Omaha, Neb. — Coca-Cola is featuring a different kind of celebrity on its cans in China: Warren Buffett.
While Buffett is admired and thought of as a folksy straight talker in the U.S. where Coke is based, employing an 86-year-old billionaire to sell sodas in the U.S. would be a tough sell for even the most savvy Madison Avenue marketing firm, even with Buffett’s voracious appetite for Cokes.
It’s a different story in China, where Cherry Coke went on sale for the first time last month. And on limited-edition cans sitting on store shelves today in China is the beaming face of the Oracle of Omaha.
Business leaders in China tend to have an outsized following, in some cases greater than that of sports stars, according to Shaun Rein, founder of the China Market Research Group.
And like in the U.S., Buffett is also seen as “a non-corrupt, down-to-earth” kind of person in China, another selling point, Rein said.
Buffett is so well known in China, when his Berkshire Hathaway began streaming its annual meeting online last year, it was translated real-time into Mandarin Chinese.
Buffett is also an admirer of the economic prowess of China. Berkshire Hathaway, in addition to being Coke’s biggest shareholder, owns nearly 10 percent of Chinese car maker BYD Co.
“I think my ‘popularity’ in China is due to the huge interest in stocks in China that has developed in just a couple of decades. I was in the right place at the right time as the Chinese looked around for famous investors,” Buffett told Yahoo Finance. “I also made a couple of visits to China that received a fair amount of publicity and several American books about me got widely distributed throughout China.”
Buffett told Yahoo Finance that he won’t receive any direct compensation for the Coke endorsement, but he was happy to help sell the products made by a company he believes in.
And Coke was happy to have his support in China.
“We honestly were surprised when Mr. Buffett agreed to the idea,” said Shelly Lin, Coca-Cola China’s Marketing Director for Trademark Coca-Cola. “But we’re thrilled, and he’s selling well.”
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