Analysis

Why China’s Dongfeng Trucks wants to sail to success

Firm’s sponsorship of the Volvo Ocean Race is about creating a premium image, and not a cheap ‘n’ cheerful one, says sports-marketing expert

PHOTO: China's Dongfeng Trucks sponsors a team in the Volvo Ocean Race. Credit:

Launched in 1973, the Volvo Ocean Race has a long tradition of being one of the toughest sporting events in the world. Over nine months, participants battle harsh weather, choppy seas and gruelling living conditions as they sail around the world for a chance to win the highly coveted trophy.

The 12th race started in October last year from Alicante in Spain, and will end this June in Gothenburg, Sweden. In December 2014, the race came to the UAE, with Abu Dhabi hosting a stopover. From there, the teams set sail on January 3 for Sanya in China – the home country of Dongfeng Trucks, which is sponsoring the Dongfeng Racing team.

Commenting on the company’s decision to back a team in a sailing tournament, Mark Turner, founder and executive chairman of OC Sport – a sports marketing firm that specialises in sailing – says generating brand awareness was a large part of the equation.

“The Dongfeng Trucks brand has only been in China, just starting to expand, and they needed a vehicle to help them take that globally. [The race] is a first way to start getting the brand awareness out there,” says Turner, whose firm is managing the Dongfeng Race Team.

But why sailing, as opposed to a sport with more viewers?

“One thing about sailing is it attaches a more premium image to a brand. And ultimately that’s probably what most Chinese brands need to do as they export. They’re not going to win if they’re just seen as the cheap and cheerful brand,” he insists.

Moreover, using sport in an advertising campaign can build a connection with potential buyers, Turner points out.

“What sport can do is it can bring an emotional connection where pure business talk doesn’t. I can try to sell you a truck, I can sell you on the specs of a truck, or on the brand, but Dongfeng’s a young brand. But the third thing you have is obviously the emotional connection.”

This is enhanced when buyers interact with team members at race stopovers, he explains.

“You have a connection with the brand through the Dongfeng race team, then it’s going to make a difference down the line. The emotion of sport is very, very powerful.”

So far, the Dongfeng team is proving its worth on the water: the crew finished first on the leg to Sanya, sailing 5,403 nautical miles in 23 days, and they now lead the overall competition. Their victory seems to drive home Turner’s message: Dongfeng is a truck brand to keep an eye on.

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