Li-Ning goes viral for US push

25 January 2011

BEIJING: Li-Ning has turned to viral marketing in a bid to appeal to US consumers, releasing a YouTube ad which plays on stereotypes about Chinese branded goods.

In the spot, which has been viewed 55,000 times since its launch on November 30th, US customs officials interrogate a Chinese importer, refusing to believe that the Li-Ning products are real shoes.

The Chinese sportswear firm was founded in 1990 by Li Ning, a former Olympic gymnast.

Its first US flagship store was opened in Portland, Oregon - the home of Nike - in 2010.

Currently, just 2% of the company's revenues comes from its international operations.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Jay Li, general manager for Li-Ning International, said: "Our founder Mr Li Ning has always said his vision was never about building China's Nike, it's about building the world's Li-Ning.

"You can't be global without having a legitimate claim of market share in the most mature sporting goods market."

He added: "I always optimistically look back on the Japanese brands in the '50s and '60s and the Korean brands in the '80s and '90s. It's our turn. We'll get there."

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Zhang Zhiyong, Li-Ning's ceo, said that the firm will spend around $10m (€7.3m, £6.3m) in 2011 to build its presence in the US.

Li-Ning's international ambitions reflect its strong position in the Chinese market.

Euromonitor figures cited by this paper show that, on current prices, the sportswear sector in China grew to 338bn yuan ($51bn, €38bn) in 2010, up from 169.7bn yuan in 2005.

In China, Li-Ning had the third highest adspend for a sportswear firm, behind Nike and HongXing Erke.

It came second for market share in 2009, at 10% just behind Nike's 10.2%.

A global study from financial services group Credit Suisse released last year also named Li-Ning alongside Facebook and Mercedes Benz as one of the "great brands of tomorrow".

Data sourced from Bloomberg/YouTube/Euromonitor/Credit Suisse; additional content by Warc staff