The World Cup is bigger than the Super Bowl. As weird as that may sound to we football-loving Americans, soccer is football for the rest of the world. And the world’s biggest advertisers, many of whom we recognize from multi-million dollar Super Bowl ads, know it. Mcdonald’s, Budweiser, Coca-Cola and a slew of others have spent big bucks to have their logos and slogans brandished on digital billboards lining the World Cup pitch.
But among these household giants comes a new name to the World Cup sidelines: Yingli Solar. Not only the first Chinese company to be an official sponsor, Yingli Green Energy Holdings Inc. (under the name Yingli Solar) represents a giant leap for the solar industry. In just six years of existence, the upstart start-up has somehow joined the ranks of seemingly ancient stalwarts like those mentioned above.
How and why did they get there? As the New York Times points out, Yingli is trading cash (up to $20 million) for recognition in a sort of success-by-association ad play – If your name is seen with the big boys then, well, you must be a big boy too. Also, Yingli is part of a group of Chinese solar firms cornering the global market by way of low labor and material costs, high volume production and extensive government support (primarily low labor costs). Yingli is simply gambling that no event could deliver better brand recognition than the World Cup.
Will it work? Possibly. It certainly can’t hurt to have your company name flashing across a massive, field-level billboard while the world’s most popular sport is watched by millions of viewers in nearly every country and possibly every household that can afford a television (the rest in local bars). Sure, they’re not cheering for Yingli Solar, but do a survey of people on the street in Johannesburg following this Sunday’s finals and ask them to name one solar company.
For me, the most spectacular thing about Yingli’s World Cup sponsorship is the implication for solar power in general, and in a way, that success-by-association tactic. We live in a world dominated by corporations; they are giant, they are global, they are stinking rich. Who would’ve thought 10 years ago that a solar company would be rubbing elbows with Ronald McDonald at the World Cup? Despite my misgivings about a Chinese-dominated, globalized, corporate solar industry, it’s hard not to feel good about press like this.