July 11th, 2010
06:01 PM GMT
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(CNN) – If you can spare few seconds during the World Cup final (unlikely, I know), take a look at the rotating ads behind the pitch. There is one ad combination that is particularly striking: McDonald's and Yingli Solar.

This is McDonald's fifth World Cup and the global fast food giant has it down to an art. They run a World Cup advertising campaign and in-store promotions around the world. There are even World Cup Happy Meal toys.

On the other hand, who has heard of Yingli Solar? It is a brand owned by Yingli Green Energy Holding Company, a 12-year-old Chinese company that makes photovoltaic modules, a technology that's increasingly used to convert solar energy into electricity. It has only been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 2007.

But Yingli's executives are hoping after this World Cup, you will know their name.

Bryan Li, the company's CFO, says Yingli decided to become a World Cup sponsor because of the increasingly competitive market for solar companies. Yingli felt it could "not just compete with our global competition by cost. We also need to compete with them by the brand."

Li cannot disclose the financial details of the sponsorship because of a confidentiality agreement with FIFA, but says Yingli paid less than others because FIFA was eager to include a sponsor from China and associated with renewable energy. Branding experts estimate that other companies at the same sponsorship level paid between 35 and 50 million dollars.

Nigel Currie, from the UK consulting firm brandRapport, sees Yingli's sponsorship as part of a broader shift from big multinationals to emerging market companies. Four of this year's World Cup sponsors are relatively young brands on the global stage, something Currie says was hard to imagine even five years ago. Newbies include Yingli Solar, South Africa's Telecom giant MTN, Brazilian food company Seara and Indian IT provider Mahindra Satyam. With its hundreds of millions of worldwide viewers and its pitch-side advertising, Currie believes the World Cup provides brand exposure like no other event.

Coming into the finals, Li agrees. He says the impact of the sponsorship has exceeded his expectations. In the first six months of this year, Yingli has had almost two and half times as many orders as they can meet with next year's expected capacity. "A year ago, we approached the client," he says. "Now the client approaches us."

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