Using Cultural Context to Create a Hyperlocal Strategy

Growing up, I have seen ads changed over time: in the past, they were purely functional and focused on the quality of the product; a decade later, I found myself weeping over an ad about the eternal spirit and sportswear. Today, I see ads in Hokkien (a dialect that was once taboo in Singaporean media) about the latest government healthcare plan. From my experiences alone, I can see that brands want to tap into culture more than ever. Culture helps advertisers reach a wide group of people with relevancy. And now technology helps better target cultural moments. But can brands tell if a moment is actually culturally significant or just a fad? What exactly is culture and how do we identify it? Are our insights about consumers or are they about culture? How can we make use of culture to build an effective hyperlocal strategy? In this article I will attempt to answer these questions.


Being a Chinese Singaporean, I always assumed my culture is similar to the culture of a Hong Konger or a Taiwanese. After all, we all experienced the same level of economic development in our nations; we descended from a similar root; and we share a common language. However, after celebrating Lunar New Year with a native family in Hong Kong, I realised I was wrong and our similarities were only skin-deep. This is a common mistake that brands make as well when approaching APAC: they assume a homogenous culture when there isn’t one.


What makes culture? Arts, language, traditions or food might come into our minds when we think of culture. While these are important parts of culture, they are not the true definition of it. A culture is a collective form of behaviour or practice among a group of people. Aspects like religion, history and governance are large scale influences [1] in people’s behaviour and practices, shaping the culture as a society progresses from generation to generation.


“Small” and “big” culture: separating fads from tradition

Culture can be broadly seen as “small” or “big” [2]. “Small” culture moves quickly (fashions, fads, slang words, etc.), while “big” culture is slow moving and underpins the way we live (traditions, customs, values, etc.). Dynamic influences from our surroundings shift these two types of cultures. Our mind adapts to the constant shift in culture and reacts according to the changes. Our brain is constantly conditioned by the culture we are in [3], shaping our behaviour and perception [4].


I recall IKEA’s previous agency ran an ad during Hari Raya (an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting) that roused a reaction from the Muslim community in Singapore [5]. The ad tries to depict the urban-ness of a Muslim family with “gangsta” poses and gold chains during the holiday. While urban-ness or hip hop music could be relevant in “small” culture, what it fails to do is recognise the taboos, traditions, and practices in the “big” culture: the underpinnings of lifestyle among mainstream Muslims in Singapore.


Responders to the ad can be categorized into 3 main groups: older Muslims were mostly against the ad, younger Muslims were lukewarm to it, and non-Muslims appreciated the “humorous” take on Hari Raya. The different responses among the groups reveals how culture conditions their responses to the ad.

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The older group were concerned about the misrepresentation of  Muslims in Singapore and the inappropriateness of “gangsta” poses during Hari Raya. While the younger Muslim group appreciated IKEA’s effort to introduce fun and relevance, they felt haram still needed to be observed. The non-Muslim group found it “humorous,” but then again, they do not celebrate Hari Raya and are unaware of the subtleties within the culture. One ad can be perceived differently by different cultures, even in a small nation like Singapore. This is why a hyperlocal strategy is important, especially in a cultural period like Hari Raya.


Getting more out of your insights with culture
I am sure you have come across insights such as, ‘Filipinos aged 18 – 25 engage heavily in social media and frequently share selfies on Facebook’. An insight like this is good to understand the consumers, but not people or culture. We need to examine the insight within a cultural context to gain deeper understanding. The “small” culture of this insight is the love of sharing selfies by Filipinos among their social network, proven by the fact that Manila is actually the selfie capital of the planet [6]. But if we examine under “big” culture, we see that Filipinos have high value for friends, Amor Propio (self-esteem), and a need for expression [7]. These could be the motivations for Filipinos to produce more selfies than any other country.


Understanding the cultural context of our insights prevents lazy stereotypes. In the west, it is common to view selfies as a sign of narcissism [8]. But in the Philippines, the cultural need for communication, expression, and self-esteem are reasons why selfies are so popular. Over or misrepresentation could occur if we do not give cultural context to the insights. In the Hari Raya ad, we can see that there is an over-representation of the “small” culture of hip hop music which caused a misrepresentation of the “big” culture of Hari Raya practices.


Cultural context for a hyperlocal strategy
Having cultural context sharpens our insights which helps to create a hyperlocal strategy. A hyperlocal strategy is not just about having a well-defined target, it is also about tailoring the media experience. If we know the cultural context of why Filipinos love selfies, we can create conversations about expressions and Amor Propio on Facebook, YouTube, or TV. On Instagram, we can find ways to use selfies as a form of expression. Engaging people on a cultural level creates a collective impact on them. “Big” culture topics can be introduced on high reach media that is familiar and scalable to attain effectiveness, while relying on the latest trends in “small” culture to innovate activations. Always remember media should deliver the best experiences to the audience and to do that, cultural context needs to fit well with media context.

Culture has a huge role to play in our media experience. Culture conditions our minds’ responses and perceptions. Considering culture and using it to sharpen our insights will help us design effective media experiences and have the right content in the right context. In this economy where scaling is important, culture is the best way to engage people collectively. Recognising a fad from a tradition is important so as to show thought and tact from a brand. Ultimately, it is about how a brand can appreciate the uniqueness of cultures in this highly diverse APAC region and find opportunities to engage diversity effectively.


Jude Koh is the regional associate strategy manager for Carat APAC.


  1. Pradeep. BV, Mediratta, N. (2016). Consumers don’t exist, people do! How to speak to people within their cultural context [WARC Article]. Retrieved from WARC
  2. Curphey, J. (2011, Nov). Culture: Insight’s third space – Conducting and integrating cultural analysis to drive brand value [WARC Article]. Retrieved from WARC
  3. Ambady, N. (2011, June). The Mind in the World: Culture and the Brain [APS Column]. Retrieved from
  4. Park, D. C. Huang, CM. (2012, Aug 1) Culture Wires the Brain: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective [Perspect Psychol Sci Journal]. Retrieved from
  5. Rajaratnam, R. (2015, June, 23) IKEA Singapore Responds To Outrage Caused By “Bling Glamour Home” Ad (Yes, Bling) [Web article] Retrieved from
  6. Golangco, V (2014, March 13). Sexy and social: why Manila is the selfiest city in the world [News Article] Retrieved from
  7. Philippines-Australia Business Council. (2008) Filipino Values [Web Article] Retrieved from
  8. Seidman, G. (2015 August 6). What is the Real Link between Selfies and Narcissism? [Web Article] Retrieved from
  9. Fernandez, C. (2007, April 05) The Heart of Filipino Problems – Amor Propio [Web Article] Retrieved from

Modern Dating: A Consumer Journey

I’ve spent a decade now dating in the digital age and I’ve watched flirting go from chatting on instant messaging services like AIM or MSN Messenger to adding “friends” on Facebook to meeting people on Tinder. It can be difficult for advertisers to catch up with where young, single people are spending their time these days (for example, I communicate with some love interests solely on Instagram or Snapchat, bypassing all traditional messaging apps).

So for the purposes of this Rocket article and for Carat APAC, I’ve decided to go on several dates in order to create a consumer journey map of the touchpoints strewn throughout the rocky and ever-shifting world of modern dating in Asia.



Tinder: Like all post-2014 love stories, this one will begin on Tinder as the first touch point to bring about awareness of all possible options. Tinder of course is not the only game in town; there’s Paktor (where you can get a Tinder experience tailored for Southeast Asia complete with country filtering and in-app language translation), MeetDrinks (where you can go on group dates), Noonswoon (where you get one-match-a-day at noon), Mat & Minah (where Malay Muslim singles can connect), or even just meeting someone face-to-face, but for the purposes of this consumer journey, I chose to focus on Tinder.

Similar to a grocery store shelf, there are just so many (convenient) choices when it comes to finding a date that it starts feeling like a paradox of choice. With Tinder specifically, as a consumer, you start evaluating people faster and faster to increase your efficiency on the application (maximize quality matches, minimize time spent). Seeing as consumers are flying through, swiping left and right at rapid speed in a category that requires as much emotional investment as romantic interests and has as much impact as potential life partner, what is a brand in a category as transient as light beer to do to capture the attention of consumers at this stage?


Although Tinder has yet to introduce products for advertisers in APAC, brands have been experimenting in the U.S. Last year Tinder co-founder Sean Rad claimed a 20% “swipe right” rate between users and brands. Here’s a case study of a successful campaign Bud Light ran on Tinder that advertisers in APAC can learn from for when Tinder does roll out its ad products in this region.

Bud Light gave Tinder users who are 21 and up a chance to be one of 1,000 winners of a weekend trip to Catalina Island, renamed Whatever, USA and transformed to a 3-night festival filled with celebrities, music, and various surprises.

Instead of creating ads that mimicked Tinder profiles, which many brands had done in the past, Bud Light used native video specifically designed for the platform. Their ad shows a finger swiping through pictures of the previous Whatever, USA celebration and people holding up cardboard signs saying, “You could go!” Those who match with Bud Light will be redirected to a co-branded Web page that explains how to enter the contest.

Bud Light Whatever

“We haven’t taken our traditional TV commercials and just slapped them on Tinder,” said Hugh Cullman, director of marketing for Bud Light. “We know that would be a poor experience. [We wanted to] talk to that audience in the way that they are talking to other people. TV [spots] work great for TV, but we knew they would not be a good experience for Tinder.”



Now that Awareness has been met, it’s time for the consumer to do a little more research on their matches (consideration) to qualify them (selection) for one of the most important steps in the consumer journey: the first date (experience).

Instagram: One of Tinder’s features, which allows for opportunities for deeper connections, is profile linkage to the user’s Instagram. This provides users with more talking points (I see your last photo was taken in Seoul—I was just in Seoul!) and opportunities to find one’s aesthetic match.

The link between Tinder and Instagram could provide great opportunities for cross-platform advertising, especially since users can go directly from their match’s Tinder profile to their match’s Instagram profile in two taps. From there, there is the possibility for retargeting with different messages presented further down the purchase tunnel. But for now, it’s only a media planner’s dream as there are currently no deals allowing this between parent companies IAC and Facebook.


Google Search and Google Translate: I was surprised how many times I had to use Google Search and Google Translate during the Consideration & Selection phase. Sometimes I use Google to research a match’s university or a reference they made so I don’t look dumb.

Sometimes I am talking to someone who knows a non-English language that I know a bit of, but am not fluent in, so I often enlist the help of the not-always-reliable Google Translate to help get me by.

Google’s role in courtship has been thoroughly recognized by the company and its different touch points throughout the process have been beautifully captured here in this touching commercial:

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So when building a digital media campaign, it is important to not get distracted by new, sexy dating apps or social media platforms, and remember trusted destinations like Google.


WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat, Kakao Talk, etc.: Once the consideration phase comes to a close and heads towards selection, first date intent is shown by suggesting to move off Tinder and on to a messaging platform that one would use with one’s IRL friends. This is a big move because one generally checks these other messaging platforms more often than Tinder, and now the user gets to reside in the same space as their match’s other social connections.

The platform used will depend on the country the user and their match reside in. For example, in the U.S., it was popular to communicate via SMS, but in Singapore, people solely exchange WhatsApp numbers.

WhatsApp Step_censored

Although WhatsApp does not allow for any advertising, the remaining messaging apps popular in Southeast Asia, like LINE, do. WeChat has opened up advertising on its Moments Feed and KakaoTalk allows ads to be displayed in KakaoStory, a “photocentric social networking site.”



Now comes the largest pain point in modern dating: figuring out the logistics. From what was once intelligent and playful banter rises two bored secretaries trying to coordinate schedules over a series of drawn out, delayed messages.

To quote Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance:

[An] irritating situation that plagues both men and women is the endless texting banter that never leads to a meet in the real world. So many people trying to make a connection wind up spending so much time typing and typing and trying to schedule things that eventually whatever spark may have been there diminishes.

Smart Keyboards: If there was a brand that could alleviate this pain point, they would literally be Cupid and prevent so many potential good relationships from prematurely ending.  Keyboards have gotten so many new innovations lately, such as Google’s new Gboard which allows users to send search results, including business locations. Perhaps a keyboard app could ask for permission to both users’ calendars and find 5 potential date and times for the potential paramours to meet up. The service could be sponsored by a financial institution because “time is money.”


Foursquare, Honeycombers, HungryGoWhere, etc.: Besides timing, another important part of the logistics is the activity. Whether you’re going for drinks, dinners, or a unique local activity, it has to be the right amount of cool and casual to impress your date without looking like you’re trying too hard.

Honeycombers.pngHere, there are a wealth of opportunities to advertise (most of them specific to local markets). For example in Singapore, people reference Honeycombers for all manners of Singaporean lifestyle and HungryGoWhere for food and drink. For international ad campaigns, there’s always Foursquare, a local search-and-discovery service mobile app available in most Asian cities. Advertising could take the form of display ads, native advertising, advertorials, sponsored content, etc. Again, each local market should have its go-to reference for could-be couples.



Finally, finally the consumer journey phase everyone has been waiting for! The actual date itself.

OOH, POS: This is the first stage in the consumer journey that takes place offline, so it is the first stage where OOH and POS becomes relevant. Alcohol and beer brands are no strangers to advertising at bars and since 66% of people who walk into a bar don’t know what brand they want to order, the opportunity to persuade consumers is huge.



Google Maps: If the date is going well, the couple may want to extend it by getting drinks or coffee post-meal (this happened on 100% of the dates I went on for this article). However, such an occurrence is rarely planned for because a good date is always a happy surprise. As a result you have two people milling around post-meal wondering where to go nearby.

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This is where Google Maps comes in. It’s already the default app used when looking up current location and it shows local businesses as points of reference. Google is also currently experimenting with a variety of ad formats on Maps that make it easier for users to find businesses. For example, date-goers may start to see promoted pins for nearby coffee shops or bars.



No consumer journey is complete without its Share phase.

Facebook Message: After a particularly good first date (in fact, the first of the first dates undertaken for this article), I had to message my sister. Now, my sister is a huge fan of using Facebook stickers, so if there are branded ones that express her sentiments, she is all over it.


Notice until now, Facebook is noticeably absent from the Modern Dating Consumer Journey. The other day I was joking off hand about how Facebook is a third date thing with an employee of Facebook, and he responded that third date was way too soon—Facebook friendship is like a 51st date thing.

That’s because for most millennials, Facebook contains their entire adolescence and young adult life: every dumb thing ever posted and every flirty picture comment from admirers. Or perhaps it’s because our Facebook “friends” list is bloated by people we’ve met once at a college party, or knew years ago from an internship, that to make it on the list nowadays, there needs to be evidence of longevity so you don’t end up broadcasting your life to that one guy you went on a Tinder date with years ago.



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Like every other consumer journey in today’s modern age, nothing is straightforward. Phases are drawn out or shortcuts are taken and touchpoints get bypassed. Everyone’s dating journey is a little different and it will vary region to region. For example, with the four guys in Singapore that I went on dates with for this article, Snapchat never played a role, whereas many of my Tinder dates from New York still view my Snapchat Stories, despite the fact that we only had one date and I moved away from the city 8 months ago.

Finally, similar to many other traditional consumer journeys involving products or services, the actual experience is the most important stage in determining whether there will be a second date (or “repeat purchase”). It doesn’t matter how great the preceding touchpoints are if the experience itself isn’t good. Lucky for me, none of the products I received were defective.


Tam Le is the regional strategy senior manager for Carat APAC.
Bar image courtesy of
Google Maps image courtesy of
Icons made by Freepik from is licensed by CC 3.0 BY.