Alternative marketing thinking


Branding And Asia. How A British Planner Sees It.

Charles Frith, a Britisher, and a Creative Planner in advertising and trends works in Beijing currently. His blog, Punk Planning, has been one of our favourites. In this piece he looks at brands and branding in Asia and why, despite all the debate on digital and new media, many brands in this part of the world continue to do simple, interruptive work and get away with it time after time. Read the piece, here. Or an edited version below.

One of the dilemmas of working around the world, particularly in developing economies is that while its fun and constructive to join in the online debate of brands and how they work (yawn?) there is little chance of reciprocity when sparking off any dialogue about how Asia often subverts the brand model. Here they do, and the rules frequently get broken because the hierarchy of needs are different.

All too often the pressure is on to get some interruptive wallpaper out swiftly. In low media-literacy societies, the relationship between the customer and the product or service is only cemented by interruptive marketing communications within a media aperture that is recognisably not inexpensive (the trust dimensions of this is a factor the FMCG boys know all to well in developed economies). It also touches on low involvement processing which is a fave topic of mine too.

I’ll give you an example – earlier this year we won the Red Bull pitch and one of the nuggets of ‘cor blimey’ data is that they sold 1/2 billion cans last year in China, and will sell 3/4 Billion cans this year. The marketing people for that particular enterprise have far more pressing matters than brand dimensions, tautological backflips and transactional analysis or even displacement theory. 50% growth a year suggests the advertising fulfils a different role than say just defending market share.

No, clients like this need something ‘pretty’; up and out very sharpish. Getting it done is more important than getting it done well for many of these people and even sophisticated and experienced brand stewards know the score on that one in Asia. You snooze, you lose.

Now the clients of booming businesses might enjoy the pseudo intellectual game of brand discussions and even pretend they get it. But the reality is they all too often don’t and are seduced by the intoxicating sales uplift of trading-off short term efficacy against long term brand building. If growth is anticpated to be 50% or more the key issues are distribution and their commensurate B2B sales through CTN’s, Supermarkets and Gas Stations.

If you’re struggling with all this I’ll make it plain. You’re not making an ad for the guy or gal who is going to use your product. You’re making an ad for the all too often creative Philistines who give the nod on distribution through a new channel. They don’t want to see anything unusual. They want to see that expensive media aperture (TV&Print) used sensibly, as in ‘the sensible shoes’ they buy for their kids to go to school.

Put another way, they want to see an ad that looks like an ad. The bubblegum bullshit they have been raised to believe should flood the commercial break and by its very definition is a cauterized version of brand speak and the worst excesses of the Western marketing communications model. Hey, we sold them that shit don’t get uppity now!

Trying to get some creative through is like interrupting a commercial break for a quick breakdown on the meaning of Christo and when he wrapped the Reichstag. (Thanks Eaon).

Now that doesn’t mean it applies in all instances, but it is a general concession to the rough and tumble of commercial life when dealing with clients who don’t really know how hard a brand has to fight for during tough times as it’s the good times that delude us. Which is a universal condition.

This is especially so in Asia because many have never experienced protracted tough times. It’s all been economic growth apart from a blip in ’97, and it’s the seasoned marketing people from countries that have weathered a few economic cycles that grasp it’s bravery that takes marketing communications a step further, that makes it work harder.

The problem is only exacerbated in the instance of say Red Bull where there is no competition whatsoever domestically. It’s so easy to make money it’s almost criminal but that isn’t my issue here.

While the above constitutes the ‘real politik’ of doing business in low media-literacy societies coupled with explosive economies, I also think there are some interesting brand workouts for budding planners who will by definition need to be less myopic than the couture of working on the brand catwalks of the creative centers of the world. It’s all going to get a bit more complicated and a good thing too.Those days are diminishing fast and a good example of trying to figure out what the future holds in store is best brought to life by the QQ car.

QQ are massive and they do all the social media stuff that we know, love and are familiar with except for one crucial point. QQ make more money than Facebook or MySpace. They do it using the virtual currency model that is closer to Second Life, as well as ringtone downoad stuff, and for a popular internet brand they also do something that I love to see and have blogged about before with the Youtube-to-T Shirt phenomenon which is that the QQ brand has actualised itself in a low cost, real life car.

Trying to get your head around a manufacturing model that is launched by a communication model is quite interesting and raises important questions about the nature of monolithic and explicitly endorsed and of course discretely endorsed brands. I quite like the way that Asia f***s around with this stuff and in principle sometimes they create a new brand question through sheer mashup ingenuity or circumstances.

Many of the brandng ‘rules’ apply with these scenarios (or identifiable contexts) but reading some planners talk about brands so confidently, and as to what constitutes good advertising by experienced practitoners in the field, often reveals little more than pontificating and parochial dare I say it, pastoral brand observations from a global perspective.


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