Chinese Wasting Millions of Euro After Wrong Marketing at UEFA EURO 2024

Prof Dr. Wolfgang Arlt

The long-awaited European Football Cup tournament has started for football fans around the world, especially in Europe. Chinese companies are visible as sponsors and advertising companies in a big way. However, they got it all wrong based on a lack of intercultural understanding.

Chinese characters popping up on the LED boards on the side of Championship football games have become a common sight for years, advertising Chinese (illegal) online sports betting apps, often without any translation. For EURO 2024, this has been intensified with Alibaba as one of the main sponsors and BYD, Vivo, and Hisense present in the stadiums. Altogether, five of the championship’s 13 sponsors come from China.

However, the messages they are showing might be the right ones for a Chinese audience but not for Europeans. Alibaba, for example, is showing a video with smartphones showing Chinese language content of transactions, ending with an English-speaking celebrity I can’t identify. They also have messages like “28 apps” or “Accepted by merchants in 88 countries,” in a situation where 90% of the viewers will have no idea what exactly Alibaba is offering or what “merchants” are and why should I care about 88 countries.

According to Bloomberg, Alibaba needs to attract 70% more active users on AliExpress during the June 14 – July 14 tournament to raise the likelihood that its marketing spending on the 2024 UEFA European Football Championship can aid its e-commerce expansion overseas. Given the clumsy marketing, that seems very unlikely.

BYD shows a message in German on the boards: “No 1 Hersteller von NEV”. Germans do not know the abbreviation NEV, it should be “Elektrofahrzeugen” or “EVs”. Furthermore, for Europeans the main argument is rather to be the best than the biggest. “10 million flies cannot err – eat shit!” is a typical German saying rejecting the idea that the most common is automatically the most desirable.

Hisense uses mostly Chinese language messages aimed at the home market, creating another miracle of what that company name may stand for.

This event and the huge amounts of money spent on marketing would have been good opportunities for Chinese companies to enter the minds and hearts of European customers. Alas, not spending 1% of the money paid to UEFA to engage some intercultural communication experts creates confusion instead of sympathy.

Such problems are often visible also in tourism and destination marketing, both by Chinese destinations towards international visitors (for example, the horrible stands at ITB Berlin or WTM London every year) and by many destinations towards Chinese visitors.

Many experts understand both cultures and can help with the localization of messages and images, COTRI being among those offering such services. However, in many cases, the decision makers’ lack of exposure to other cultures prevents them from understanding the challenge in the first place.

The German minister of economics is visiting next week for the first time in his life, almost two years after taking office, Germany’s leading trading partner, China. Maybe that will help widen his perspective.

About the author

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Arlt

CEO COTRI & CEO Meaningful Tourism Center, Hamburg, Germany

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