BEIJING: China Mobile, Nokia and Coca-Cola are the brands which have forged the strongest connections with consumers in China, a new study has found.

R3, the consultancy, interviewed people aged 15 to 40 years old and living in China's ten largest cities in order to establish which companies they believed were the most engaging.

Its analysis was based on factors like TV and online advertising, social network use, event sponsorship and celebrity endorsements, with China Mobile, the telecoms provider, taking the top spot overall.

Nokia, the wireless handset provider, claimed second place, and has announced plans to launch ten new devices this year with a specific emphasis on low-income customers.

Coca-Cola, the soft drinks specialist, took third, aided by its long-term affiliations with Liu Xiang, the athlete, and Yao Ming, the basketball player, who R3 found to be the celebrities with the biggest followings in China.

Elsewhere, Coke's ad campaign for Chinese New Year featured Fahrenheit, a Taiwanese boy band that holds a particular appeal among 15–24 year olds.

"What they are doing is using proven stars as a base and then adding 'hot hits' … This is where they lead other companies," said Greg Paull, principal at R3.

Other contributors to Coca-Cola's high levels of favourability include its sponsorship of the Shanghai Expo, where it is running a branded "Happiness Factory" pavilion.

The beverage maker was further recognised for its internet advertising as a whole, and for having established a strong presence on Kaixin001, the social network, and Q-Zone, the online forum.

Nike, the sportswear giant, is also successfully tapping in to the aspirations of many Chinese shoppers, having recently outlined the importance of the country to its future growth plans at an investor meeting.

"We will fully leverage our global and sports marketing portfolio, elevate and enable the digital opportunity and always be the brand of youth for Chinese consumers," Willem Haitink, Nike's general manager in China, said.

"The potential remains enormous with urbanisation and a middle class projected to grow at staggering rates, unprecedented in human history."

According to R3's poll, Nike is the brand that Chinese consumers most readily associate with the NBA, which always commands huge ratings when it is shown on television in the country.

The US multinational also out-performed multinational rivals like Adidas and domestic operators such as Peak, Anta, Li Ning and 361 Degrees on this measure.

Like Coca-Cola, Nike was also credited for its online marketing initiatives and its activity on Q-Zone, as well as for sponsoring Liu Xiang.

However, none of the brands that were currently viewed as effectively engaging shoppers were among the top five TV advertisers in the country from 16 December 2009 to 15 March 2010.

In this period, Nokia, Coca-Cola and Nike all posted TV adspend in the region of 200m yuan ($29.2m; €24.0m; £20.3m), a figure that rose to around 600m yuan for China Mobile.

By contrast, Mengniu, which was ranked in fifth position for establishing a strong bond with consumers, registered an outlay of 1.2bn yuan.

This left the dairy group in fourth place in terms of its TV expenditure, behind KFC, the fast food chain, Olay, Procter & Gamble's beauty brand, and L'Oréal, the cosmetics manufacturer.

Data sourced from R3; additional content by Warc staff