Brands have a responsibility to tell consumers the truth about their products

Numerous papers have been written on the influence of advertising in developing countries. Most of the papers suggest that historically advertising influences consumers more in the developing world than it does in developed countries.

This probably stems from a ‘traditional suspicion towards the ‘middleman’ as opposed to a belief that manufacturing or production is more ‘honourable’ or ‘respectable’’. Malcolm Harper “Advertising in a developing economy”. The assumption being that the manufacturer’s message has an air of respectability about it whilst the sales pitch of a salesman or middleman should be viewed with suspicion.

Firms, especially Western firms spend a lot of money on advertising in Asia to convince consumers to buy their products. The problem is of course that far too many consumers have been let down by products that fail to live up to the promises made in the advertising. This is one of the reasons quoted for the advertising fatigue across Asia.

In fact many experts suggest this is also why Asian consumers are so obsessed with discount and, perversely Western luxury brands with a clear evidence of a quality heritage. Clearly, if brands want to continue to have an influence on consumers, they must be honest with those consumers.

One firm that always spends big on advertising is Proctor & Gamble (P&G). According to Ad Age P&G spends an incredible US10 billion per year globally on advertising. In the first 9 months of 2014 P&G spent US$48 million on traditional media in Thailand and often its ads are dubbed to be shown across national borders.

The ad above was shown in Malaysia but looks as if it was produced in a different language. The ad shows a family all working together to get the son through his exams. However, the dad appears to have a cold and although the mum stops his sneeze with a pillow, the voiceover tells us that germs can spread through fabrics which the wife complains are hard to wash.

Cue voice over claims that Fabreze Ambi Pur eliminates flu viruses and odours, 99.9% of germs and freshens fabric, leaving a light scent behind”. The ad closes with the son getting an A+ and the line “Odours and flu virus go, freshness stays.”

I think that based on the ad, a lot of possibly gullible consumers are going to think that by using this product they won’t have to wash big items like blankets, carpets and cushion covers.

Air fresheners and in particular Fabreze Ambi Pur are very popular in South East Asia. Get into a car in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia or Thailand and the chances are you’ll see a Fabreze Ambi Pur product placed in front of the air conditioning vent.

Many government offices have machines on the wall that squirt out similar products at regular intervals. And the Malaysia Ambi Pur Facebook page has 90,000 Likes and the Thailand Facebook page has nearly 160,000 Likes.

That’s an impressive following. But can Ambi Pur really eliminate flu viruses? Can it really eliminate 99.9% of germs? And what are the effects on humans of the chemicals contained in these products?

According to the sustainable baby steps website, Fabreze is a dangerous product. The site claims it contains a total of 87 chemicals, many of which are supposedly dangerous to humans. It suggests that Fabreze doesn’t clean the air but instead masks the odours with chemicals. The site goes on to provide a number of natural, inexpensive ways to keep a home smelling fresh and healthy.

Another site that claims to ‘set the standards for safe self care’ says that Fabreze contains phthalates which are ‘hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been linked with childhood asthma.’

P&G doesn’t share any of the apparently harmful ingredients in Fabreze. Oddly, the Ambi Pur ad is filed under education on Youtube.

P&G is a global brand and an influential advertiser in South East Asia. It maybe that spraying chemicals on a cushion is not harmful. Whatever it is, P&G has a responsibility to educate consumers properly, truthfully and in a transparent manner. Otherwise, it will lose its respectable tag.


Case studies of how two Malaysian brands used technology in a crisis

This article looks at two high profile situations in Malaysia and how these very different institutions used technology and social media to communicate with and engage stakeholders during a crisis.

Case study one: Syabas
Syabas (pronounced Sha-bas) provides water to the state of Selangor, the largest and most developed state in Malaysia. Following a diesel spillage on the Selangor river (a major source of water) at the end of August 2013, Syabas shut down four treatment plants, essentially cutting off water supply to nearly 1 million homes. I was personally affected by this issue and was without water for over 24 hours.

When my taps ran dry, the first thing I did was go to the Syabas website where I was greeted by a pop up press release telling me there was no water. I also found a 1800 number. I called the number and a recorded message told me to go back to the website. I revisited the website which told me that I was living in an area that was affected by the shut down. This wasn’t really very helpful as I new this because my taps were dry.

Not really helpful
Not really helpful

So my next stop was Twitter. I found the Syabas Twitter feed and fired off some tweets asking for more specific information that would allow me to plan for my family of seven who could not shower, flush toilets, wash clothes and make contingency plans for our open house scheduled for Sunday 1st September.

None of my tweets generated a response. I was stunned to find Syabas has over 10,000 followers on Twitter but doesn’t follow one person. I appreciate that not many companies have the resources to listen to what their customers are doing all the time however, one of the key reasons for being on Twitter is to be able to quickly identify conversations and trends about their business, their brand and their services.

No followers makes it hard to use Twitter effectively
No followers makes it hard to use Twitter effectively

This then allows brands to address issues in a transparent, prompt and empathetic manner and also leverage positive comments and discussions, join in with the conversation and encourage engagement.

So after trying the 1800 number, the website and the Twitter page, my last resort to try and get some actionable data to help me plan ahead was to go to the Syabas Facebook page.

No luck on Facebook because Syabas had disabled the comments function which meant that I could follow them but couldn’t make any comments! As they were only reposting the press releases posted on the website, this was pointless. So I was unable to source any information that was relevant to me or get specific answers to specific problems.

Please listen to us but don't ask us anything
Please listen to us but don’t ask us anything

Incredibly, Syabas was on every social media platform yet was using those platforms not to engage with consumers but to broadcast only the messages it wanted consumers to hear. All Syabas seemed to want to do was push generic and pointless press releases to consumers. Yet the whole point of these platforms is to allow consumers to interact with the brand and get closure on personal issues.

And this is particularly relevant when it comes to negative issues or complaints. During a recent stay at the Marina Bay Sands, I complained on Twitter. Within 30 minutes the MBS was following me and asked me to follow them back so that they could send me a Direct message. Not only did this make me feel someone was listening, it also allowed them to take my complaint out of the public domain. The Marina Bay Sands has 8,500 followers and follows almost 1,700 people.

The irony of this situation is that Syabas actually dealt with the physical problem very efficiently and the water was back online to over 650,000 consumers within 36 hours. But by then it was too late and what could have been a PR success turned into a social media nightmare as frustrated consumers turned to forums, online newspapers and social media to vent their anger.

Case study two: Sekolah Sri Cempaka
Sekolah Sri Cempaka is a private school in Malaysia. It quickly embraced the arrival of technology in the classroom and places a great emphasis on communicating with students via its digital platform, Schoology. On Saturday 7th September 2013 a fire broke out at the school in the exclusive neighbourhood of Damansara Heights in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur.

Within an hour Twitter was awash with chatter and soon after images of the fire were all over Twitter and Facebook. This fire could not have come at a worse time for the school with students busily preparing for critical exams.

The school quickly announced the fire simultaneously on Twitter and Facebook. The school then expanded its reach on both Social Media and the school Intranet to communicate with concerned students and parents.

Openness and transparency, success factors for social media
Openness and transparency, success factors for social media

Throughout the next 36 hours numerous rumours developed and began to spread however, the school was quick to inform stakeholders of the real situation. By acting quickly and in a transparent, engaging manner, students and parents were reassured and potentially damaging rumours were negated, before they got out of control.

As the crisis unfolded, the school maintained contact with students and parents. Sharing with them the important developments – news of the damage, the fire department inspection, plans by the school, discussions with the education ministry and so on. This gave concerned and busy parents a regular stream of credible information which allowed them to plan ahead.


The new technological landscape is here to stay. Here are five things you must do now to prepare your company for a crisis:

1. Every company, government department and institution should have a clear, transparent, policy on social media and a clearly defined social media crisis management strategy to address comments/posts on the website or social media pages during the crisis. And this should be part of a grater social media plan.
2. Make sure you have enough properly trained staff to administer your social media pages and respond to issues raised by angry consumers.
3. Unless there is a potential threat to your organisation or your staff, transparency is key.
4. Always, always, always engage. Ignoring consumers or shutting down conversations is the worst thing you can do.
5. Have a back up solution ready for such situations.

These two institutions responded very differently to a crisis. One got it right, one didn’t. Which one best represents your brand?

Malaysia Airlines needs to up its digital branding game

In 2012, online advertising spend breached the US$100 billion level for the first time. And forecasters are predicting double digit increases for the next couple of years.

But the types of ads are extensive, from pop-ups to banner ads, to text ads to display ads and so on. There is no consensus on what works the best and what doesn’t but studies suggest that interstitial ads (those that appear when you move from one page to another) animated ads and pop-up ads have the highest visibility, but have low click-through rates.

Whereas banner ads suffer from what the industry calls “banner blindness.” Which basically means that users have stopped seeing them.

According to one company in Australia, for every 1,000 people who see an online ad, only 1 will click on it and the average conversion rate for most sites is 2% which means that you require 50,000 people to see your online ad before you are likely to make a sale.

Another company, Digiday states that only 8% of Internet users account for 85% of clicks on banner ads and that 50% of clicks on mobile banner ads are a mistake.

But digital advertising will continue to grow especially as advertisers online can target their messages at the right segments, thanks to increasingly sophisticated technology. But with such low penetration, you need to get the content right so that when the 1 in 50,000 comes along, there is a good chance they will buy whatever it is you are selling.

I’ve had a go at Malaysia Airlines a few times and I’m probably not very popular with them which is a shame because I’m a big fan of the brand and in some areas, they are trying very hard to build a global brand. But I don’t believe the airline is demonstrating high levels of branding professionalism. Most recently I had a go at their latest advertising campaign. You can read that story here.

I’m sorry to say that I’m going to have another go at them. Earlier today I clicked on a link at the Malaysian Insider website and was interrupted by an interstitial ad for Malaysia Airlines. The ad (see below) featured an underwater image and an image of Penang. Obviously I was interested to see what they were doing so I clicked on the ad.


I was directed to the Malaysia Airlines site and was told it is under going system maintenance. Now I understand that sites need to be up dated all the time but not in the middle of a digital advertising campaign.

System update in the middle of a communications campaign? Not good for branding.

This type of schoolboy error can be fixed with a brand blueprint that is shared throughout the organisation and ensures the organisation works collaboratively, not in silos. Until they make such organisational improvements, Malaysia Airlines will continue to struggle. It really needs to up its branding game if it is serious about becoming profitable.

Further proof that you need Twitter to build your brand

The talented team at Brandwatch in the UK have produced a very useful report on Twitter usage by global brands. This report should be read by marketing departments and CEOs. You can read the full report here but some of the findings are listed below:

1) 253 companies, primarily from the US and UK were analysed for the report.
2) Only 2.4% of the companies surveyed did not use Twitter at all
3) 97% of major brands used Twitter in 2013, up from 62% in 2011.
4) It was noted that Apple does not use Twitter or any other social media. Interestingly, Apple’s share price has tumbled to as low as US$400 earlier this year, down from US$700 in September 2012. Of course I’m not blaming that on the fact they don’t use Twitter however it does mean there will be some distance between the brand and customers.
5) Brands use Twitter for both broadcast and engagement purposes but most of them acknowledge that Twitter is best utilized as a two-way channel.
6) 145 brands surveyed (over half) tweet a minimum of 30 times per week.
7) 25% of Brands use Twitter solely as a broadcast channel.
8) 63% of Brands have multiple accounts. Using one for company news and another for customer service was a common example of multiple accounts.
9) Dell has 44 Twitter accounts.
10) Weekends are the best time to reach customers on Twitter. (I don’t think that applies to Asia). However a little research into what your audience prefers goes a long way to successful engagement.
11) Tweets with media (a photo/video) get 3 to 4 times more engagement than those without.
12) The average size of a UK and US Twitter team is 4 people.
13) The maximum number of tweets in a week for the US was 2,500 tweets, compared with 113 tweets in the UK.
14) The Twitter web interface is the most popular platform for tweeting.
15) 20% of the top 100 global brands use HootSuite.

What can Asian firms learn from this data?

For a start, if your firm is not on Twitter, it needs to be. Twitter won’t go away! British and American firms have an average of 4 people on their Twitter team. Most Asian firms don’t even have a community manager, let alone a social team. This needs to change.

Asian firms can use Twitter to engage customers more effectively, deal with issues and retain customers. It is far more effective and less expensive than attempting to use acquisition marketing across traditional channels to retain existing, unhappy or vulnerable customers.

Twitter can be an effective and inexpensive way to drive sales. Low cost airlines in the US generally tweet special offers to their followers before making them available. The cost for the tweet is minimal and its effectiveness can be easily measured.

Asian firms can be notoriously opaque and secretive. Twitter forces firms to become more open and transparent, encouraging trust.

In Asia we tend to follow the US and Europe in many things, especially in marketing. This report gives Asian firms the data needed to support their marketing strategy going forward.

Proton must fast track core branding activities

Proton Edar CEO Hisham Othman stated recently that the company “Would pay greater attention to product quality and customer service”.

That’s a suitably vague statement that can be open to multiple interpretations and I’ll be commenting on it in greater detail soon. In the meantime, here is a useful graphic from Teletech that should help Proton accelerate the project.

Proton must accelerate its customer service programme
Proton must accelerate its customer service programme

How effective is your country brand strategy?

Bloom Consulting has just published the 2012 Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking which classifies countries based on the effectiveness of their country brand strategies and the impact this has on GDP.

the 2012 Country Brand ranking
the 2012 Country Brand ranking

In an email to me the Ranking was explained as having a different methodology to other indexes such as the Futurebrand or Simon Anholt rankings as it “conveys dozens of variables in order to position the countries by facts and mathematical algorithms instead of pure opinions, like other country branding rankings do”.

The ranking “takes into account both hard and soft data and includes ground breaking processes to show the relationship between the country’s economic performance and the projections of the country’s brand strategy.”

It doesn’t explain what those processes are, how it gets access to those projections or how it measures them but I do like the fact that someone is trying to develop branding metrics for destination branding initiatives.

“The methodology measures the coherency between the external messages of a country and its actual economic performance under a certain period of time.

The higher a country is on the list, the better they are compared to their competitors, in positioning themselves to attract either Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or tourists”.

Bloom doesn’t believe that it is possible to develop a single promise for a country and this I agree with (and have been saying for years – please read this article on nation branding). We’re working with destinations in Asia trying to attract tourists from the region, talent from the country and heavy industries from North Asia and North America. Trying to create an umbrella promise for such diverse target markets will be an exercise in futility!

The email went on to say, “this year Bloom incorporated Online Search Demand (OSD) into the ranking. This looks at the gap between what countries are promoting (supply) and what investors and tourists are searching for (demand).

Bloom Consulting uses the OSD along with an analysis of each country’s brand strategy to assign each nation a Country Brand Strategy (CBS) Rating©. This identifies the accuracy match between supply and demand and allows Bloom Consulting to assess the best country brands”.

You can read the report and get more information on the methodology, from this page. Or you can look at an interactive version here.

What’s interesting from an Asian perspective is that Asian countries are big winners in 2012, especially in tourism. Although the USA was top for the second year running, eight Asian countries were in the top 25.

China was the top Asian country at 4th, Thailand 6th, Macao came in 8th, Hong Kong 13th, Malaysia 14th and Singapore 22nd.

Japan was down in 28th place, no doubt the Tsunami played a part although the Arab Spring didn’t seem to have too much of a negative impact on Eqypt which, all things considered did well to come in at 31st.

Direct marketing and your brand

More and more companies are moving toward a direct to consumer sales model. There are a number of reasons for this and it can be a tricky process to implement without upsetting the existing distribution ecosystem but let’s not go there for now.

But this move will see an increase in Direct Marketing. Direct Marketing should be included in any Malaysian business’s brand strategy, whether business to business or business to consumer. And it is a tactic that has plenty of room for growth as it is currently under appreciated and under utilized.

Because the quality of Direct Marketing in Malaysia and the mining and management of data must improve before consumers will pay attention.

What is direct marketing?
In a nutshell, direct marketing is the way in which a supplier of goods or services contacts an end user, normally a consumer or business. Direct marketing includes any mail sent via traditional post or email, brochures, magazine inserts, leaflets and catalogs.

With the direct to consumer sales model, it is also common to include telemarketing and face to face sales as elements of direct marketing

The existing model
If you want to at best create a bad first impression of your brand and at worst ensure an instant negative impact on the reputation of your brand, prepare a badly written product or services document on your desktop, use fonts that are hard to read or have a thick bold type face and whatever you do, don’t spell check the document.

Next, print 10,000 copies and shove them in letterboxes at office and/or apartment complexes in the Klang Valley. Don’t bother to record how many are delivered to each destination and ignore whether or not your product or service has any relevance to the occupants.

Then go back to your office and wait for the phone to ring (assuming you included your number on the document – and believe me, some don’t).

With this approach, the best you can hope for is that the leaflet will be used as a place mat for lunch or simply allowed to fall on the floor by the letterboxes. Hardly an inspiring ‘moment of truth’ first time experience for your brand and potential customers.

If there isn’t a response to the exercise, does this mean the ‘Direct Marketing campaign’ is unsuccessful? Absolutely not, what it means is that a very good tool has been used wrongly.

Another way to damage your brand is to send the wrong material to the wrong people. Credit card companies are renowned for sending credit card application forms to children.

Why am I receiving this sort of mail? – Note to self, do not use this company for training.

Little wonder consumers lose faith in financial institutions when they make such glaring mistakes. Think of the money wasted on buying the list of names, designing and writing content for brochures, envelopes, postage, administration and so on.

Email is still one of the most effective forms of communication with open rates of 22%, click through rates of 8% and conversion rates of 1.5%. But it must be done properly. The common approach is to buy a list of names (normally the cheapest) and carpet bomb that list with every offering you have.

Conference and training providers do this. They don’t bother who the recipient is and what he does, they simply fire off an email offering agile this, scrum that to their mailing list each time they have a new event or training seminar. Research suggests most executives have a spam filter that directs this mail straight to the trash.

The UK has some of the toughest privacy laws in the world yet Direct Marketing is still one of the most effective forms of brand development.

In 2011, UK firms spent RM14.5 billion on direct marketing which was responsible for 23% of all sales and generated RM196 billion of business. Direct marketing is effective in the UK because it is used properly.

How to do it properly
The key for all direct marketing is get the customer information right in the first place and keep it updated accurately thereafter. Well targeted communications can improve response rates by 300%.

If you don’t have the resources to compile data, outsource. There are many firms offering data collection, cleansing and data suppression services and it is money well spent.

Next, take some time to think about what you are doing and why. Are you looking to make a sale or build a customer base? Free tip, it should be the latter. Once you know what you are doing and why, think about the channel.

Determine which is the right channel. Should you use email, magazine or newspaper inserts or other. If you have a lot to say or want to show off images, an email is probably not the right channel to use unless you have a very niche product and a very well researched database. Many firms simply programme their servers to reject any email with an attachment.

Measurement is critical in any campaign but especially so in Direct Marketing. Understand what the exercise is going to cost so that you know what your break even point is. Also measure response rates from specific segments and determine why prospects don’t buy.

Personalise each communication
If you want to stand out from the competition and have a chance of connecting, every communication should be personalised to ensure a chance of engagement. Personalisation is dificult and time consuming because it requires attention to detail but worth the investment because it instantly makes the recipient feel recognised and important.

Content is king
Content is critical, especially if you are selling a luxury product. Yes I am aware that Malaysia is a price driven and discount defined market but I disagree that that is all it is. It has got to that stage because consumers have been let down by advertisers so often and for so long that they now focus on price and price alone.

But as many luxury retailers, developers and service providers will tell you, provide a high quality service and product and consumers suddenly seem less focused on price and more focused on the experience and the prestige.

So make your content interesting. The example below is from a property developer trying to get wealthy buyers to part with millions of dollars. I doubt they will be successful with this copy.

Make content interesting, it’s not rocket science!

There is an edict within Direct Marketing industry that says, “Right offer, right person, right time.” It isn’t complicated, it just means that to be successful, start up, SMEs and GLCs need to up their game.

Put an end to poorly thought out, badly designed, written and untargeted material and use quality direct marketing to build quality brands.

It’s getting easier to advertise luxury brands

Newsweek’s announcement that it will transition to an all digital format in 2013 is hardly a surprise. Such global magazines are increasingly expensive to produce and in a niche world, less relevant.

Newsweek – almost 80 years in print

But the bigger impact will come in the way advertisers communicate with consumers.

According to research carried out by comScore, more tablet users are reading magazines and newspapers on their tablets.

comScore talked to 6,000 tablet users over a 3 month period (I’m not sure of the geographic locations of the participants) and overall, 11.5% of tablet owners read a newspaper on their tablets ‘almost every day’ or ‘at least once a week.’

Tablets are not cheap and this is reflected in the income levels of the participants as half of tablet owners who read a newspaper on their device have household incomes of US$75,000 or more.

Readers of tablets and newspapers online are also more likely to be younger, with adults aged 25-34 accounting for 27% of newspaper readers and 28% of magazine readers on tablets.

Other research from GfK MRI found impressive engagement rates for digital advertising across tablets. They surveyed 30,000 ads across 1,000 magazine issues earlier this year and found 55% noted or read a digital ad on a tablet or e-reader.

And of those, 52% interacted with the ad as a result.

So does Newsweek’s decision and the changing way in which we source our news and current affairs information mean that this mean the end of the newspaper and magazine?

Absolutely not, especially in developing countries where many of the population are still not online or prefer to source their information from traditional sources.

But it does mean that many brands, especially luxury brands aimed at more affluent users, don’t need to waste resources on pointless ads on page 3 of daily newspapers.

New data means Gucci can target ads more effectively

After all, if affluent readers are sourcing their news from tablets, why advertise a luxury product in a traditional newspaper or magazine, especially when the engagement rates are so high?


I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Naumi hotel in Singapore and as I’m travelling down south, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try the place. Sadly when I attempted to book online, the hotel was full.

The next day I was reading an online newspaper and noticed an ad for the Naumi. I thought that maybe they’ve freed up some rooms and I can get to stay there after all.

Unfortunately, the hotel was still fully booked. In fact, after further research, the hotel is fully booked and in just about every room category, with one or two exceptions, for the next 12 months at least. I didn’t look past 12 months so it could even be longer.

Massive digital campaign despite being fully booked for a year

Since I saw the ad almost a week ago, I have continued to see Naumi ads across a wide variety of online sites, both local and international.

So why is the Naumi advertising? Isn’t this a total waste of an advertising budget? Is this an example of why CEOs are losing patience with CMOs? I can only assume it’s not a one off ad but in fact part of a campaign. If I am right, how much is this campaign costing and if the hotel is full for 12 months, what is the point?

Despite being fully booked, the hotel continues to advertise

When creating a digital campaign, reach and frequency are irrelevant. If those words were used in the pitch to you then you need to sack the agency. Because all they tell you is how many people saw your ad and how often they saw it.

You are probably wondering if they are perhaps using it as a lead generation exercise. Well I thought the same thing and that as I left the site they would try to grab some data from me.

It’s a logical thought because banner ads are not that effective. The general consensus of opinion is that the number of visitors who actually click on a banner ad is only 0.2%, which equates to one in 500 visitors that actually click on the ad.

And just because they click on the ad, doesn’t mean they automatically become customers. The seller, in this case the Naumi hotel still has to convert those visitors into prospects.

There are various ways of doing this, depending on your business. For the Naumi hotel, this is obviously to get the visitor to book a room. However if the hotel doesn’t have any rooms and simply tells the visitor this, the whole exercise has been a complete waste of time and money.

Of course the visitor may return, but then again they may not after all, how many visitors that have been disappointed, return to the scene of their disappointment? Or they may go on to build a relationship with another hotel.

Surely it would have made sense for the hotel to offer an apology (I don’t know about you, but when a firm apologises for being successful, I am hooked) and ask me for an email address so they can start to build a relationship with me?

And to use the campaign more effectively, I would create an offer whereby any visitors that register, will be offered a free upgrade when they book at a later date.

But no, they spent that money creating a campaign to get me to their website and then when I get there its like the place has closed down.

I bet the marketing department is reporting an increasing rate of visitors to the website but so what.

Digital advertising is not just about the campaign – the creativity, the reach, the frequency, the impressions, the clicks etc.

It is about the data, the source of the lead, the influencers and ultimately conversions that generate ROI.

If you don’t do it properly, don’t do it at all.

Despite falling sales, Volvo still trying to use advertising to build its brand

Sadly, too many firms believe, or are led to believe that the way to build a brand is through advertising or, more specifically a series of advertising campaigns that are ever more creative, cutting edge, out of the box, off the wall or any other cool catch phrase your agency cares to throw at you.

If the budget is large enough, and it seems too many companies have too much money to play with and no accountability as to how it is spent, then the best thing the agency can do is buy lots of expensive TV air time, ‘wraparounds’ for publications, preferably daily newspapers because lots of people read them so the eyeballs will be high, above the fold pop ups on websites and lots of other expensive high profile spots.

Of course no advertising campaign would be complete without a couple of high profile billboards in high traffic areas to create awareness of the product with as many people as possible, irrespective of who they are and whether they are interested in or can afford the product.

Volvo is the latest automotive brand to launch yet another new car with a creative campaign across at least print and digital media. This latest campaign expects us to believe that a Volvo is hiding a beast inside.

Are we really going to believe there is a beast inside a Volvo?
This is no longer safe, now it is wicked. Or maybe it is safe and wicked!

The above the fold digital campaign is being used to launch the new V60, T4 and T5 range and features intrusive hover or pop out ads on The Malaysian Insider and possibly other news sites. Interestingly, once the Volvo ad on The Malaysian Insider closes, there is an expandable ad for BMW beneath it!

Back in early 2010, Volvo ran a new creative campaign for the new Volvo V50 with the tagline, “There’s more to life with Volvo.” Later that same month Volvo ran another campaign featuring a man and a woman wearing parkas sitting in a pile of snow and staring at a snow covered landscape (don’t forget we’re in Malaysia which sits pretty much on the equator!) with the headline, “Volvo owners get more out of life.”

Even more confusingly, at the time there was a Volvo billboard outside my office with the tagline, “Winner of fuel efficiency award.”

In 2011, Volvo launched a new version of the S60. This time they encouraged us to “get naughty with it.” The ad claimed there are ‘naughty cars everywhere’ and that ‘naughty cars go everywhere’. The box ad features the price of the car and two links to either get naughty with the car or test drive it.

You can read more about this campaign in my post of last year which is here.

The fact of the matter is that these campaigns are not working. In 1999 Volvo sold 642 cars in Malaysia. In 2009 Volvo sold 550 cars. In the same year, Peugeot sold 1,258, VW 885, Mazda 1,444, BMW 3,564 and just to put things into perspective, Toyota sold 81,784 in the same period.

In 2010 Volvo sales increased to 839 but this was below the target of 1,100 set by the CEO. And in the same period, VW sold almost 4 times as many cars (2,810) as the year before. Mazda increased sales from 1,444 in 2009 to an impressive 4,325 in 2010. Even Peugeot increased sales from 1,258 in 2009 to 2,562 in 2010. Mazda and Peugeot do very little advertising in Malaysia.

So these creative new campaigns are obviously not working. So what should Volvo do?

1) Develop a plan to identify and target the right consumers
2) Create content that will resonate with your consumers. Better still, get consumers to generate the content.
3) Separare the acquisition strategy from the retention strategy
4) Integrate all activities across all platforms don’t just launch ad hoc tactical campaigns and hope they work. They aren’t.
5) Invest more in sales and post sales communications
6) Volvos are safe, they can’t be safe and wicked. We like the fact they are safe but we appreciate you want to attract new segments but please, keep it real or you will lose existing segments and not attract new ones.

Implementation of any creative campaign should take into account the fact that consumers are no longer impressed with well executed, high quality, brand driven commercials. Because they don’t believe what they read anymore. In Malaysia 86% of participants in a survey said they no longer believe what they read in advertisements.

A brand can no longer rely simply on ads to sell products. An integrated brand strategy is crucial to successful branding. With a recession coming, Volvo needs to get it right and get it right soon.

By the way, whilst Volvo is trying to tell us the Volvo is actually a beast and that a Volvo is wicked, Volkswagen is pushing it’s park assist in Europe. Have a look at this enjoyable <a href="

Volkswagen – Tiguan – Park Assist II (ENG) from AlmapBBDO Internet on Vimeo.

” target=”_blank”>video made for iPad.