Tam Le is the Regional Associate Strategy Director for Carat APAC.

This article explores the implications of facial recognition, both for advertising and for retail, as well as for future privacy rights.

7-10 minute read

Remember that scene in Minority Report where the protagonist, played by Tom Cruise, walks through a corridor of fully personalised brand advertisements from companies like Lexus and American Express and then ducks into a Gap where the virtual sales assistant greets him by name whilst inquiring about his previous purchases?


Well despite the film being set in 2054, 37 years in the future, we’re actually not far off from this reality today. Google’s FaceNet claims >99% accuracy in facial recognition; Facebook’s DeepFace, >97% accuracy [1]. And when you stop and think about how many pictures are uploaded of you onto Facebook (I’ve been on for over a decade and I’m not camera shy), the implications are overwhelming.

It is these implications of facial recognition that I want to explore in this article, both for advertising and for retail, as well as for future privacy rights.



The first level of facial recognition (in order to gain public acceptance and normalize the idea) is to target messages and ads based on anonymized data like demographics (age, gender, etc.) or consumer behaviour.


Posterscope designed and executed a campaign for the GMC Acadia mid-size SUV that for the first time, linked responsive facial recognition technology to dynamic displays that presented personalized content in an out-of-home campaign [2]. The digital screens were fitted with video sensors and partner Quividi’s audience and context aware platform that anonymously detected and determined whether a passing shopper was a man or woman, alone or with a group, adult or child or even frowning or smiling. Once detection was made, the digital screens were populated with video content and brand messaging tailored to the identified audience. No data or images of any type were collected, stored or shared at any time, ensuring privacy.


In another facial recognition application, Women’s Aid was able to use the technology in a powerful way that underscored their message about domestic violence. Their digital billboards displayed an image of a bruised woman and recognized when people were paying attention to the ad. As more people looked at the ad, her bruises and cuts healed faster, communicating that if people took notice, domestic abuse could be halted [3].

In the future, as facial recognition in OOH becomes more publicly accepted, the displays can start collecting and storing more data on people (what display they pass, at what time, whether they go to a store shortly after viewing an OOH display with a strong sales message, etc.) and building profiles with a history of behaviours.

Fused with the data we will have of people’s online behaviours, this starts creating a more complete overview of the consumer journey, addressing the common concern of not being able to tie offline sales data with online ad impressions. This will also bring us closer to a singular universal ID for each person, which will contain their complete profile and track and retarget them both online and off.



Outside of pure advertising advantages, facial recognition would also have many implications for the retail experience as our physical and digital worlds merge.


KFC, in partnership with Baidu, is already testing out personalization based on the data it gathers through facial recognition at one of its restaurants in Beijing [4]. Installed image recognition hardware scans customer faces, detects mood, gender and age and recommends menu items accordingly. For example, as Baidu claimed in a press release, the system would tell “a male customer in his early 20s” to order “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and Coke for lunch,” while “a female customer in her 50s” would get a recommendation of  “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast.” The setup also has built-in recognition to provide better services for returning customers: it can “remember” their order history and suggest past favorites.

In my utopian view of the future, all McDonald’s would have a centralized global database of their customers’ faces  so they could remember, in any country, that I’m going to order either the Big Mac meal with an extra order of fries or the Double Cheeseburger meal if I’m just looking for a snack. Wouldn’t it be great if McDonald’s tracked me from childhood and suggested new menu items as my taste buds developed over time? Additionally, they would know when I reached major life milestones, like becoming a mother, once I start ordering Happy Meals to go with my Big Macs. They could literally see me grow up in front of their very own image recognition hardware, like some kind of distant relative that provides me with fast food.


In an even more maternal move, today the Luce X2 TouchTV vending machine can not only greet you by name and remember your past purchases, but it can also, with access to your medical records, deny you certain items, like a sugary snack if you have diabetes or items that may contain nuts if you have an allergy [5]. The system could also be connected to a retailer’s loyalty points system or linked to the room numbers in a hotel. The opportunities for receiving personalized service from this once faceless, impersonal machine, are endless.


Let’s apply this to a larger retail space, say a supermarket of the future. Building off the concept of Tesco’s virtual subway stores in South Korea, we could use facial recognition to have the store “shelves” customize themselves for each person in a way that would make customers more likely to purchase and purchase more. I’m more likely to buy certain brands, items, and categories than you are, and vice versa. How can retailers exploit this and get the both of us to buy more?

For example, if I stepped up to a digital shelf in the milk “aisle”, it would only show me soy, coconut, or almond milk made with very few ingredients (the only types of milks I buy) whereas it could show someone else baby formula. But then the retailer also knows I have a sweet tooth so it would show me some cookies that would go great with milk, which I may not have bought in a physical store because the cookies are placed far from the milk.

Additionally, brands could pay to be in the prime front-and-center shelf space (which they do in physical stores), but do it in a cost-effective way, like only paying for a prime position on target consumers’ virtual shelves, instead of wasting money through prime placement on everyone’s shelves.

Facial recognition would also have many implications for the branding industry. With virtual shelves, brands can also cost effectively A/B test new packaging design in-situ and at scale to determine each option’s effectiveness or alter the claims shown on packaging per individual to tailor their message. This could mark the end of one-design-fits-all.

On top of all of these advances, facial recognition also offers the benefit of frictionless payment, like Alibaba’s Smile to Pay technology. And as we know from technological advances of the past, such as moving from cash to credit card, the further we move away from exchanging physical goods and the easier we make it to pay, the more people will spend.

You’re probably now wondering, if these new innovations allow for greater and greater marketing effectiveness, and it seems like we already have the technology to implement these ideas, what’s stopping us from getting to this advertisers’ utopia?



“We recognize the creepy, but we don’t want to stifle innovation. If we cross that line from cool to creepy, people will stop using that service,” recognizes Carl Szabo, a lawyer with NetChoice, a tech industry group that represents companies like Facebook, Google, and Yahoo [6].

I recognize not everyone is as excited as I am at the prospect of McDonald’s recognizing you and watching you grow up or store shelves rearranging themselves when you start approaching. In fact, even with today’s relatively limited use of facial recognition, a backlash is already starting.544184752_1280x720A couple examples of this come from artist and technologist Adam Harvey, who has designed both face camouflage and anti-surveillance clothing. The face camouflage, called computer vision dazzle (or CV dazzle), uses a strategic application of paint and hair-styling to throw-off patterns that facial recognition algorithms look for, such as the degree of light and dark in the cheekbones, or the way color is distributed on the nose bridge—a baseline amount of symmetry [7]. When CV dazzle is executed properly, it transforms a face into a mess of unremarkable pixels causing a momentary burst of confusion for the computer, allowing the wearer to go undetected. The anti-surveillance clothing, dubbed the Hyperface project, involves printing patterns on to clothing or textiles, which then appear to have multiple eyes, mouths and other features that a computer can interpret as a face, overwhelming facial recognition systems by presenting them with thousands of false hits so they can’t tell which faces are real [8].

As evidenced by these self-iniatives, many consumers don’t want to be tracked by cameras and their images sold by corporations like Google and Facebook to advertisers. The path to societal acceptance of facial recognition technology will have to be slow and transparent. Szabo, the lawyer with NetChoice [6] admits that “legislation cannot move at the speed of innovation,” and suggests companies make their facial recognition policies hyper transparent and explicit so that consumers can “vote with their feet” if they are “creeped out.”

“If we did start recognizing people en masse then I think outdoor would have the same problem that digital display is having with people getting fed up and install ad blockers. You can’t do something just because the technology is there, you have to be led by the consumer and not the technology,” says Chris Pelekanou, commercial director at Clear Channel, one of the world’s largest out-of-home advertising business [9]. This is something we as marketers must keep in mind as advertising is most effective when people embrace it.


This article was developed with much help from Ben Milne, Head of Innovation at Posterscope.

[1] http://fortune.com/2015/03/17/google-facenet-artificial-intelligence/
[2] http://pioneeringooh.com/responsive-facial-recognition-technology-redefines-customer-engagement/
[3] http://www.adweek.com/creativity/bruised-woman-billboard-heals-faster-more-passersby-look-her-163297/
[4] https://techcrunch.com/2016/12/23/baidu-and-kfcs-new-smart-restaurant-suggests-what-to-order-based-on-your-face/
[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/11274179/The-vending-machine-of-the-future-is-here-and-it-knows-who-you-are.html
[6] https://news.vice.com/article/facial-recognition-technology-is-big-business-and-its-coming-for-you
[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/07/makeup/374929/
[8] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/04/anti-surveillance-clothing-facial-recognition-hyperface
[9] https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/2016/aug/17/facial-recognition-a-powerful-ad-tool-or-privacy-nightmare


Hello Advertisers, It’s 2017

Tam Le is the Regional Associate Strategy Director for Carat APAC.

As culture continues to evolve in Asia, accelerated by the ubiquity of the Internet and the different global viewpoints that it brings, gender roles will begin to shift and blur and our industry will need to keep up. But what is the best way to do that?

7 minute read

A few years ago I was dating a guy who was a much better knitter than me, in fact, an interest in knitting was one of our common interests and a conversation starter for us. I thought it was great that he was so skilled in an old-fashioned craft, but when I told my Vietnamese parents that he had just helped fix one of my scarves, they were less than pleased. My mom questioned his masculinity. My dad just laughed. They couldn’t understand how a man could be interested in knitting and I couldn’t understand their rigid view on traditional gender roles.

But it seems like I’m not alone on this. The global rise of third-wave feminism and the growing gender equality in education and income is manifesting itself in attitudes in Asia. JWT surveyed[1] over 1,500 men and women in Singapore, China and Malaysia in 2013 and found that eight in 10 agreed that men and women are pretty equal today, and that gender doesn’t define a person as much as it used to.

Yet, our briefs remain as stereotypical as ever. Baby formula? Only mums know how to take care of babies. Beer? Only men drink that. This is ridiculous. It’s 2017, and it is time we, as advertisers, caught up or risk alienating a large potential consumer base.


And speaking of the rise in third-wave feminism, the effects of which have trickled down into marketing all over the world (as seen here, here, here, here, and here), it’s easy to forget that men have difficulties and face biases as well. In the same JWT survey[1] of Asian consumers, eight in 10 also believe that while people talk about the difficulties women face, things are just as hard for men. On top of that, men are more likely than women to say that life in general is harder compared the generation before because, similar to women, their spheres of influence are growing, shrinking, and generally shifting in new, uncharted directions that most brands have yet to catch up with.

Daddy Day Care

“This trope is repeated everywhere in popular culture, from adverts portraying fathers as feckless incompetents who can’t even take care of a KFC bucket to cartoons where the butt of every joke is the idiot dad: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and, most egregious of all, Daddy Pig in Peppa Pig,” rants Andrew Watts in his appropriately titled “Stop telling men they’re useless at childcare, and maybe they’ll be better” feature in The Spectator.

Today men in Singapore, Malaysia, and China are almost equally likely to state “emotional support for their family” as a primary definer of manliness as they were to name “career success.”

Today men in Singapore, Malaysia, and China are almost equally likely to state “emotional support for their family” as a primary definer of manliness as they were to name “career success,[1]” and in 2014, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower reported that 10,200 male Singaporeans and permanent residents cited “family responsibilities” (e.g. childcare, housework, etc.) as their main reason for not working, more than triple the number in 2006[2]. The movement towards gender equality is evident and even in countries with great disparity, like Japan where just a meagre 2% of Japanese men took paternity leave in 2012, strides are being made by the government to normalize greater male involvement in family life. The Japanese government currently grants male employees with young children up to one year of childcare leave with the goal of raising the percentage of men who take paternity leave from 2% to 13% by 2020[3].

Perhaps as time goes on, and these government initiatives and evolving mind sets take a greater hold, marketers will realize that both men and women share the responsibility of making major childcare decisions, on matters such as education, activities, and diet. Maybe then, grievances like those of Andrew Watts, will be a thing of the past: “I just find it odd that women, who would be appalled by anyone suggesting that a woman’s place is in the home, can promulgate the idea that men are, by their nature, hopeless parents—even though that’s saying the same thing in different words.”

A Man’s Place is in the Kitchen… and the Laundry Room

In addition to childcare, men around the world are taking a more active role in household chores. According to our own Consumer Connections Study (CCS) data for Thailand, 92% of men reported purchasing household items within the past 12 months versus only 74% of women. In a different study, The Parenting Group, which publishes Parenting magazine, among others, teamed with Edelman in 2012 to conduct two surveys[4] of American fathers; they found that about 70% of dads report they buy the groceries, cook, and clean. This is not limited to just Western markets: 40% of Asian men also say they are the primary grocery shopper[1].

However, it would be irresponsible to not state what the women reported in the very same surveys. Although 70% of American dads said they did the grocery shopping, only 36% of American moms agreed[4]. That number drops to just 12% among women in Asia[1]. Given this, it’s easy to dismiss the role of men in grocery shopping.

However, seeing how so few food and cleaning brands currently speak to fathers in Asia, the ones who successfully do will stand out and win over this growing demographic, and perhaps a few approving mothers as well.

Boy Beauty


This past year saw many large multinational beauty brands embracing male spokespeople. CoverGirl named makeup artist and high school senior James Charles as its beauty ambassador; Maybelline appointed Manny Gutierrez (@mannymua733) as theirs, and Rimmel followed with 17-year old beauty vlogger Lewys Ball[5]. With these bold strokes, the cosmetics industry has rung the death toll on traditional, narrowly-defined gender norms.

For those of you who think the actions of these Western brands don’t apply to Asia, think again. In fact, the rise of male grooming applies more to APAC than any other region of the world. Asia holds the largest men’s skincare market, accounting for 2.1 billion dollars, or 64% of the global spend on male skin creams, lotions and whiteners, according to Euromonitor’s April 2013 data. China is the largest men’s skincare market, accounting for nearly 30% of global spend, while South Korea holds second place with almost 20% of the global share[6]. “There is a wider idea of skincare being effeminate in many countries, but in Korea, this doesn’t seem to be the case,” noticed Simon Duffy, co-founder of the United Kingdom male skincare brand Bulldog. “If your mother has a nine-step skin routine, which happens a lot in Korea, you’re going to do five,” said Euromonitor beauty analyst Nicole Tyrimou[6].

Asia holds the largest men’s skincare market, accounting for 2.1 billion dollars, or 64% of the global spend on male skin creams, lotions and whiteners.

But this trend doesn’t stop with China and South Korea: thanks to Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan, sales of male grooming products are growing faster than the entire beauty product category (9% versus 5%, respectively), according to 2013 research from Kantar Worldpanel[7]. “This is where the market’s development is happening,” stated Euromonitor analyst Tyrimou. “It’s very concentrated in Asia[6].”

However, what motivates the well-groomed men of the East varies from culture to culture. The same Kantar Worldpanel found that in the South-eastern countries of the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, consumers felt that career success involves looking the part. Whereas in China, most men just wanted to win over the ladies[7]. It’s important to understand these different motivations in order to land the right communication message for each market. Doing so could help brands win over the huge remainder of the male beauty market that remains untapped, which Kantar estimates at US$6 billion[7].

Just as the traditional role of women have made dramatic shifts in Asia, so too have the traditional roles and self-perceptions of men who now see themselves as active participants in the household and in their own skincare routine.



“Women are not a special-interest group. They are over half the population.”

Many articles have covered the rise of women’s spending power, or the female economy, or sometimes called—and I shudder to write this—the sheconomy. Yet, despite this rise in power, and one would assume that with it comes respect, marketing executives, such as Simois Ng head of marketing communications at Sony, are still quoted saying, “some people might assume that women prefer to take selfies but actually, they can shoot professional photographs too[8],” and believing that they are actually giving credit where credit is due.

Too many brands still believe that “shrink it and pink it” is still a valid approach when appealing to women. Hopefully these next couple of examples will prove there are some more nuanced ways to approach it.

Whisky and Women

Skinnygirl Margarita, Little Black Dress Vodka, Chick Beer: all of these (real) brands make me want to barf…and it’s not from excessive drinking. It’s because they try to pander to their target market in such an obvious way that it becomes desperate and sad—in the words of one of my favourite brand strategists, “hey, your strategy is showing.”

Fortunately, not all brands have such an outdated, stereotypical view of female drinking habits. “Diageo has a comprehensive marketing guide that regulates how we present our products to everyone, whether male or female. We always show respect for consumers and work within the industry to encourage similar behaviour. In terms of best practice, we feel it’s important to never underestimate or patronise women,” states Mark Sandys, category director for whisky and reserve at Diageo[9]. This is especially valuable in Asia where women are increasingly becoming more empowered and going out, especially in mixed-gender groups, is becoming more common. Diageo has observed that “In China for instance, women account for a quarter of all whisky consumption. In India, the number of women enjoying whisky has gone up by nearly 30% versus last year, and our team on the ground is telling us that female participation at whisky tastings has increased by around a third on last year. A new generation of young, professional female whisky drinkers are introducing their friends, colleagues and clients to the spirit[9].”

In China for instance, women account for a quarter of all whisky consumption. In India, the number of women enjoying whisky has gone up by nearly 30% versus last year.

In order to win over this valuable and discerning segments, there are two approaches: a gender neutral one, and a purposefully gendered one, but done from a place of understanding. For the first route, to quote Sandys from Diageo again, “Fundamentally we believe that ‘[gender] bilingual’ marketing makes for better marketing. One of the key ways of doing this is by raising our standards of design. New launches such as John Walker & Sons Odyssey or Johnnie Walker Platinum have stunning, aesthetically beautiful pack designs that we know appeal to both men and women[9].” On the other end of the spectrum, you have brands like White Girl Rosé, Veuve Clicquot, and Moet & Chandon which explicitly appeal to women, yet they do it from a place that, in the case of White Girl Rosé, makes us feel like we’re in on the joke, even though it was created by male comedian The Fat Jew. Similar to John Walker & Sons Odyssey or Johnnie Walker Platinum, the design is sleeker and devoid of gimmicky images of high heels and pearls. Thought and tact (except in the case of White Girl Rosé) will go a long way.



Get in, Loser. We’re Going Shopping.

You’d think with the way every car commercial ever is narrated by a man with a deep voice that women don’t buy cars when according to CCS, the percentage of women who have discussed or bought an automotive is neck-and-neck with the percentage of men in APAC markets like India and Hong Kong, and actually greater than in Malaysia.

tam7In fact, auto analysts CNW Marketing Research and J.D. Power and Associates say that about 40% of spending on new cars last year was done by women[10]. “The automobile is a product reflecting the personal lifestyle and taste of both men and women today. Women are also the key decision makers in family matters including the purchase of big-ticket items like cars and may affect men’s choice of car models,” says Reinhold Carl, managing director of Audi Hong Kong[8].

In order to communicate with women in a way that appeals to them, Audi utilizes fashion platforms such as The Hong Kong Fashion Extravaganza to build word-of-mouth. It is also important to communicate the features that matter to the people who will be actually using them instead of falling back on the same tired tropes—such as speed and horsepower—when many women are actually looking for utility[11]. So instead of showing a car zipping through the curves of the countryside or a mountain, maybe show how a certain SUV is built to accommodate a mother who needs to load two small children into it.

As women’s salaries begin to climb, and therefore their decision-making influence and purchasing power along with it, marketers will need to begin to focus more on them and their needs. Because as Jim Winters, president of branding agency Badger & Winters, put it so elegantly, “Women are not a special-interest group. They are over half the population[12].”


As culture continues to evolve in Asia, accelerated by the ubiquity of the Internet and the different global viewpoints that it brings, gender roles will begin to shift and blur (men will knit; women will drink whisky) and our industry will need to keep up. But what is the best way to do that? Do we change tactics, adopting a unique one for each gender, or do we ignore it as a part of the demographic profile all together? It might be confusing because my article presented both ways, each one working for different brands. And that’s because there are arguments to be made for each tactic, which we want to flesh out with these next two Rocket articles, each one written by a different member of Carat APAC.


A case against changing tactics for genders. 
A case for changing tactics for genders.


1. https://lbbonline.com/news/jwt-report-on-the-state-of-asian-men/
2. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/mums-at-work-dads-minding-the-kids
3. http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1495347/japan-encourages-fathers-take-more-active-role-child-care
4. http://www.edelman.com/news/the-parenting-group-and-edelman-partner-to-provide-insights-on-the-modern-dad-at-the-first-dad-2-0-summit-82-percent-of-men-who-became-a-parent-in-the-past-to-years-feel-there-is-a-societal-bias-ag-2/
5. https://cassandra.co/life/2017/02/10/boy-beauty
6. https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-asia-mens-skin-care-takes-off-1401320768
7. http://www.campaignasia.com/article/asias-male-grooming-sector-growing-faster-than-entire-beauty-category-kantar/372632
8. http://www.marketing-interactive.com/the-rise-of-the-she-conomy/
9. http://www.campaignasia.com/article/women-and-whisky-diageos-gender-neutral-marketing-formula/383418
10. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703521304576278964279316994
11. https://hbr.org/2009/09/the-female-economy
12. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-end-of-shrink-it-or-pink-it-a-history-of-advertisers-missing-the-mark-with-women/2016/06/08/3bcb1832-28e9-11e6-ae4a-  


A Tet-less Vietnam

Tam Le is the Regional Associate Strategy Director for Carat APAC.

Over the past few years economists have made the case for doing away with the Lunar New Year and celebrating the Western (Solar) New Year instead. What are the implications of that on culture?

2 minute read


Growing up in a Vietnamese family and community in America, Têt (Lunar New Year) was one of my few connections back to the motherland. I was American 364 days a year, but on Têt, I was proudly Vietnamese.

In the week leading up to the holiday, my house would be filled with yellow forsythia blossoms (American hoa mai substitute) and the smell of incense. It would cumulate in a large family reunion, one where I believe every loosely-connected Vietnamese person within the Houston area was invited. Then the children (and to be honest, me last year) would then line up to wish their elders a prosperous new year in exchange for red packets of lucky money (li xi). Afterwards we would either hold an impromptu lion dance (mua lan) in the house or gamble our money away through a game of bau-cua.

It was through those traditions that I felt connected to my fellow Vietnamese of both past as present as I imagined my parents as children or a version of me, across the world, engaging in the same age-old activities.

When you see this board, you know it’s going down. 

So you can imagine how I felt when I found out that over the past few years economists have made the case for doing away with the Lunar New Year and celebrating the Western (Solar) New Year instead.

“The long holiday and low productivity for weeks around Têt is causing problems for Vietnam’s development,” says prominent economist Pham Chi Lan. In Vietnam, Têt is officially a five-day public holiday with two ‘substitution days’ where employees must work one Saturday in lieu.

She has a point. As anyone who has travelled to Vietnam during Lunar New Year will tell you, the cities are ghost towns and the country nearly shuts down as everyone returns to their hometowns to spend time with their family. State employees sometimes get multiple weeks off; schools are shut for at least two weeks, and even hospitals close.

Emptied streets of Dien Khanh. Taken by me on the second day of Tet this year.

Vietnam’s government is already making strides to reduce Têt festivities. The Secretariat of the Party Central Committee has banned all provinces and cities in the country from setting off fireworks, saying the money should instead be used to help the underprivileged. The directive also says leaders of Party and State organizations should practice thrift by not traveling during Têt to avoid wastefulness, and that provincial leaders must not visit leaders of the centrally-governed agencies to offer Têt gifts.

Having one short public holiday at a time that aligns with the New Year in the majority of the world (January 1st) could improve growth and attract more foreign investment. “Vietnam is trying to integrate into the global economy and the annual breakdown over Têt adds inefficiencies to the economy and government decision-making,” said Vietnam expert Carl Thayer.

How far is a government willing to go to improve the economy of its nation?


Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling
My sister and I in our ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress.

But for all the critiques about Têt, and for all the arguments from an economic point of view, it must be stressed that this is the holiday in Vietnam. It is Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year and your birthday all rolled into one. It is the most important celebration of Vietnamese culture and has been a tradition for at least a couple of millennia.

As context for those who are growing jealous of Vietnam’s five-day Têt holiday, Vietnam has only 10 days of public holiday a year. Compare this to Cambodia with 27 days, Thailand with 14 days, and China with 11 plus five ‘substitution’ days. Têt makes up half of their public holidays; there are no days off for Christmas in Vietnam.

And when looking at numerous broader economic studies, it has been demonstrated empirically that the level of trust that people have in their countries’ institutions has a strong influence on the economic activity. Changing centuries of tradition is probably not going to drastically improve the economy of Vietnam—trust in the government is. And when the government is threatening to trade culture for economic gains, what reason do they give to deserve such trust?

Maybe I’m idealistic and naïve, but no amount of economic growth is worth such a forfeiture of a country’s culture. The cost of losing the traditions that have bound generations of a nation’s people is well worth the cost of an annual economic slowdown.

False Memories & What It Means to be Human

Tam Le is the Regional Strategy Senior Manager for Carat APAC.

To paraphrase neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, allow me to describe a hypothetical situation that is both terrifying and likely to occur: implanting false memories for therapy. With the proliferation of VR, this seemingly sci-fi concept is quickly approaching reality.

5 – 7 minute read
10 minute existential reflection

We, as humans and as media professionals, have the ability to shape the future and create a world that we can come to terms with—one that is both virtual and real.

There are documented cases from the past few decades of therapists manipulating their patients’ memories in order to overcome psychological obstacles [1], but with the increasing quality and spread of virtual reality (VR), our ability to create realistic, false memories is greater than ever. “When you look at your brain under an fMRI, remembering and experiencing look very similar [2],” announced Google VR vice president Clay Bavor at Cannes this year, “You’ll be able to have an experience that’s so convincing, at times you won’t be able to tell whether you’re in virtual reality or real reality [3].”

With the increasing quality and spread of virtual reality (VR), our ability to create realistic, false memories is greater than ever.


Memory capture is currently one of the greater ambitions of VR; Bavor has experimented with creating a prototype camera for recording memories to replay in VR. “You can remember someone you love who might be far away or who you’ve lost,” he goes on to say, I’ve recorded…little fleeting moments: sitting with my grandmother in her home, having breakfast with my son. Here’s the thing: a few years from now, when my grandmother is gone, I’ll be able to sit with her. Twenty years from now, when my son is an adult, I’ll be able to put on some goggles and sit across the breakfast table from him as a little boy [2].”

“Twenty years from now, when my son is an adult, I’ll be able to put on some goggles and sit across the breakfast table from him as a little boy.”

-Google Virtual Reality Vice President Clay Bavor


Now what if those recorded memories were slightly altered?

What if we could replace your grandmother’s criticism of your wife with a compliment or insert a resolution to that fight you had with your son at the breakfast table? A reverse-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind of sorts where instead of removing memories for therapeutic purposes, they are constructed or modified.

Etermal Sunshine.JPG

Our susceptibility to false memories and the effect they have on our subsequent actions have long been proven by scientists. In a study, researchers falsely suggested to half of their subjects that, in their childhoods, they became sick after eating spoiled peach yogurt. Two weeks later in a seemingly unrelated follow-up study that consisted of sampling various foods, those who were given the false memory ate about 25% less peach yogurt than the control group. This avoidance of peach yogurt was especially pronounced among the participants who now claimed that they could “remember” eating the spoiled yogurt as a child [1].

Similar to how we’ve always had the ability to get from point A to B, and cars just help get us to our destination faster, we’ve always had the ability to implant false memories into others, and now VR can help get us there faster.


Taking it one step further

But what if we were to take it one step further? What if we were to push the boundaries of ethics even more? Now this is where my thought experiment begins: what if we were to introduce brands?


How many brands do you use out of familiarity or because of association with positive memories? Do you drink Coke because it tastes better than Pepsi or do you drink it because you grew up drinking it and just seeing a red can takes you back to hot afternoons at the pool and late night pizzas with friends? What are brands willing to pay for nostalgia?

I imagine that, like all current forms of therapy, implanting false memories through VR simulations will not come cheap. What if brands were to subsidize the cost of memory therapy through “sponsorships”? Today freemium services are a way of life. Consumers understand that in exchange for free music streaming service from Spotify, they will have to listen to sponsored ads. If they choose to pay for a Spotify Premium subscription, the ads will disappear. What if this model could be applied to VR memories?

What are brands willing to pay for nostalgia?


Why does this make you feel uncomfortable?

At this point, you are probably feeling thoroughly uncomfortable and possibly slightly disgusted by my suggestions. I know I was when I first conceived it. I think this is because the idea of implanting false memories, even with the aim of improving lives, messes with our belief of what it means to be human. Our identities are based on our memories and experiences, but what will it mean if those memories and experiences are false?

Our identities are based on our memories and experiences, but what will it mean if those memories and experiences are false?

But then this brings us into the philosophical debate of what is true and what is false. Are all non-physical experiences not considered “real”? Are the emotions you’ve felt while reading novels not “real” because the story is fictional? Are the lessons you’ve learnt from watching movies not “real” because you did not physically experience them? Are all our digital memories imaginary? Does reading a hurtful comment about ourselves online hurt any less because it was not to our face, but on Facebook? Or does this feeling of uneasiness come from the deceit of a VR experience passing off as a memory of a physical encounter?

Are all non-physical experiences not considered “real”?

As we move into even more non-physical forms of communication and increased exposure to VR, we are going to have more memories of non-physical experiences—there’s no denying this. And regardless of whether we believe those to be true or false, we will retain memories of them and they will impact our future beliefs, attitudes, and actions. After all, our reality is merely our own personal construct of it. The question is now, how will society shift once everyone is walking around with heads full of fictional memories?

We are going to have more memories of non-physical experiences—there’s no denying this.


The scenarios written here raise a lot of questions, one of them being: why did I write this?  I created this thought experiment because this is an impending situation and we should consider the ethics of it before it is realized. VR is here. It will bring about unimaginable cases, the consequences of which we cannot predict from where we stand today. But we can begin to anticipate some emerging circumstances based on what we are already witnessing.

It has been proven that VR can affect or manipulate people’s experiences for days or years after they remove their headsets [4]. VR is already being tested to alleviate pain, phobia and depression. Memory alteration for therapeutic purposes already exists. So do brand sponsorships, integrations and product placement. It is only a matter of time before these worlds merge, and before that happens, we, as humans and as media professionals, have the ability to shape the future and create a world that we can come to terms with—one that is both virtual and real.



  1. Would it be ethical to implant false memories in therapy | BBC http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161003-would-it-be-ethical-to-implant-false-memories-in-therapy
  2. Is virtual reality for our own memories such a great idea | The Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/05/is-virtual-reality-for-our-own-memories-really-such-a-great-idea.html
  3. Google at Cannes 2016- Adventures in virtual reality | JWT http://www.jwt.com/blog/opinion/google-at-cannes-2016-adventures-in-virtual-reality
  4. Misled Memories | Mashable http://mashable.com/2014/06/26/virtual-reality-memory

Searching for Marketing’s El Dorado

Clay Schouest is the Chief Strategy Officer of Carat APAC.
This was originally
presented at the Advertiser International Association 2016 conference in Beijing on 25 June.

The marketing world is chasing the dream of data, but in our pursuit, are we losing something equally important? And how will this affect our hiring policy?

5 – 7 minute read

El Dorado is an allegory. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, El Dorado is a legendary lost city, one overflowing with gold and precious stones in fabulous abundance. Over time, and creative interpretations, El Dorado has been used as a metaphor to represent the ultimate prize that one might spend one’s life seeking [1]—wealth, success, happiness, etc.

In Voltaire’s Candide, El Dorado represents an ideal society where everything is perfect—Paradise, you might say. The main character of the book commits his entire life to obsessively searching for the lost city, searching for Paradise.

Sadly El Dorado turns out to be only in his imagination—a place that does not and never will exist.

I’d like to spend a few minutes pondering what I believe to be our industry’s search for El Dorado: data, specifically the idea of data as the answer to all our dreams. We currently seem to have a myopic obsession with all things related to data.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: the Digital Economy

We are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution: the First powered our trains and the transportation industry with steam; the Second increased productivity through electricity; the Third revolutionised our world through computing; and now the Fourth is about new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds [2].

Our industry has never been more exciting. The fourth industrial revolution provides new means for better outputs and is impacting all disciplines, economies and industries—even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

In marketing we often refer to the Fourth Industrial Revolution as the Digital Economy. By 2020 we prophesize our industry will be 100% digital and organised around data. China is leading the charge and will most likely be the first market to get there.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds.

There are now more bytes of data left behind by our behavioural digital footprints than there are stars in the universe. To be exact, there are over 40 trillion terabytes of data and that number is growing every day. All this data represents the opportunity to get closer to consumers like never before, even predicting what they want before they know they want it. For example, AI technologies are now commonplace within our industry. We are using them to communicate, get to know our consumers and provide products and services based upon their interests.

We are now closing the gap between interaction and transaction. By 2020, all the media we consume, whatever the format, will link content with brand commerce. That is a brilliant thing for both business and consumers. As an industry, the ability to maximise ROI at the moment of receptivity with message and media makes our work more accountable. We know from studies that ROI improves up to 55% when we develop connected experiences that link content and commerce.

The future is bright; there is no denying that. One might say El Dorado is now within reach—or is it?

How this affects hiring policy

I can’t help but feel uneasy about how our industry is preparing for our bright future, and more specifically, the type of talent and capabilities we are hiring to help get us there. We seem to have an unbalanced hiring policy towards the talent that we recruit to realise our future vision. Our cumulative marketing brain talent pool has become lopsided—seemingly favouring the left, more analytical side, over the right, based on creativity and lateral thinking.

Why? That’s partly because it’s new and partly because people are coming to grips with how to manage, organise and classify data. In a recent survey of what keeps CMOs up at night “data” was cited as the #1 driver of how companies and organisations are structuring themselves. So it’s no surprise that when we look at LinkedIn, up to 70% of the new job postings from within the past year have “analytics” in the title or job description.

Our cumulative marketing brain talent pool has become lopsided—seemingly favouring the left, more analytical side, over the right, based on creativity and lateral thinking.

Are we headed in the wrong direction?

So here’s my point of controversy:

Today when I look around the industry, I see a bunch of organisations, clients and agencies who are convinced that data is their El Dorado. I believe data is a means not the end. The end is fundamentally about touching the human spirit, creating an emotional connection—that is what will fuel growth.

In fact, when you look at the top driver of business value, it is creativity, by far. Creativity contributes to business value far more than any other factor. Additionally, if you look at the skillsets required to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as outlined by the World Economic Forum, creativity also tops that list [2]. The power of an idea is just as important as ever; that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the ability to design and amplify ideas in the digital economy.

So let’s make sure we develop and stimulate the right brain again. Let’s hire more creative minds to help deliver great ideas that fuel those data-led approaches. And when I say creative minds, I don’t mean creative in the traditional sense. I don’t mean copy editors; I mean lateral thinkers.

Data is a means not the end. Creativity contributes to business value far more than any other factor.

Let’s remember data is not our El Dorado. It is not the end goal. To truly succeed in the digital economy, we need data solutions that inspire more creativity. In order to realise that ambition, we need to attract and retain more creative thinkers, not just data analysts. Let’s think and plan for our long term future.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Dorado
  2. The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab

The Myth of the Lone Hero

A collaboration between Jude Koh and Tam Le.
Jude Koh is the Regional Strategy Associate Manager for Carat APAC.
Tam Le is the Regional Strategy Senior Manager for Carat APAC.

Forget everything you believe about the lone, genius inventor—more often than not innovative ideas are a result of a collaborative, cross-functional team. We can apply this insight to transform the way we work with our teammates, other DAN brands, our media partners and even our industry competitors.

5 – 7 minute read

Innovation is, more often than not, accomplished by a “dream team” rather than a “lone hero.”

There is just something so gratifying about watching the Avengers: the way individual superheroes come together, united by a common goal, to defeat a singular villain. In Captain America: Civil War, we saw how the combination of Hawkeye’s precision with an arrow and Ant Man’s miniscule size came together to short-circuit Iron Man’s suit. This is a great metaphor for the collaborative approach needed for innovating: combining different, specialized strengths to achieve greatness unachievable alone. Innovation is, more often than not, accomplished by a “dream team” rather than a “lone hero.”


There never was a lone hero.

Yet in our narratives about innovation, it’s often about a sole genius, a visionary so brilliant and ahead of their time: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Alexander Graham Bell and one of the most revered of all time—Thomas Edison. The man credited with inventing the phonograph, the motion picture camera and the light bulb actually surrounded himself with a team of strikingly diverse specialists (both in terms of professional expertise and nationality): a British mechanic, a Swiss machinist, an American physicist and mathematician, and about a dozen other draftsmen, chemists, and metalworkers. Together they formed a large-scale industrial research lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey nicknamed “the invention factory.”  As great of an inventor as Edison was, he recognized the greater power of a collaborative, cross-functional team [1].

Why should we care if Edison invented the lightbulb on his own or with the help of others? If we unmask the myth of the lone hero and instead recognize that innovation comes from a collaborative network, it affects how we cultivate ideas as a society: less rigid patent laws, cross-disciplinary teams, employee participation in stock plans, etc.

As great of an inventor as Edison was, he recognized the greater power of a collaborative, cross-functional team.

Today’s world of innovation is full of partnerships, even among competitors.

Today, we can see the effects of Edison’s Menlo Park; their organizational structure marked the beginning of cross-disciplinary teams and collaboration between different specialists. For example the early iPhone utilized the power of Google Search and Google Maps to create a truly superior mobile device. Recently, Facebook and Shopify collaborated to create an e-commerce service on Facebook Messenger, giving small businesses tools that were previously inaccessible. Similarly, Volvo and Uber are joining forces to develop driverless cars. This past September, tech giants Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft came together to form Partnership on AI with the goal “to benefit people and society.”  These otherwise fierce rivals will regularly meet to conduct research and promote best practices. Outside the tech world, Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot is a multi-national collaboration of scientists and charities from both the public and private sector. These collaborations show an obvious need for companies and NGOs to offset their own weakness by leveraging the strength of others.


Collaboration in companies lead to real business results.

Innovation arises from collaborations, not only between companies, but within companies as well. In a Deloitte study among Australian companies [2], those that prioritize collaboration are twice as likely to be profitable and outgrow competitors. Collaboration actually increased work completion rate by 15%. Not to mention, 73% of the employees do better work and 56% are more satisfied when they get the opportunity to work together. Most importantly, 60% of employees are more innovative when collaborating. Clearly, working together towards a shared goal has a direct and measurable impact for both the business and its employees.

Companies that prioritize collaboration are twice as likely to be profitable and outgrow competitors.

For our own work, collaboration can come in many different forms.

Collaborate with Fellow Carat Members: When innovating, we should create teams of people with different strengths, skillsets, backgrounds and perspectives, instead of relying on a “lone hero” to come up with the ideas. In Carat APAC’s Regional Product team, we have specialists in the field of insights, strategy, digital and content. Like the Avengers, we work best as a team when each “superhero” keeps their ego in check and their minds open to new ways of working.

Collaborate with Other DAN Brands: Beyond Carat, the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) is comprised of specialist brands, all potential partners that we can leverage because of our one P&L model. When pitching for new business, our ability to seamlessly integrate capabilities from throughout the DAN network provides a competitive advantage over other agencies.

Collaborate with Our Media Partners: Furthermore, by continuously collaborating with our media partners, we have the opportunity to present our clients with some truly innovative options. A great example of this is the joint partnership between Carat China, Mondelēz and Tencent, China’s internet media giant with vast resources in IM, WeChat, gaming, mobile, music and video. This strategic partnership enables Carat’s client Mondelēz to fully leverage exclusive and beta products across Tencent’s ecosystem [3]. By collaborating with media partners, we can deliver business value and live up to our claim of “redefining media”.

Collaborate with Our Competitors: Additionally, taking a cue from Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft’s Partnership on AI, there is an opportunity to set aside our self-pride and rivalry and work with other media agencies with the aim of bettering the industry.

We work best as a team when each “superhero” keeps their ego in check and their minds open to new ways of working.

By recognizing the strength of others, we face endless opportunities to collaborate, and in turn innovate, as that is a responsibility that does not rest on any one person’s shoulders alone.

  1. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson
  2. The Collaborative Economy | Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/au/Documents/Economics/deloitte-au-economics-collaborative-economy-google-170614.pdf
  3. Mondelez, Carat and Tencent form joint business partnership in China | Campaign http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/mondelez-carat-tencent-form-joint-business-partnership-china/1371610

Shopify Facebook Messenger image courtesy of TechCrunch.

Marketing Myth: Loyalty Programs Lead to Large Revenue Growth

Tam Le is the Regional Strategy Senior Manager for Carat APAC.

The following article is the second in a series of what we’re calling “Marketing Myths.” There are a lot of misconceptions and “rules of marketing” out there that have been disproven over time by research. Each article in the series will focus on one marketing misconception, drawing largely on the work of Byron Sharp and the book How Brands Grow. Through the series, we hope to help you avoid these marketing myth pitfalls and make you stronger media professionals.

3 – 5 minute read

Since moving to Asia, I was proud to sign up for a Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer number. I couldn’t wait to be rewarded for my loyalty! But looking through my flight history, this sentiment feels like déjà vu. While in the U.S., it seems I’ve declared my loyalty for many airlines within the past two years alone. In no particular order, I am also a member of the following “loyalty” programs: United MileagePlus, American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, Southwest Rapid Rewards, JetBlue TrueBlue, and even Spirit Airline’s FREE SPIRIT. What’s more, this list only covers the frequent flyer programs I’m enrolled in; it doesn’t even begin to cover all the carriers and airline alliances I’ve flown. It appears that I’m a philandering polygamist!



Of course, I’m not the only unfaithful consumer out there. In fact, consumers like me, heavy buyers of a category with low brand loyalty, are the most desirable consumers for loyalty programs. As high buyers of a category, we have more loyalty to give, and if a loyalty program could convince us to shift our spending, then the brand has much to gain. However, keep in mind, motivation for the consumer to be loyal to just one brand isn’t high as we will probably accumulate similar rewards with competitors.

Heavy buyers of a category with low brand loyalty, are the most desirable consumers for loyalty programs.

The remaining categories of consumers are unlikely to contribute to revenue growth for a company through loyalty programs:

Light Buyers of a Category, Low Level of Loyalty

A majority of consumers fall into this category—remember the amended 50-20 rule from last month’s Marketing Myth where it was found that the heaviest 20% of buyers contribute to about 50% of sales volume? Introducing a loyalty program will capture some of these consumers (because there are so many of them) and hopefully convert some of them into more loyal buyers of the brand.

However, it is difficult to change a consumer’s category purchase rate from low to high, and as low category buyers, they will most likely fail to accumulate enough points for rewards and eventually forget the program. For example, I have a membership card with the drugstore Watsons, so I try to purchase from them versus their competitors whenever I need to get something from the drugstore; however, there are only so many times in a month that I need to go to a drugstore. I’m not going to increase my purchases within the category just because I am enrolled in their loyalty program.

So even if a brand’s loyalty program wins over light buyers of a category, they are still light buyers. Therefore the value of this consumer segment comes from their sheer number which balances out their low purchasing rates.

Even if a brand’s loyalty program wins over light buyers of a category, they are still light buyers.

Light and Heavy Buyers of a Category, High Level of Loyalty

Consumers already-loyal to a brand are the ones who will most likely sign up for a loyalty program. First, they come into contact with the brand more often, so will have more opportunities to find out about a loyalty program. Second, because they purchase from the brand so often, they see their high likelihood of receiving rewards from such a loyalty program.

For consumers who are already brand loyal, there’s not much change that a loyalty program will evoke. These consumers can’t really purchase the brand any more than they already do, and they don’t need to change their behaviour in order to earn rewards. As a result, implementing a loyalty program will only reward already-loyal consumers without receiving increased revenues in return.

Implementing a loyalty program will only reward already-loyal consumers without receiving increased revenues in return.


Given the previous paragraphs, I think you would be surprised to hear that the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute actually found that loyalty programs result in a positive effect on loyalty—although it is a very small and weak effect. Despite this loyalty effect, it is too small to noticeably drive revenue growth, and given the costs of a loyalty program, the effect on profits is presumably negative.

The loyalty effect is too small to noticeably drive revenue growth, and given the costs of a loyalty program, the effect on profits is presumably negative.


After all of this, you may be wondering why any business would continue the costly endeavour of maintaining a loyalty program.

Firstly, these types of programs are tricky for a company to exit from. Consumers with lots of points do not take kindly to them being taken away.

Secondly, if used to their full advantage, loyalty programs can be used to build consumer databases. A robust database that charts consumers’ purchase history can be a powerful tool for personalized direct marketing. And once the database collects enough purchase history data of enough consumers, the data can be mined for insights like the infamous diapers and beer correlation.

Bottom line: if companies don’t expect their loyalty programs to drastically increase loyalty for their brand or stimulate any revenue growth, and instead viewed them as a method to build databases, then they won’t be disappointed by unrealistic expectations.

To read more Marketing Myths: https://rocketapac.wordpress.com/category/media-musings/marketing-myths.
Frequent Flyer credit card image courtesy of