The 2008 Beijing Olympics are almost upon us as we finally realise that in addition to all the brand sponsorship activity, there will be some sport. Not surprisingly Coca-Cola is one of the leading participants in the brand marketing frenzy but Annette Farr found a surprising paucity of activity around sports drinks.

The Beijing Olympics have been mired in political controversy and demonstrations, a reason perhaps for brands not wanting to ally themselves to this particular Olympiad. But there are of course marketing opportunities aplenty and no shortage of brands seeking to exploit them.

As far as the soft drinks industry goes, Coca-Cola's profile dominates the action. Coke is looking to boost its presence in its fourth largest market, which, with a population of some 1.3bn, is forecast to overtake the US in terms of importance for the company.

The banners are in place and Beijing is turning red, the culmination of the massive 'Live Olympic on the Coke Side of Life' integrated marketing campaign, which began immediately following the announcement in 2001 that China had been chosen to host the 2008 games. Coke is not saying how much this Olympic investment is costing, but IEG, a Chicago firm that analyses corporate sponsorships, is reported to have estimated that the company paid US$70m to $75m to be a four-year Olympic partner and $5m to $15m to be one of the three sponsors of the torch run.
 
Leading up to the games, a variety of campaigns have taken place: 'Year of the Shuang' interpreted as 'physical and emotional state of refreshment' outdoor advertising; the Olympic torch's arrival in China accompanied by new TV advertising that showed people across China rolling out a red carpet as the torch moved through more than 100 Chinese cities; and an internet initiative that allowed people to pass 'virtual Olympic torches' through instant messaging.

The latest is the 'Delicious Happiness' campaign to be seen on commemorative bottles and cans in over 150 countries. Kevin Tressier, director, worldwide sports and entertainment marketing, said: "Making this commemorative Chinese-language packaging for the Olympic Games available in so many countries at one time is unprecedented. It is the single largest commemorative packaging series ever undertaking by the company."

During the games itself Coke expects to distribute about 26m beverages, sold through concession stands or provided free to athletes and officials. The company's Bon Active is the official sports drinks for all athletes participating. The brand was originally launched as an extension of Bonaqua mineral water and is currently available in Hong Kong, but not in China.

However, aside from the strong presence from Coke's sports drinks brand, there is not as much sponsorship activity around sports drinks as might perhaps have been expected in an environment where state-of-the-art hydration and nutrition will be prerequisite.

The Chinese Olympic Team has tried and tested Madier, a new sports drink from the Beijing-based ZTNoah company. The drink features PeptoPro, a protein hydroslate with what is described as 'smart' time-released carbohydrates to provide athletes with faster recovery, improved endurance and performance.

PeptoPro was originally developed exclusively for the Dutch Olympic Team at the 2004 Games to help speed up recovery times and improve athletic performance. This year, Dutch athletes, as well as members of the Czech, Slovak, Norwegian, Portuguese and Chinese Olympic teams, will be consuming beverages containing the ingredient throughout the competition.

Yet, as Philippe Chan of industry analysts Canadean points out, most of the major beverage players have shied away from launching sports drinks during the Olympic year. Chan says: "The key reason could be attributed to the relatively short product life cycle. For instance Kangshifu's X-Sport, Wahaha's G-Vital, Jianlibao's A8 and Coca-Cola's Powerade have come and gone quickly in recent years. Mizone which is positioned as a vitamin water has been losing volume in the market since 2007. This leaves Gatorade as one of the few brands currently available nationally in this category."

PepsiCo-owned Gatorade, the global No 1 sports drink, is making its presence felt in China this summer with new television advertising promoting sporting endeavour 'beyond 2008'. Targeting young consumers, the commercials feature ordinary Chinese playing sports as a social activity to stay fit or challenge themselves. Rebecca Preston, vice president for non carbonated beverages PepsiCo China, says the campaign resonates with Chinese youth and anyone who is active, with the message that Gatorade allows them to play stronger and longer.

In the UK, where Gatorade is marketed by Britvic, there is interestingly no activity planned around the Olympics. Neither is there any planned by the UK's leading sports drink, Lucozade. Could this be because the brands are keeping their powder dry for the 2012 London games? Already Pepsi, Britvic and Coca-Cola have said signed up to work with 22 other companies to encourage healthy diets and physical activity in the run up to the 2012.

Japanese sports drinks, however, are targeting the Beijing games, not surprisingly given the geographical proximity and the fact that the Japanese are the world's leading drinkers of sports drinks. In early June Tokyo-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical, which produces the water and electrolyte supplement drink Pocari Sweat, held a seminar in Beijing on the market potential for electrolyte beverages created by the Olympics.

Market leader Aquarius, an isotonic drink from Coca-Cola, is an official sports drink of the Olympic Japanese Athletics team. This year it has been reformulated and relaunched. The reformulation involved adjusting the minerals balance, increasing the sodium content to enhance the absorption of water and adding magnesium. Also from Aquarius are the jelly sports drinks, Powerful Shot, Recovery and Conditioning.

Powerful Shot is said to provide enough energy to support running for 25 minutes whilst Recovery contains vitamin E, citric acid and amino acids to aid energy recovery after sports. Conditioning, a lemon-flavoured low-calorie jelly drink, contains 14 types of vitamins and minerals. All the jelly drinks come in a 180g soft pouches with drinking straw and are 'official ' for the Japanese athletics team.