Retiring the Canary

Clay Schouest is the Chief Strategy Officer of Carat APAC.

Are we entering a ‘new norm’ for advertising where growth in ad spend and economic growth enter a new relationship? It seems we might be.

5 – 7 minute read


Global advertising spend has generally always acted as the canary in the coalmine for the general state of the global economy. When ad spend goes up so does economic growth, and when spend contracts so generally does the economy. This is the first year in many that global economic forecasts for growth are going up whilst the advertising growth rate is less than the previous year. To be exact, the overall economy is predicated to grow 3.6% in 2017 versus 3.1% actualised in 2016, whilst advertising growth rates are forecasted to be lower with a 3.5% increase in 2017 versus 4.1% actualised in 2016.

This scenario suggests a couple potential scenarios:

1.  That economic growth may be about to slow, or that advertising may actually exceed its initial forecast.

2.  That we are entering a ‘new norm’ for advertising where growth in ad spend and economic growth enter a new relationship.

Could it be that less advertising spend is required to achieve growth?

It’s the latter that I would like to explore. Perhaps we are starting to see a new norm for advertising. Could it be that less advertising spend is required to achieve growth? This would suggest advertising investment is becoming more effective at achieving like-to-like sales.

One could assume this may be down to the influence of the peer-to-peer economy. In other words, the power of fully-scaled social media whereby ‘earned’ media is becoming increasingly more influential on achieving sales.

It could also be attributed to the increasing shift toward addressable advertising—advertising that serve ads directly based on demographic, psychographic, or behavioral attributes associated with the consumer instead of projecting what content a particular audience will be consuming.

To use this Adweek example: Whether your target audience is watching TBS at 2 p.m. or ESPN at 10 p.m., they’ll be served your ad. And it is served to your target whether they’re a heavy or a light TV viewer because the ad finds the audience versus the old model of having the viewer come across the ad. And advertisers are only charged on impressions that are served to their target audience.

Over the past few years, the impact of new ad technology has increased the prevalence of addressable advertising with better, and more accurate targeting and optimisation that requires less advertising spend to achieve sales, and in turn reduces wastage.

The growth in advertising investment allocated to addressability has increased over 2,000%. Currently only 10% of all advertising is invested in this way – and analysts predict it will be exponential in the coming years (30% by 2018 and almost 50% in the US by 2020). The scalability of addressability is on our doorstep.

It could be attributed to the increasing shift toward addressable advertising with better, and more accurate targeting and optimisation that requires less advertising spend to achieve sales, and in turn reduces wastage.

Does addressability equate to better effectiveness? There is also evidence to suggest yes. In a recent study by the analytics group D2D the effectiveness of addressable advertising was measured versus a control group panel. Those plans that contained elements of addressability outperformed those that did not. The study concluded addressability done in the correct way can influence effectiveness by a factor of 10X. This will most likely increase as it becomes more scaled.

As more platforms and media goes addressable, traditional ‘fixed inventory’ advertising will become less and less. This coupled with the fact that people also consume less advertising and have more ad blocking technology installed might ultimately spell the death of advertising as we know it.

The creation and distribution of brand messages will be addressable and largely embedded in entertainment-based content or embedded in general utilitarian aspects of our daily lives. Reminders will pop up on our digital screens and household items – such as a message from our favourite yogurt brand on our digital fridge door, or a message about allergy relief medication relayed by Alexa in the morning when we ask for the day’s weather forecast.

It feels like the old adage of “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” may be coming to an end all together. Coming back full circle: are we entering a ‘new norm’ for advertising where growth in ad spend and economic growth enter a new relationship? It seems we might be.

 

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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.

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MEN MATTER TOO
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
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“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


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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

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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.

 

HONEY, YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY… BUT YOU STILL HAVE A LONGER WAY TO GO

“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

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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.

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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].”

 

SO NOW WHAT DO WE DO?
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-  

 

The Pleasure and Pain of Shopping

Jude Koh is the Regional Associate Strategy Manager for CARAT APAC.

Southeast Asia, in particular, is a hotbed for e-commerce. By focusing on creating pleasurable and painless moments throughout the consumer journey using media, we create more value for businesses

7 – 10 minute read


Online shopping: Intimacy replaced by expedience

Over the past two decades, we’ve witnessed an incredibly rapid evolution of commerce. In the short span of human history, we’ve gone from bartering with animal skins and spices, to exchanging coins for goods in a marketplace, to now, where we can buy almost anything online and have it delivered without ever leaving our house, even poop. Technology, in particular the increasing ubiquity of the Internet, has drastically lowered the previous barriers separating consumers from goods and services; we are no longer confined by a store’s hours or a product’s physical availability. Southeast Asia, in particular, is a hotbed for e-commerce (as evidenced here, here, and here).

Purely for the sake of research, I decided to join the online shopping scene to understand this shift in spending behavior. After a few rounds of senseless buying sprees, I’m satisfied with my haul of new clothes, but completely bored by the entire tap-tap-checkout-wait process. As this New York Times op-ed contributor put it, online shopping is “intimacy replaced by expedience.”

 

Acquire with pleasure, pay in pain

Shopping triggers a series of processes in our brain. Purchasing is less about the rational analysis of quality and price and more about the battle between pleasure and pain. In simplistic terms, buying is largely motivated by how our brain processes this: we acquire with pleasure, but pay in pain. On a larger scale, this neurobehavior guides our global economy, and on a smaller scale, explains why shopping is such a pleasurable activity.

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When you’re out shopping
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When you get the bill

The difference in individual perception of pleasure and pain results in two groups of shoppers: tightwads and spendthrifts. Tightwads experience agonising pain at the thought of parting with their money; while spendthrifts gets intense pleasure at the thought of gaining new goods.

This duel between pleasure and pain in our brain’s limbic system ensures our survival. The limbic system rewards us with pleasure when we do something beneficial to our survival, encouraging us to seek resources, While on the other hand, it punishes us with pain when we engage in non-beneficial behaviors, reminding us to protect our resources. We buy that new jacket because our brain tells us it is beneficial to our survival and we receive pleasure from that purchase, but when we realise that we have been overcharged, the pain we feel is a reminder to be more careful in the future.

Culture defines our pleasure and pain

So if our shopping sprees are controlled by this balance of pleasure and pain, why do our spending habits vary so much among individuals and cultures? Comedian Russell Peters may provide us with an insight into Chinese and Indian consumers:

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Despite its overly-stereotypical depictions, it highlights how culture plays a part in what should be a purely transactional act. Research has confirmed this with evidence that differences in culture lead to differences in how we bargain and negotiate. In our previous post, we know that culture conditions our mind and affects our inert behaviours. Similarly, culture influences how we feel pleasure and pain. The pleasure of gaining wealth, status, or well-being varies among cultures and sub-cultures and our brain seeks rewards based on how we value these pleasures. This explains why some might be willing to spend a month’s paycheck on a pair of Louboutins while others think paying a premium for a pair of red-soled heels is ridiculous.

The pleasure of gaining wealth, status, or well-being varies among cultures and sub-cultures.

A good shopping experience is all about pleasure

As marketers, how can we apply this knowledge? By creating an enjoyable shopping experience. We need to create gratifying moments that excite shoppers and enhance the pleasure of acquisition and overpower the pain felt in paying.

In-store shopping experiences are full of pleasurable moments such as the social aspects of window-shopping with your friends, the trust created when feeling the quality of the product, the risk reduction resulting from being able to it on, and the instant gratification of having it in hand immediately after payment. By immersing ourselves in these moments, our brains project a happy image which we relish in. The pleasure created drives us to make a purchase.

shopping fur coat thrift shop fur coat

How can we recreate these feelings of pleasure in online shopping, an experience that is largely limited by a screen? The answer lies in the touchpoints throughout the consumer’s online shopping journey.

 

How we can make online shopping more pleasurable

But more often than not, online shopping takes the form of searching, followed by endless scrolling or next page clicks through an overwhelming mountain of similar items. After your cart is sufficiently filled to reach whatever shipping cost threshold you had in mind, you checkout, pay, and wait for your order to arrive. Undoubtedly this is a convenient and systematic way to shop; however, it often feels more like procurement than an enjoyable experience.  Online shopping has the pain of paying without the pleasure in the process.

Online shopping has the pain of paying without the pleasure in the process.

There is hope. Online shopping can be experiential and intimate when they focus on delivering an experience at the different touchpoints. E-commerce has the advantage of being able to seamlessly extend the experience with media. Globally, consumers are making media an integral part of their online shopping experience. They window shop by browsing on their mobile devices. They get #ootd inspiration from regularly scanning Pinterest or Instagram. They generate their shopping list through reviews and unboxing videos of shopping hauls.

 

Enhance the online shopping experience with media

Address pain points: Media and communications have the ability to enhance the online shopping experience by reducing the pain of paying, and therefore, make online shopping more pleasurable. To do this, we need to find out what the shopper’s pain points are throughout the consumer journey and either mitigate them or turn them into pleasurable moments. For example, we can eliminate the pain of turning off portrait orientation lock and having to rotate the phone to view horizontal videos by considering how consumers actually use their phone and creating previously unpopular, vertical video content instead. Similarly, shoppable video formats reduces the friction of having to search for products featured in videos by bringing users straight to product.

Harness programmatic’s potential: Consider how programmatic could play a role in the consumer journey. Instead of incessantly retargeting people with ads of a purchase they just made, encourage them to write a review, share their purchase on social media, or suggest accompanying items. Programmatic has the potential to act more like a personal shopper than a shopkeeper at a bazaar.

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Gif courtesy of Kik.

Get social with your media: Much of the pleasure of shopping in-store comes from the social interactions with accompanying friends, like-minded fellow shoppers, and gregarious store assistants. Media can further contribute to the thrill of online shopping by encouraging and facilitating social interaction and approval during the online shopping process, either through social media or AI messaging assistants.

Test content messages: With regards to content, test and run various messages that appeal to either the spendthrifts or the tightwads. Compare the effectiveness of messages that amplify the pleasure of acquisition or reduce the pain of payment amongst different audiences, keeping in mind the cultural context.

 

Online shopping: Intimacy and expedience

The intrinsic system of pleasure and pain determines how we shop. Our culture influences how we perceive this pleasure or pain. Commerce has existed almost as long as humanity itself and as we progress with e-commerce, we need to ensure it does not sacrifice intimacy for the sake of expedience.

Commerce has existed almost as long as humanity itself and as we progress with e-commerce, we need to ensure it does not sacrifice intimacy for the sake of expedience.

By focusing on creating pleasurable and painless moments throughout the consumer journey, we create more value for businesses. Use media to your advantage to deliver a fully connected and seamless experience.  As e-commerce continues to grow in APAC, the brands that have value and are able to use media to its full potential will be the ones getting APAC shoppers happily tap away.

Snapchat, It’s Not You, It’s Me

Christine Liu is the Regional Assistant Insights Manager for CARAT APAC.

Reflections on past and present infatuations with image messaging apps, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

3– 5 minute read


A little less than a year ago, I fell in love…

…with an image messaging app.

Snapchat’s unique offering of temporary content spoke to me—it was refreshingly blithe. It understood my waning motivation to post frequently on other social platforms, bearing in mind the consequences that content with more permanence can bring. For digital natives like me who have been contributing to social media since its advent, we’ve become jaded with the parade of personal information, and maintaining a static profile these days can feel tiresome and also boastful. With Snapchat, I felt relieved—it allowed for real, as-is snippets of the everyday, right at the moment of capture, with the consolation that photos or videos sent would ultimately disappear immediately after viewing or within 24 hours.

The content from friends and brands that spawns from this zippy approach to sharing is much less pretentious in contrast to the over-filtered and processed sort on Facebook and Instagram. Whenever something is edited with Snapchat’s tools, it seems to always be in the name of fun: think marker scribbles, stickers, Lenses, and short captions, free of emo song lyrics and hashtag spam. I personally loved the honest-to-goodness attitude Snapchat embodied, and began dabbling with documenting my life in snaps and viewing those of the few friends and brands I followed.

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Injecting a little humour into everyday humdrum by turning people into pepperoni.
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I prefer doodled Mario costumes over Valencia filters, anyday.

And that’s the thing: there were only a few friends and brands I followed. The adoption of Snapchat in Asia where I reside (Singapore, specifically) was sluggish. My guess to why it never took off on a massive scale, is that there were already a number of widely-entrenched social platforms that people were content with. Looking at Carat’s latest Consumer Connections Study (CCS)*, being on the most used social platforms in Singapore—Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram—already connects one to over 82% of the population daily. Additionally, just 11% use platforms additional to the aforementioned ones each day—keeping tabs across three channels is more than enough effort to stay relevant. Snapchat existed solely as a cool idea with a mere 1 in 10 daily users in 2016—there was no urgency to adopt a whole new app for communicating. With few friends on the receiving end of my snaps, it soon became pointless to upkeep my documenting habit on the isolated platform. Alas, my infatuation didn’t last long.

Perhaps it’s fate, but at the same time I was losing interest in Snapchat, Instagram rolled out their very own Stories feature. The differences in functionality between Snapchat and Instagram Stories are minute: in essence, Instagram Stories clones the concept of Snapchat. But simply because Instagram Stories is housed conveniently within the Instagram app, where the reach in Asia is already established, existing Instagram users here took to Stories like bees to honey. In addition, the minority who dabbled with Snapchat previously like I did, began migrating their activity to Instagram instead. I quickly got back into the groove of documenting on Instagram, but this time the experience was intensified—the number of contacts that viewed my Stories increased tenfold from Snapchat, and the amount of content I could view from others was probably tenfold of tenfold. I could now post unedited content on-the-fly alongside the curated ones I wanted to keep with more permanence and flair on my profile. If I loved Snapchat before, I now wanted to marry Instagram Stories.

Businesses too, especially those with a loyal following on Instagram, jumped onto the image messaging bandwagon quickly, ending the previous struggle of building organic Snapchat reach from scratch in Asia previously.

With at least 3 in 5 South East Asian consumers who expect advertisements to entertain them, especially in Indonesia (74%), Philippines (76%) and Thailand (85%)*, more brands are working towards emotionally engaging consumers through storytelling, and are recognising that the amicable and genuine tone of Instagram Stories works well for such an approach. With options to link brands’ Stories to external sites, this new Instagram feature can also be an efficient way of delivering direct-response messages.

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Sephora’s update on new makeup(!). Which I promptly forwarded to my girlfriends’ Instagram handles.
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Instagram Stories updates appear with a friendly colourful ring at the top of your feed, unobtrusively available to explore as and when you like.

This Story from Sephora showcasing their products with emojis sent a much less dictative message compared to an Instagram carousel ad of new products. Plus, I opted to watch Sephora’s Story versus it being served to me as an ad, and I believe this autonomy of choice makes a big difference in a consumer’s receptiveness to a brand’s message. It works particularly well if a brand has already established a constant stream of communication on Instagram and when consumers look forward to viewing content from the brand.

There’s more in store to look forward to: Measuring engagement for Stories will be available soon, with the option of creating Stories that target specific audiences for more relevant messaging. And if you’re thinking about the delightful branded Lenses that currently only Snapchat has, it probably won’t be long until Instagram Stories rolls out a similar offering, with MSQRD’s technology up Facebook’s sleeves.

Consumers in Asia are lapping up the freshness of Instagram Stories, and it’s a great time for brands to join the party while it’s still early. Start thinking about whether the nature of Stories will strike a chord with your audiences, and get cracking on the boundless possibilities that its creativity caters for.


*Carat Consumer Connections System (CCS)
CCS is a global representative, research-based consumer panel and platform across 120+ value statements, 70+ channel touchpoints and purchase influence across key categories. For more information, reach out to christineliu@carat.com.

– Mario Snapchat picture from Jamie K (@snapchatter on Dizkover)

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.

bau-cua
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.

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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.

You Don’t Have to Play the Game to Win It

Jude Koh is the Regional Associate Strategy Manager for CARAT APAC.

Advertisers are often engaged in highly competitive and bloody bidding wars for the “best” TV spot or search term. But are these costly slots actually a good investment? By more deeply understanding our audience and applying our knowledge of statistical distribution, we can more efficiently reach our target consumers and leave our competitors in the dust.

7 – 10 minute read


 

NO REWARD IN GUNNING FOR THE TOP

When Joseph Schooling won Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal this past summer, brands raced to Singaporean airwaves and television sets to be the first to congratulate him before announcing their own promotional Olympics offer [1]. However, in this race, there are no winners except for the media owners who received a sudden demand for their ad space.

schoolingpromosImage from Vulcan Post

Ad space can suddenly become a prized commodity during popular events. Speaking of the Olympics, this past summer, the most coveted spot went for $2 million in Australia [2]. And TV spots during the Super Bowl in the U.S. are notorious for their unbelievably high price tag: sometimes costing upwards of $5 million to air a 30-second commercial (remember that this doesn’t include agency or production costs) [3]. Singapore’s leading TV station, MediaCorp, charges a basic rate of $1,000 for a 30second ad which is compounded by a multiplier factor based on the popularity of the show, the ad position, and seasonality loading [4], sometimes reaching an upwards of $10,000 [5].

Events like the Olympics or primetime TV promise a huge reach which creates intense competition among brands: each trying to outspend the other in order to get the “best” spot. The same can be observed in paid social and paid search; brands are all competing for the same top audience on Facebook or top position in AdWords.

But are there tangible returns for such a huge investment? Not for McDonald’s. The fast food franchise made a huge investment in a spot during the 2015 Super Bowl. Following the event, their store sales went down by 4% that month and 2.6% for the entire first quarter of the year [6]. A separate study across 13 brands in different industries found that well-established brands did not actually benefit from any form of Super Bowl advertising [7].

Clearly, the high price of chasing massive reach does not necessarily pay off for brands. This highly competitive habit of outspending the competition to gain the most coveted spot is like a red ocean of sharks gutting each other over the same prey.

This experience of sharks fighting over the same prey is also similar to ads fighting for our attention by cluttering our screens.

In one hour of primetime TV, on average 15 minutes are actually dedicated to emotional ads about shampoo, cars, and insurance. There is also no relief when we turn to our phones as ads bombard our Facebook and Instagram feeds. On YouTube, we are forced to endure one minute of an unskippable ad before we can watch a 30-second Marvel movie trailer. Instead of informing us, ads are suffocating us and using up our precious data limit.

 

AVOID THE CROWD; FIND A PARTY

I do not intend to buy a car in the foreseeable future, yet I am constantly served car ads. There is a huge disparity between the consumer and the brand which is the reason for low returns on high media investments. The message falls short of what the consumers want.

Nike recognised this and decided not to be a part of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics clutter of ads [8]. Instead, they sponsored runner Michael Johnson by providing him with a $30,000 pair of gold-coloured racing spikes. After he won, Johnson appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the same pair of golden shoes strung around his neck. His nickname, “The Man with the Golden Shoes”, cemented Nike’s role in his achievement [9]. The brand showcased their product’s performance to a massive audience without spending the $50 million Reebok did to be an official Olympics sponsor that year.

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Image from Time Magazine

Again Nike created an uncontested marketspace during the 2010 World Cup using a similar principle [10]. Because Adidas was the official sponsor, Nike had to get creative—they found different ways and different channels to engage their audience. The brand understood that the beauty of football lies in its unpredictability, a topic that leads to much social conversation. So they created an emotional three-minute video called “Write the Future” which captured how quickly a game can swing between exhilaration and devastation for a team and its fans. The video was released on Facebook and Nike’s followers doubled in less than a week, all driven by the desire to see and share the ad. Furthermore, Nike created engagement opportunities by allowing fans to edit the ad and write their own versions of the future. The brand drove even more engagement by taking popular headlines written by fans on Twitter and Facebook and showcasing them in a massive LED lightshow on Johannesburg’s fourth largest building. The lightshow was visible from 2.5 kilometres away, gathering massive hype around the surrounding area. Although they could not advertise during the televised games because Adidas was the official sponsor, Nike went around the competition by running spots on shows airing at the same time and on soccer matches prior to the start of the World Cup. Their deep understanding of consumers and avoidance of the competition led to massive results: “Write the Future” was viewed by over 20 million people online within five weeks of its debut and Nike enjoyed more than double the share of World Cup buzz than Adidas. Success came from removing oneself from a highly competitive arena and instead, creating engagement opportunities with fans through a passionate narrative.

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Image from football-marketing.com

After realising the low returns on investing in the 2015 Super Bowl, McDonald’s pulled out the following year [6]. Instead, they focused on creating meaningful conversations with consumers. Social media served as a platform for consumers’ feedback and news about their latest, revamped menu. This revenue-generating tactic helped McDonald’s overturn a bad quarter and achieve their best annual earnings yet. By avoiding the competition and engaging potential consumers, McDonald’s rebounded from a bad quarter and performed better than ever.

Nike and McDonald’s had created their own blue oceans—uncontested market spaces. A blue ocean strategy is about finding opportunities and creating and capturing new demand. Nike and McDonald’s, though they sell products with mass appeal and achieved high reach, communicated in a personal way that appealed to a diverse set of consumers.

 

THE LONG TAIL IS A GOLD MINE OF OPPORTUNITY

The long tail is a statistical term used to describe the type of distribution seen below:

long-tail-distribution

Let’s say this long tail distribution is being applied to SEO; similar to what we saw in the fight for primetime television slots, there is high competition for popular key search terms in the head, creating a red ocean. However, when we look at the long tail, we see a blue ocean: overall, there is a sizeable amount of search volume with lower competition and higher conversion rates. And today, technology makes it easier to cater to the long tail.

This advantage was fully made used of by Obama’s campaign team during 2 of his elections.  They are known of running a highly sophisticated digital campaign and by precise targeting of undecided voters [11]. Finding these undecided voters was challenging, so they used statistical analytics supported by technology to go beyond traditional demographic based targeting based, and instead microtargeted voters [12]. This technique involves sampling a group of undecided voters through surveys, layered on data mined from digital platforms to create statistical models. These models predicted different types of voters and their individual hot button issues.

Microtargeting helped the campaign team refine their targeting of the undecided voters and serve messages that pulled at their heartstrings. For example, the campaign team discovered that there were some female voters who agreed with most Republican stances except when it came to the issues of equal pay and women’s health. However, those voters were only 20-40% likely to vote for Obama. To win them over, the team tailored their message to inform these women about Obama’s proposed policies on equal pay and women’s health [11].

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Image from girltalkhq.com

The campaign team became more efficient in their communication efforts with microtargeting. Specific messages were broadcasted on niche TV networks and programs, avoiding the big networks and primetime slots [13]. They identified the cost per dollar of persuading a voter by building models that marry detailed information about a voter’s viewing habits and their political leanings. This superb efficiency helped Obama beat an extremely well-financed opposition in the 2012 election.

Nike, McDonald’s, and Obama’s campaign team understood the need to move away from the overcrowded red ocean and focus on new opportunities in their own blue ocean. Nike shied away from the obvious mass reach sponsorship tactic, and instead, created meaningful stories across different touchpoints. McDonald’s built relationships with their consumers by listening to them on social media.

Targeting the long tail is about becoming more relevant to the vast majority who are more varied in interest and preference, otherwise not reached by an approach tailored for the “head”. Technology enables us to do this with greater efficiency and accuracy, as seen in the Obama campaign’s use of statistical models to microtarget. To fully take advantage of this, brands need to know the nuances of who they want and how to reach them.

 

AIM FOR A LONG TERM PRIZE

Competing in the red ocean is an exhausting, vicious cycle of winning and losing. Creating a blue ocean allows for more sustainability. The long tail will provide an almost infinite opportunity for brands. With developments in analytics, it is now easier to understand these consumers with precision. Advances in technology also creates more ways to reach consumers. There is no longer a need for us to compete over the top ad spot just to gain mass reach. We can now target more efficiently by creating models of potential consumers, engaging them with relevant messages through different platforms, measuring the outcome, and optimising for future campaigns—all with scale and precision.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Companies race to honour Joseph Schooling | Straits Times
  2. Local brands spend millions on ad campaigns during the great Aussie medal hunt | News.com.au
  3. Why Some Top Companies Decided Super Bowl Ads Aren’t Worth It | The Huffington Post
  4. Mediacorp 2016 Advertising Rate Book for Channel 5, Channel 8, and Channel U
  5. Based on internal survey of media planners and buyer in Carat Singapore
  6. Not Advertising In The Super Bowl…McBrilliant | Forbes
  7. Russell, M. G., & Et Al (2003). Brand Perceptions of TV Commercials During Super Bowl XXXVIII. ResearchGate
  8. How Nike Brilliantly Ruined Olympic Marketing Forever | ADWEEK
  9. Michael Johnson’s legendary gold Nike shoes at Atlanta 96 almost never existed | Dailymail UK
  10. The World Cup Brand Winner: Adidas or Nike? | HBR
  11. How Obama’s Team Used Big Data to Rally Voters | Technology Review
  12. They Know Who You’re Voting For: How Big Data Redefines Political Campaigns’ Microtargeting | Data Informed
  13. Secret of the Obama Victory? Rerun Watchers, for One Thing | New York Times

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.

 

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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.

ikea facebook.jpg

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.

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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 http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2011/may-june-11/the-mind-in-the-world-culture-and-the-brain.html
  4. Park, D. C. Huang, CM. (2012, Aug 1) Culture Wires the Brain: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective [Perspect Psychol Sci Journal]. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3409833/
  5. Rajaratnam, R. (2015, June, 23) IKEA Singapore Responds To Outrage Caused By “Bling Glamour Home” Ad (Yes, Bling) [Web article] Retrieved from http://says.com/my/news/ikea-singapore-raya-2015-ad
  6. Golangco, V (2014, March 13). Sexy and social: why Manila is the selfiest city in the world [News Article] Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/mar/13/manila-selfiest-city-most-selfies
  7. Philippines-Australia Business Council. (2008) Filipino Values [Web Article] Retrieved from http://pabc.org.ph/main/details.php?p=14
  8. Seidman, G. (2015 August 6). What is the Real Link between Selfies and Narcissism? [Web Article] Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/close-encounters/201508/what-is-the-real-link-between-selfies-and-narcissism
  9. Fernandez, C. (2007, April 05) The Heart of Filipino Problems – Amor Propio [Web Article] Retrieved from http://chinocracy.blogspot.sg/2007/04/reason-for-filipino-problems-amor.html