
We have already looked at the success Li-Ning had with its "make a change" campaign and Nike's ambush "greatness" campaign, as well as Nike's last second retooling of its Liu Xiang sponsorship.
But what about other Chinese brands like 361°, Peak and Anta? A few had a smashing time in London.
It's hard to argue that any Chinese sportswear brand had a better Olympics than Anta.
Founded in Fujian in 1994 as NTA (Fujian) Shoes Industry Co., Ltd, Anta has slowly built itself into a China powerhouse, opening its first retail outlet in Beijing in 2001. By 2004 it had stores in all provinces, and by 2012, it had 7,807 stores in China -- Li-Ning has about the same -- and turned a gross profit through the first six months of the year of $1.64 billion yuan ($264.5 million). In 2007 Anta was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange
Anta sponsors athletes -- including the NBA's Mengke Bateer and superstar Kevin Garnett -- and served as the official brand of the Chinese Basketball Association and China Table Tennis Super League, among others.
Unlike Li-Ning, Anta is little known outside China. But domestically, according to the China General Chamber of Commerce and the China National Commercial Information Centre, Anta has ranked first in sportswear market share for the last 11 years. But 2011 was the first time Anta's stock overtook Li-Ning's in earnings per share.
In fact, Anta has at times even needled Li-Ning. In 2011, Anta produced a retro version of the "plum blossom" uniforms worn in 1984 by China's first-ever Olympic team. The release, Anta said, commemorated China's first gold medal, won by Xu Haifeng. Of course, in China, 1984 is far better remembered for the six medals (three gold) won by Li-Ning founder Li Ning.
The 2012 Olympics offered a huge opportunity for Anta; the right to be the COC's official partner was a knock-down drag-out affair, with Anta outbidding Adidas and Li-Ning.
During the Olympics, it was impossible to turn anywhere in China without spotting the Anta logo (which, ironically, looks much like the Li-Ning logo), thanks to its partnership with the Olympic team and other retailers. For example, throughout the Games, McDonald's store employees all wore Anta-branded Olympic shirts.
While Team China's athletes wore jerseys by Nike, Li-Ning and other brands, every time a Chinese athlete received a medal, Anta was onscreen: their jackets worn to the podium were Anta's. In China, these medal ceremonies were on repeat for two weeks straight. As the official partner of the Chinese Olympic Committee, Anta also benefitted from numerous special Anta-themed events at the COC's London headquarters.
Even better for Anta, the athletes repeatedly posted photos of themselves on microblog Weibo wearing Anta's "Dragon" jacket. Below, photos of gold medal-winning swimmers Ye Shiwen and Sun Yang from Weibo.
And when Ye Shiwen went back to her hometown, she was also in Anta team gear.
Commemorating the year of the dragon, the jackets were accompanied by a special edition Team China sneaker and a massive advertising campaign. It was literally impossible to watch even 20 minutes of CCTV without catching, at least once, Anta's soaring commercial set to Queen's "We are the Champions." (top)
The terms of Anta's sponsorship are secret, so just how much the brand needs to sell to make it worthwhile is unknown. But in terms of exposure, Anta certainly could not have hoped for a better two weeks.
Anta told Brandchannel that it remains "hard to quantify how the London Olympics impacted Anta's sales, but it definitely helped with the brand development." Anta says its role in the games cemented its leadership position. An Anta representative said that the Games "further enhanced" the brand's image as "the representative of China’s sports industry." The rep added, "Anta Sports will continue to strengthen our design and R&D capabilities, and will continue to be active in promoting the development of the sports industry in China."
While Anta and Li-Ning were the most high profile Chinese brands in London, they were not the only ones. Other China names like 361°, Peak, Erke and Xtep all did what they could to leverage the event.
Like Anta, 361° went further than just the athletes. During the events, sportscasters on CCTV wore prominent 361°-branded gear
Then there were the also-rans, pun intended.
Erke sponsored South Africa and saw one of its swimmers win gold. Xtep could be found on the uniform of U.S. track and field sprinter Justin Gatlin, "Jordan" (Qiao Dan) -- the it's-not-a-knockoff China knock-off of Nike's Jordan brand -- sponsored Turkmenistan, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
Then there is Peak, which sponsored the Iraq team, including Iraq female sprinter Dana Abdul-Razzaq.
It remains unclear how much benefit these brands will see from these sponsorships.
Finally, an image that was forwarded around Weibo during the games comprehensively breaking down the similar "motivation poster" approach the brands -- none official partners of the Olympics -- had for their social media approaches. Curiously, Anta, despite all of its other efforts, did none.