The Malaysia Airlines tie up with Liverpool may sell tickets, but it won’t rebuild the brand

The English Premier League is broadcast to 70% of the world’s 2.1 billion football fans in 212 countries and territories around the world. Asia and Oceania represents 35% of that global audience.

In China alone, up to 18 broadcasters show nearly every game every week to more than 350 million fans across the country.

As of last year, a number of Asian brands including Thailand’s Chang beer (Everton) and King Power (Leicester City), Japan’s Yokohama Tyres (Chelsea), Yanmar and Epsom (Manchester United), Hong Kong’s AIA (Tottenham Hotspur) and GWFX (Swansea City) could be seen on advertising at grounds and/or on shirts.

Betting firms such as and UK-K8 who are targeting Asia are represented on the jerseys of West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Watford and Crystal Palace.

In the championship, AirAsia sponsors Queens Park Rangers and Malaysia has a relationship with Cardiff city. Last year Malaysia Airlines signed a three year deal to be the official carrier of Liverpool after Garuda Indonesia relinquished the role.

Any reference to Malaysia Airlines on the Liverpool Facebook page?
Any reference to Malaysia Airlines on the Liverpool Facebook page?

Football has become popular with big global brands because of its impressive reach and because traditional channels such as TV are becoming fragmented as new services like Netflix, iflix and Amazon prime as well as Youtube, Facebook and others make it increasingly hard to gain the eyeballs all brands insist they need.

Football gives these brands the opportunity to reach a mass audience as well as be associated with what is obviously a very popular sport.

But in an economy driven not by what a company says it does but by what its customers experience, I question the relevance or validity of this approach.

I also think that if the logic is that by supporting a football team, a brand reaches out to all that team’s fans then surely fans of other teams will not support that brand?

And what if the team does badly? How does the association with a badly performing product reflect on the brand?

Take the case of Malaysia Airlines and Liverpool. Liverpool is one of the greatest, most iconic football clubs in the UK. The club was established in 1892, four years after the original premier league was set up.

The club’s trophy cabinet contains eighteen domestic League titles, seven FA Cups and eight League Cups, more than any other club.

They’ve also won five European Cups, three UEFA Cups and three UEFA Super Cups which means they’ve won more European trophies than any other English team in history except Manchester United (also 41).

That’s an impressive record but there’s a problem, they haven’t won an EPL title since 1992. Does that matter? Well it should do.

Does a brand such as Malaysia Airlines, which is going through a business turnaround plan to make it more competitive, efficient and effective, want to be associated with a team that hasn’t won anything significant for nearly 40 years?

And over the last few years, Liverpool has developed a reputation for poor winter form. The team won 2 out of ten matches at the start of 2016. In January 2017, Jurgen Klopp’s team lost 3 matches at Anfield in one week and as a result, was unceremoniously dumped out of two major competitions.

The team narrowly missed their worst run of losses at home since 1923 with a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at the end of January but the poor form continued into February with the recent 2-0 defeat away to lowly Hull City, 15 places below them. Only time will tell if last Saturday’s win against high flying Tottenham was the beginning of a new dawn or a flash in the pan.

If the latter, how does that reflect on Malaysia Airlines?

The Malaysia Airlines logo appears at the bottom of the home page, between the beer and the donuts
The Malaysia Airlines logo appears at the bottom of the home page, between the beer and the donuts

Liverpool are now 13 points off the leaders Chelsea and definitely under achieving.

Sure Malaysia Airlines is getting the eyballs, assuming viewers are watching the LED panels around the ground but is it the right environment for the brand? Is being associated with a team that is underachieving going to leave a positive impression?

You could argue that all Malaysia Airlines is doing is trying to raise awareness. But is raising awareness the right way forward? Is there anyone out there NOT aware of Malaysia Airlines?

Before Malaysia Airlines stepped in, Garuda International was the official carrier of Liverpool but after three years and a comprehensive study to determine if the airline was benefiting from the sponsorship, they pulled the plug. Surely if they felt they were getting value for money, they would have stayed on?

Garuda wasn’t the only sponsor to see little value in sponsoring teams in the EPL. In June 2016, Chinese smartphone maker Huawei ended its relationship as “official smartphone partner” to Arsenal after two years, citing “limited visibility.”

Malaysia Airlines hasn’t disclosed the amount it is paying to be the official carrier but Garuda forked out US$9 million (RM40 million) a year for the privilege.

So if Malaysia Airlines is paying the same (probably more but anyway), that’s US$27 million or RM125 million for brand exposure on LED and static boards at each home game, exposure on the Liverpool FC website which seems to consist of the logo at the bottom of the page, in publications and on the Facebook page although a quick look at the Liverpool page failed to find any reference to Malaysia Airlines.

The package is also supposed to include co-branding opportunities, merchandising rights and pitch side access with players and legends.

That’s a lot of money to pay to increase awareness of an airline that is probably known to everyone on the planet. But Malaysia Airlines CEO Peter Bellew thinks the deal, “has changed perception radically for us, in China, in Thailand, in the U.K.”

He didn’t explain what the perception of Malaysia Airlines was before the deal and how advertising on LED panels can change those perceptions.

The first game at which Malaysia Airlines appeared was a Liverpool v Manchester United match at the beginning of the 2016/17 season.

Liverpool managed to hang on for a draw, not an auspicious start. During the game, Malaysia Airlines advertised roundtrip fares between Kuala Lumpur and London at a ridiculously cheap £395 (RM2,299).

Branding is not about sales, it's about relationships
Branding is not about sales, it’s about relationships

Confusingly, Bellews credits the passenger load increase on the Kuala Lumpur to London route from 45% in May 2016 to 63% in December 2016 to the Liverpool deal and was quoted in one newspaper as saying, “Old-fashioned sales and marketing works.”

Slashing prices to the bone and spending RM125 million to raise awareness (and to change perceptions) and tell football fans you are selling tickets at £395 when other airlines are selling the same route at £500 isn’t really old fashioned sales and marketing, it’s just old fashioned and more importantly, unsustainable.

And to be frank, it’s hard not to fill a plane from Malaysia to the UK in December as thousands of expatriates head home for Christmas and thousands more Malaysians head to Europe for the long holiday.

Irrespective of the fact that Malaysia Airlines is sponsoring a weak product, there is also the question of whether football fans in Asia, watching matches as they do in coffee shops, bars and roadside stalls at 2, 3 or even 4am really take in the messages on the LED billboards.

And even if consumers do take in and accept the limited messages that can be communicated on a pitchside screen there is another flaw to this process. What if performance doesn’t match any perception created?

Of course in the ‘old fashioned’ world that didn’t matter because the focus was more on acquistion anyway and there was a belief that there were always going to be new customers.

At least that’s what TWA, Swissair and the other 300 airlines that have failed over the past 50 years thought.

Brands such as Malaysia Airlines generally succeed, or fail not based on their advertising, positioning or associations but on operational issues, service capabilities, retention and the experiences of others we relate to.

The problem for Malaysia Airlines is that today, all of the above are played out on Facebook, in the letters pages of newspapers and in the comments sections of popular bloggers.

Dissatisfied customers can change perceptions and damage brands on social media much faster than those brands can change perceptions through pitchside LED screens.

In the ‘old fashioned’ world, brands reached out to the masses. Awareness and sales took precedent over customer development.

I get the feeling that Malaysia Airlines is focussing too much on getting back into the black, no matter what the cost. Selling tickets at RM2,299 and old fashioned sales and marketing tactics may just do that.

But what happens when the carrier wants to increase prices? If Malaysia Airlines has been attracting price conscious customers, won’t they move on to the cheapest carrier?

And if this model is successful, then it will probably be the next advertiser on those LCD screens.


Great example of how to use video to build interest in a brand

The 1970s are considered to be the decade in which Hollywood rebranded itself after the collapse of the studio system of the 1960s. Independent filmmakers (at the time) such as Scorsese, Lucas and Spielberg all got their breaks in the 1970s creating such iconic movies as Jaws, Star Wars, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Raiders, ET and Chinatown.

It was also a period (no pun intended) when some of the scariest horror movies such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist (in my opinion the scariest film ever), The Shining and Carrie which was possibly the forerunner of the teen horror flick, were released.

But for every successful blockbuster, I think that something like 7 fail. And those failures can be really, really expensive. John Carter, released in 2012 is rumoured to have lost RM250 million (US$90 million), despite a RM330 (US$100 million) million marketing campaign.

So in an attempt to reduce failures and to squeeze more money out of a successful franchise, Hollywood likes to remake films. The latest of which is Carrie. I saw Carrie when I was 14. I wish I hadn’t. Carrie is an outsider, her mother is a religious nut and all of her classmates hate her. But Carrie has special powers. Telekinesis powers which means that she can mess with your mind, especially when you piss her off. Add in her first period, pigs blood, a prom, nasty girls etc. You can imagine the rest.

But the movie still has to be sold. And selling a movie is not easy. Especially as international audiences are often the difference between a success and failure – John Carter only took US$80 million in the States, over US$100 million came from Asia. So they decided to come up with a digital marketing campaign whereby they would lay the foundations with a video and then encourage consumers to do the rest.

So far the video has received almost 10 million views in 2 days. The cost? Maybe RM320,000 (US$100,000). Sure a viral campaign is nothing new but it shows that marketing departments need to open their eyes to the social economy and in some sectors, there actually may be one size fits all solutions.

How to make the Malaysia Nation Brand strategy successful

Let’s get something straight. A catchy tagline, symbolic logo, pretty colours that symbolize the ‘personality’ of the brand and a custom designed font are not Nation Branding.

Glossy advertisements that push the creative envelope and consist of content that is impossible for stakeholders to buy into or live up to, is not Nation Branding.

Expensive brochures and other marketing collateral that use light gray colours on white backgrounds and font sizes impossible to read is not Nation Branding.

Hugely expensive billboards that create awareness but do little else and are soon lost in the fog of the tens of thousands of messages consumers are exposed to every day is not Nation Branding.

It might have been possible to use such creative-driven branding to build a Nation Brand in the 1960s – 1990s, when countries and their advertising agencies focused more on getting attention than getting results.

But this is a different era. There are now so many channels to consumers, so many competitors all with a similar offering and so many distractions that it is no longer possible to build a Nation Brand in this way.

Furthermore, too many taglines have made promises the Nation couldn’t possibly keep or their marketing or PR collateral has left potential customers underwhelmed. This may not have been the fault of the Nation or it may be the result of poor internal implementation but it has resulted in a delivery failure that has negatively impacted all efforts till then. A case in point is the Incredible India campaign and the multiple attacks on women over the last year.

Moreover, engaging (not reaching) target markets through traditional channels with traditional tools is virtually impossible today. Especially in the digital age when consumers are more knowledgeable, have more choice and are more demanding.

So how do we make the Malaysia Nation Brand successful?
Reach, awareness etc are all irrelevant. Nation Brands today are defined based on the economic, experiential and emotional value they deliver to all stakeholders.

What will make or break the success of the Malaysia Nation Branding project is the work that has gone into determining what are the key elements of the Malaysia Nation Brand.

Identifying and understanding what we have, what is unique, who are the stakeholders, what are we are going to do to get their buy in, how we identify target segments, the knowledge we learn about them and their requirements for value and deliver value to target segments (all of whom are very different and have very different requirements for value and must therefore be engaged with content that resonates with them), how we build our relationships with them, how we work with them and provide solutions to their problems.

The ability to build lasting relationships with stakeholders, a highly trained team capable of matching country attributes to those stakeholder requirements and the ability to consistently deliver value are required.

External communications battles are not fought on the right hand pages of national newspapers, during commercial breaks on terrestrial TV or on the outside back cover of business publications. They are not even fought on the pages of digital media or on corporate websites.

The battles for the hearts and minds of prospects are fought in the comments sections of blogs, on third party sites through user experience comments, through account manager emails, forums, search engines and ongoing personalized relationships.

If the people responsible for this project can match your Nation Brand to the value customers are looking for, they may have a chance of building a successful Malaysia Nation Brand.

I am reliably informed the Malaysia Nation Brand project has a budget of RM30 million. But it’s not known what that covers. If it is simply for a communications campaign then it will not be money well spent and the project will fail.

However, if it is for a comprehensive brand audit and Nation Brand plan (which will have been developed once the brand audit was completed and will focus on internal and external stakeholders) that outlines how to deliver value as defined above and based on the “Endless Possibilities” tagline, then that will be terrific use of taxpayers money and the country will benefit for many, many years.

Brilliant ads don’t improve Toyota sales in Australia

It’s not easy creating an original ad these days. Especially when you are trying to sell a car or pick up truck. Some of the best ads tell a story. Some of the really, really good ads tell a story and then take that story even further whilst creating little vignettes within the original story.

The very best do all of that whilst creating humour that resonates with everyone and not just the target market. This commercial, released a couple of years back for Toyota in Australia is one of the latter and probably goes some way to explaining why the Toyota Hilux is the most popular vehicle in the country.

Unfortunately, despite such brilliant commercials, Toyota pick up sales are down 21% year-on-year.

Art meets advertising

This is a beautiful video of what maybe the last of the billboard painters.

Hand-painted billboards first appeared in the USA in the 1950s and are still seen in some parts of the USA especially in LA where they are often used to promote a new movie.

The Red Army in China used them to err motivate citizens and they are still a common sight in parts of South East Asia and India. However the quality leaves a lot to be desired and may not compare to these American billboards.

Thanks to these guys for the heads up on this video.

The only brand worth having is a profitable brand (even if it means losing customers)

Looking through the ‘archives’ of some of our early branding blog posts, I came across a reference to an article in Fortune Small Business.

The article talked about three companies that had for years pursued a traditional sales and market growth approach that saw them investing more in acquisition than retention whilst paying little attention to profitability.

One case study was of Skelton Tomkinson (now known as Skelton Sherborne), a heavy-machinery shipper based in Brisbane, Australia. At the time the company had one office in Brisbane and one office in the U.S. where Caterpillar was a major customer.

In 2000, because he was seeing little growth using a traditional sales and market growth approach, the owner deliberately raised fees on his least profitable customers, hoping they would leave. Some of them did and revenues dropped dramatically, from US$20 million per year to $8.2 million.

But profitability increased 98% and total revenues slowly returned to $20 million. Tomkinson’s motto: “I run my company with this saying: Volume is vanity, and profit is sanity.”

And it must be working because today, the company has 11 offices, up from 2 in 2000. The new offices are in South East and North Asia, with one in the Arabian Gulf.

Far too many companies believe that they must pursue sales or market growth and this generally means ‘spraying and praying’ – basically the act of spending as much money as possible trying to reach as many people as possible.

What they should in fact focus on is profitable growth, which most often results from identifying and retaining profitable customers and not trying to sell to evey Tom, Dick and Harry.

Another mistake companies make is wasting valuable resources finding out what their customers are doing and then wasting even more valuable resources fighting or trying to block or undercut those competitors.

This is an exercise in futility because in today’s dynamic, always on, constantly evolving world, the only focus should be on identifying the right prospects, creating the right customers (and getting rid, yes getting rid of unprofitable customers) and delivering value to profitable customers through engagement and personalisation.

The great branding graveyard in the sky is full of brands that played the volume game – think Rangers FC, Viyella, Blockbuster, Silverjet, Swissair, Habitat, Mobikom, MegaTV, Pelangi Air, PanAm – they all took a traditional approach to building their businesses yet they all ended in failure.

Seeing your name on billboards or in print ads everywhere and reaching lots of people may make you feel good but focussing on profitability will keep you sane.

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.

2012 must be the year you develop a social media brand strategy

Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has twice been named as one of the smartest and most creative investors in the world by Forbes magazine. He’s also been called the “Saudi Warren Buffet” because of his impressive track record with his investments.

He first came to the fore with a signficant investment in Citibank in 1991 and now has interests in a diverse portfolio that features stellar brands such as Apple Inc, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, George V Hotel in Paris, Songbird Estates (Canary Wharf), Time Warner, News Corp., Walt Disney, Euro Disney, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Kodak.

So when someone of his calibre announces, as he did just before Christmas 2011 that he was taking a US$300 million stake in Twitter, the world pays attention.

Ahmed Reda Halawani, Executive Director of the Prince’s Kingdom Holdings company said in a statement, “We believe that social media will fundamentally change the media industry landscape in the coming years. Twitter will capture and monetize this positive trend.”

“Fundamentally change the media industry landscape in the coming years.” I’m prepared to go one step further, I believe that social media is the media equivalent of the printing press, the radio and the Television – all arriving at once!

So if you are CEO of a Malaysian SME and you still haven’t invested resources into social media, I suggest you do so and do so quickly.

But before you do what many do which is to copy all the content on your website and paste it onto your Facebook page and think that is a social media strategy, I suggest you also invest some time in learning about how to use these channels.

Because social media is about relationships. And Malaysian SMEs have, on the whole over the last two decades or so, focussed not on relationships, but on selling their products at the cheapest price.

That’s fine when there is significant demand for a product and you can always produce it cheaper than someone else. But unfortunately today, someone somewhere is producing just about everything cheaper than Malaysian firms.

And this places Malaysian SMEs at a disadvantage, especially when multi national corporations are taking notice of Malaysia and beginning to invest significant marketing dollars in the country.

The good news is that social media, used correctly can actually save SMEs a lot of money because firms can create awareness, gain customers and, most critically retain them across social media platforms for a fraction of the cost of investing in traditional media such as TV, radio, Outdoor and others.

But it is important to develop a social media strategy before embarking on the exercise otherwise resources will be wasted, reputations may be affected and you could be worse off than before you started.

Here are 11 elements that must be included in any SME social media strategy

1) Determine your goals and your target market.
Obvious I know, but too many companies are trying to use the same tactics online as they did offline, ie trying to use the same ‘one-size-fits-all’ communications campaign to create awareness via a series of tactical campaigns. This will not work on social media.

2) Raise brand awareness by creating an online game or contest and hosting it on Facebook.
Tourism Malaysia has spent a significant amount of money on Facebook competitions that have generated many online column inches of comment. Despite limited investment in the content, the activities were executed well. However despite hundreds of thousands of new Facebook fans, tens of thousands of engaged users, significant traction in the social-media space, it is unclear what the actual campaign goals were.

3) Give free stuff away!

I don’t know how Tourism Malaysia will use the data it generated from the Facebook campaign, but to build a database that can be turned into brand evangalists in the future, it might be worth offering prizes for content shared with other users across platforms such as Youtube, Twitter and so on. This can be then be leveraged to gain more brand traction.

4) Use crowdsourcing to determine strategy
Back in 2009, Vitamin water wanted to launch a new brand. In an exercise that Gap management should have emulated, they binned the traditional qualitative and quantitative research via focus groups and intercept surveys. Instead the company turned to social networks and sought the opinion of consumers in a real world, real time environment to decide on the name of the new product. Over 1 million people participated in the project and they got close to celebrities employed to spike interest in the project.

5) Don’t delay your decision, you are already being talked about!
Conversations about your brand are already happening on social media. Embrace the conversation and get engaged but a word of warning, don’t try to use the platform as an opportunity to push your products onto consumers.

6) Don’t be afraid to revise your marketing message
Perhaps once, twice, three times and even more to make sure you engage the right consumers with the right content and don’t generate negative feedback from your audience. But if you do generate negative feedback, address it in an honest and transparent manner and see the conversation all the way to the end, no matter how distasteful.

7) Comments are good
One website we were asked to audit recently didn’t allow comments from other users yet increasingly, consumers are looking to comments rather than actual articles for the data that will influence and determine their decision making.

8) Remember your core message and don’t go too far away from it
Being genuine and transparent and sticking to your overall image is very important.

9) Tell the truth
Target Rounders is a subsidiary of the US retail giant. It is an online group that you sign up for & you get points for marketing a product. They come up with new products & then everyone on their list finds fun ways to promote it for “points.” The company launched a Facebook campaign that utilized a lie created to gain more fans and a larger community! Unfortunately consumers spotted the lie and the project died.

10) Creativity is effective in social media
Prior to launching the much anticipated Shark Week, the Discovery Channel sent a jar that appeared to include a death notice to new media types.

The jar included a note that read, “This jar holds a story – the story of a single tragic incident that needs to be unlocked. Dive in, investigate the evidence and discover what lies beneath the surface of”

The jar also included a large warning sign, shredded swimming trunks (no doubt belonging to someone who was eaten by a shark), and a detailed obituary dated for a future date at the time of the campaign.

Participants were intrigued and as a result spent a lot of time researching online before realising that the Discovery Channel was behind the whole thing. Nevertheless, the right people were soon talking about the show and building interest.

11) Write a social media policy
For most firms, their social media policy consists of restricting access to social media. But this isn’t the way forward. Used properly and by the right people, social media can be a very effective and inexpensive marketing tool for brands. But there are always going to be risks associated with a new tool so the best defense against abuse is to create a policy for usage.

Social media is making companies be more sharing, collaborative and transparent, not just externally but internally as well. Including employees in the policy development process will create internal advocates for the policy and improve morale.

The social media policy should be more about what employees can do and best practices for social media use versus all the things employees can’t or shouldn’t do on social media.

When shrewd investors such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal are taking stakes in social media you know it is here to stay.

To stay competitive, Malaysian SMEs are going to have to invest more in developing brands. Social media, used correctly will save them large sums of money communicating those brands to consumers and other customers.

First rule of auto advertising – keep it real!

We are carpet bombed with messages from the moment we wake up till the moment we go to sleep. Little wonder then that studies show we are increasingly oblivious to these messages.

As a result advertising agencies are increasingly hard pressed to cut through all the clutter and make us look, listen and absorb. To try and sell cars, those advertising agencies have for years used CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), think Honda and the ‘greatest ever car’ commercial, sex, think the Renault Megane ‘shake it’ campaign and humour, think Proton and ‘the Pontianak’ in their TV commercials.

Print advertising hasn’t escaped either. I don’t know exactly when automotive manufacturers started to make ridiculous claims in print advertising but I certainly remember when Toyota, in the late 1970s used “Oh what a feeling” to describe driving a Toyota!

I also remember Peugeot talking about the ‘lion leaping from strength to strength’ in the 1990s and the launch campaign for the first Proton MPV the Exora that claimed “You’ll be amazed” in 2009. I’m sorry but if I’m going to be amazed by the Exora then how will I feel about the Aston Martin V12 Zagato? Or, perhaps more relevant, how will I feel about the third version of the Exora due out in 2012?

Most recently I came across an online ad for the Volvo S60. The ad claims 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.

I decided to click on the get naughty link and was diverted to a landing page where I was encouraged to enter a website address. Naturally I entered my address and was confronted with this cringeworthy statement, “When we said naughty cars go everywhere…. we meant everywhere!”

You are then encouraged to ‘start your engines’ and the gimmick is that you can drive an S60 around your website very own website.

Once you get bored, and for most of you that will be after about 3 seconds, you can then request a test drive, invite a fried to have a go or close the tab, which I did. My memory of this exercise is the smoke coming out of the exhaust and the tyre tracks, not very environmentally considerate.

I don’t know about you but I think this campaign is flawed on numerous levels. To start with it really is a stretch to use the word naughty in the same sentence as Volvo. Secondly, what is naughty about the car? thirdly, what is naughty about maneuvering a car around a website? Finally, after all that effort, the campaign doesn’t collect any information on visitors!

You can see some good but hardly naughty volvo videos here

The top 1,000 brands in Asia – so what!

Following the completion of a research project carried out in conjunction with TNS, the Asia Pacific edition of the globally respected marketing magazine, Campaign Asia has named Sony as the top brand in Asia.

According to the study the top 4 positions all went to power house North Asian brands – Sony retained its position at number one followed by Samsung, Panasonic and LG with Canon at five. In fact the top 5 were unchanged from 2010.

At six is Apple, HP at seven, Google at eight and Nestle at nine with Nike at ten.

Facebook was the top social networking site at number 17 whilst Twitter leapt from 123 to sixtieth.

HTC, whose stock has tripled in the last year and is now Asia’s second largest maker of smart phones leapt from 532 to 100.

Interestingly no Chinese brands made the top 100 and only one Indian brand (Amul) managed to do so.

Amul, the largest food products business in India and the maker of ‘the big daddy’ of butters and the number one ice cream in India, was the best performing non-Japan or Korea brand, coming in at number 89.

At 123, Louis Vuitton was the highest luxury brand and surprisingly luxury brands fared poorly. Despite listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange recently, luxury brand Prada came in at a disappointing 348th, only two places above CIMB and down from 252.

Although Maggi (22nd) place and Tesco (96th) will be familiar to Malaysians, the top Malaysian brand is Marigold at 131, down from 129. Other Malaysian brands include Malaysia Airlines at 163, Maybank at 172 and F&N at 238. Old Town coffee also deserves a mention at 245, coming in almost 40 places above Maxis at 284. Celcom, Maxis main competitor was further down at 395.

Sticking with Malaysian brands, Boh tea was down at 417, Firefly, a budget airline was at 462, up from 518.

The highest new entry was Hankook tyres of Korea at 246. The highest new entry Malaysian brand was Life, a sauces/condiment maker at 718 followed by Kimball, another sauce/condiment maker at 825. Surprisingly Proton, the Malaysian national car was also a new entry at 916.

The survey was carried out in ten Asian markets: Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. Ages of the respondents were from 15 to 64 and approximately 300 respondents from each country were surveyed.

Participants were asked only two questions:

“When you think of the following (product or service) category, which is the best brand that comes to your mind? By best, we mean the one that you trust the most or the one that has the best reputation in the (product or service) category.”

“Apart from the best brand you entered, which brand do you consider to be the second best brand in the (product or service) category?”

14 major product and service categories were covered in the survey:
Alcohol and tobacco
Financial services
Consumer electronics
Computer hardware
Computer software
Travel and leisure
Personal care.

In addition to these major categories, a further 72 sub-categories were included!

The final rankings were determined based on the total number of mentions each brand received across all categories and countries.

Then the data was weighted on two levels: the first to reflect the population composition within the markets covered, and the second to reflect the competitiveness of the categories included in the study.

Now I don’t know about you guys but if there is one thing I have learnt over the years it is that markets such as Malaysia and Japan or Thailand and India have very little in common, especially when it comes to food, alcohol (60% of the Malaysian market is Muslim and therefore alcohol is forbidden) and other culture specific products.

Furthermore, I don’t know how they included all the categories and sub categories but I can only assume the answers were aided. Nevertheless, imagine a questionnaire that lists 14 potential answers and then a further 72 options to those answers! How accurate are the responses going to be?

I also think that the sample size and the demographic – only 300 participants per country and a massive demographic of 15 – 64 is simply too big to provide results that are actionable or relevant.

And we don’t know the gender of the participants yet gender will be crucial in many of the listed categories and in how we communicate with prospects, with what content and across what platforms.

And looking at the brands, someone in India is not going to name Proton as the best (another thought, define best?) automotive brand because the Malaysian national automotive brand has yet to go on sale in India.

Frankly, I don’t really understand what is the point of this survey and what it means? How is it relevant to a consumer or company in Malaysia when it lists brands not available in the country? How can a company leverage its position? What must a company do to move up the list, perhaps to the top? How relevant is the ranking?

If the survey must be done, it would be better if it were country specific and related to each category alone. Rather than asking two (aided) questions, it would make sense to develop questions based on the product needs in that country. Questions will also need to be developed based on the category.

And instead of looking at traditional approaches that rely on demographics, in the social economy, it would be better to work with social media communities. Results could then be correlated and geographic comparisons made although they still won’t offer actionable data to the brands.

What do you think?