Brand Strategy Mobile Smartphone

5G, premium partnerships and politics: Oppo’s plans for charging out of China


By Amit Bapna, Editor-at-large

June 21, 2021 | 6 min read

Chinese smartphone brand Oppo has taken advantage of Apple and Huawei’s depressed performance in its backyard to become the fourth largest mobile manufacturer in the world. As part of our deep dive into all things Mobile, we explore whether it can hold that position – and if it can manage to break out of its core market.

Despite the economic twists and turns of the last 18 months, Chinese smartphone maker Oppo has had a good run lately. Its Q1 sales accounted for an impressive 10% share of the global market, making it the fourth-largest smartphone brand in the world according to IDC and Canalys. Over the next year, it’s set to market its devices aggressively to consumers in the premium-affordable segment, across multiple markets.

“We have seen a major revival in the global market this quarter, with shipments growing a massive 25.5% year-on-year”, says Dylan Yu, its marketing director in Singapore.

Oppo’s flagship Find series launched its latest handset recently and experienced its best first-day sales as a consequence. Oppo says in Spain there was a year-on-year sales spike of 825%, while in Italy it was 225%, Australia 450%, New Zealand 603%, Singapore 931%, Malaysia 669% and 265% in Thailand.

Test market

In China, its home market and a key battleground for the sector, the company has carved out a niche with premium products, despite competition from Apple. According to Faisal Kawoosa, founder of Gurugram-based marketing analytics firm Techarc, geopolitics have dealt the brand a decent hand. The Huawei security scandal impacted its fortunes in export markets, while domestic sentiment turned against Apple as a western talisman brand.

“The US and China’s Tom and Jerry-like relationship has resulted in negative sentiment for US brands, impacting Apple, while at the same time Huawei’s uncertainty has also kept consumers from purchasing its devices. This vacuum has helped new entrants occupy the space and Oppo has been among the beneficiaries.”

It has been able to create a global image as well, one of the best known new Chinese OEMs after Xiaomi, which is helping the brand grow internally says Kawoosa. But it’s the brand’s strategy that offers some clues as to Oppo’s plan to expand globally.

As an Asian brand, the APAC region is Oppo’s back yard. The brand claims to have accumulated nearly 100 million consumers in the region. According to Yu, Oppo plans to treat the market as “a pilot demonstration area for the overseas business as we have our best sales performance here”.

India, another fiercely competitive and complex smartphone market, has also grown during the pandemic, backed by the booming demand for distance learning and other online applications. As per estimates, Oppo’s India sales has ranked fourth in unit shipments, growing by 35% year-on-year.

Girish Trivedi, co-founder of Monk Consulting, points out that the company has built an R&D center in India – its largest outside China and an investment that is likely to help it customize products for the Indian consumer’s needs.

Betting big on 5G

While network penetration is at different stages across Europe, APAC and the US, 5G is considered the future of mobile. Mobile brands are looking to augment their offerings with the ultra-fast speeds and minimal latency offered by 5G technology to cater to consumers.

Oppo has ramped up its 5G portfolio and also deepened research capabilities and technological expertise to help drive its ongoing growth, says Yu. In addition, the brand is also increasing the number of 5G partnerships with service providers such as Vodafone, France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica.

Oppo’s aggressive go-to-market strategy includes designing specific products (or tweaking existing ones) for specific countries in APAC, says Trivedi. He says the recent launch of the Reno-5 series has helped the brand capture the market from competitors in the 5G segment and further penetrate the important ‘premium affordable’ segment. Kawoosa suggests that the brand can build on that segment in APAC, where Android-aligned brands take precedence.

Premium partnerships

Oppo’s younger consumers want many things from their phone – they want the latest gadgets with amazing specs and a mobile that adds to their personality. Describing this primary target audience as ‘social veterans’, Yu says: “This cohort looks for the design that sets a distinct style statement for them, and also fun features that can help them stand out from the crowd both online and offline.”

To reach millennial and gen Z cohorts in a crowded marketplace, the brand is marketing using multiple levers – innovative launches, sponsoring sports events and sonic branding composed by Hans Zimmer.

To build a long-standing relationship with content creators, the mobile brand launched the ‘Oppo Maker’ initiative in Singapore in 2019. Yu says: “It is [our] collaboration with the new generation of local filmmakers, photographers and musicians to bring together the community of local creatives and bring a relatable, human face to the campaigns.”

The brand also collaborated with leading media brands such as Marvel, EVA, Pikachu, League of Legends and Ignasi Monreal, which help it to deliver bespoke products and services for younger users, he adds.

Oppo has associated with a host of sports, including tennis and soccer. In 2019, the brand was an official sponsor of the French Open and Wimbledon, making it Asia’s first smartphone brand to sponsor top tennis tournaments. The partnerships helped it establish its premium image, says Yu. He adds that a team-up with FC Barcelona, in place since 2014, has helped the brand increase the size of its footprint outside China.

Outside the world of sport, it has also patronized the art world, unveiling a Kengo Kuma piece during London Design Festival at the V&A. And to launch the Find X3 Pro and emphasize the credentials of its camera, Oppo held its first-ever photography exhibition, Painting with light, in Singapore.

Consumer loyalty in the smartphone market is rare, and the boost given to Oppo by Apple and Huawei’s misfortunes in China may not last. In the meantime, the brand is aiming to capitalize on the hand it has been dealt.

For more in-depth coverage on the present and future of mobile marketing, dial in to The Drum’s Mobile hub.

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