The spat between AirAsia and Malaysia Airports is damaging both brands and the Malaysia Nation brand


Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, the charismatic founder of Air Asia acknowledged this week that despite threats to do so, he has no right to change the name of Malaysia’s low cost terminal from klia2 to LCCT2.

Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. Charismatic but controversial and ill informed
Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. Charismatic but controversial and ill informed

This U turn is a relief to many because his spat with Malaysian airport operator Malaysia Airports over the naming of the second terminal at the country’s main gateway was becoming increasingly petulant and was yet another controversy Malaysia’s damaged brand could do without.

Nevertheless, the outspoken entrepreneur hasn’t given up on the project and is scheduled to meet the Malaysian Minister of Transport today, June 29th.

Tan Sri Tony was quoted recently as saying, “I’m doing a marketing campaign and the minister knows that. There is nothing wrong with it.”

He added, rather confusingly “It’s freedom of speech. I’m allowed to do any advertising I want. Why are we always bullied? We are trying to do business here, to create jobs, to attract tourists.”

“Penalties, fines, that’s old fashion (sic). Aren’t we (AirAsia and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad) doing the same business together? Isn’t this good for Malaysia?”

“If anyone can tell me this is bad for the country, then I’ll stop,” Fernandes said, adding: “Let us work together to build something in this economic season.”

Well Tan Sri, what you are doing IS bad for the country and it’s bad for you and your airline as well. In addition to having a negative impact on the nation brand, these very public spats between an airline and an airport operator do not inspire confidence in either organisation.

Malaysia's transport minister
Malaysia’s transport minister

Furthermore, and I apologise in advance for being so candid but your rants are confusing, misinformed and contradictory. Promoting the nation’s second airport terminal as LCCT2 isn’t marketing, it’s illogical.

And confusing naming with a marketing campaign whilst suggesting you are a victim might gain you some sympathetic traction somewhere but it only detracts the reader from your stated aims.

Southwest Airlines, the largest and most successful low cost carrier and one I’m sure you are familiar with hasn’t tried to rename any of the terminals it has successful flown out of since 1971.

Newer low cost carriers such as AirArabia in the Middle East and IndiGo in India as well as the more established Jetstar in Australia and Gol in South America don’t fly in and out of terminals called LCCT, they fly in and out of terminals named terminal 1 or 2 or main terminal.

Other low cost carriers such as Air Arabia haven't tried to change airport names to LCCT2
Other low cost carriers such as Air Arabia haven’t tried to change airport names to LCCT2

It’s also a bit naïve to suggest that changing the name of terminal 2 to LCCT2 would ‘reinforce Kuala Lumpur’s position as the leading low cost gateway to Asia and beyond’.

Firstly, the concept of positioning is outdated and irrelevant in today’s social media world where consumers are more knowledgeable and no longer need to rely on the word of the corporation. But even if it was relevant, who are you positioning it to?

AirAsia is responsible for something like 90% of the passengers at Malaysia’s second terminal. If you haven’t already sold your passengers an onward flight, do you think the name of the terminal is going to make any difference? No matter how much you spend on positioning the terminal, it won’t make a difference.

Secondly, where is LCCT1? Just because you know it doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean a young Beijing based Chinese travel writer travelling to SE Asia for the first time doesn’t know. But if he’s confused, he’ll write about it and I guarantee that’ll have more impact than any positioning campaign.

Thirdly, is it really possible to ‘reinforce Kuala Lumpur’s position as the leading low cost gateway to Asia and beyond?’ Irrespective of the fact that nobody else is trying to position Kuala Lumpur as anything or the fact that positioning doesn’t make sense, who is going to drive this? Have you got buy in from other stakeholders? And who is going to fund it? And how?

And what about the future? Which other airlines are going to use the LCC terminal? Already Malindo has moved to the main terminal. Do airlines really want to be associated with a LCCT? Especially when the experience of using the second terminal is not one passengers are enamoured with.

There is definately a need for consistency in the naming of the terminals at KLIA. It is logical to name the terminals one and two. Preferably KLIAT1 and KLIAT2.

And the next one can be called KLIAT3 and so on, just like Changi, Heathrow, Los Angeles, Sydney and just about every other easy to use and successful airport in the world that has chosen logic and the user experience over everything else when naming their airports and terminals.

Once the naming has been addressed logically and in line with global best practices, we can move onto the marketing of Kuala Lumpur and the airport and the freedom of speech and all the other stuff TS Tony mentioned. But only then.

100 brilliant ads but are they relevant?


The print industry is changing rapidly. Publications are increasingly niche or evolving around new industries such as airbnb. The hospitality company with the largest inventory of beds but doesn’t own a single hotel launched Pineapple last year. It doesn’t aim to market the brand but instead inspire people to travel and of course hopefully use the company.

not selling airbnb but travel
not selling airbnb but travel

Another new ‘investment and Lifestyle journal’ from Singapore called Cache was created not by a publishing house as a way to generate revenue but by a conglomerate with multiple interests in the luxury and related sectors.

Cache Singapore aims to grow the parent company's database of contacts.
Cache Singapore aims to grow the parent company’s database of contacts.

Although advertising revenue will help to fund the project, the main aim is to generate contacts for much more lucrative deals. These and other new publications have a different take on the publishing industry.

They are not so much worried about readership, rate cards and revenue, but more interested in reinforcing their brand values, enhancing their reputation, generating organic leads, building strategic relationships and adapting the online media platform model of being content sharers not creators.

So when I came across this interesting post called “100 brilliant print adverts” on the influential creativebloq site, I was intrigued because I thought it would be fascinating to see if the ads had a place in the new world order of publishing. Sadly, for me anyway they didn’t. Well certainly not the first 13 or so ads because after the VW ad I got bored.

Sure there was some creative genius in there as well as some comedy gold but there was also a lot of nonsense that just made me think I’d seen it all before. Traditionally, a good print ad must do six things

1) Be memorable and easy to recall

2) Connect with its audience

3) deliver useful information quickly

4) Make absorbtion of information simple

5) Don’t confuse the viewer or force them to have to do any hard work

6) Have an simple call to action

Is this a good ad?
Is this a good ad?

And historically a good print ad should include these elements

1) A strong headline

2) A unique or provocative image

3) No more than 3 paragraphs of well written copy

4) A logo and/or contact information

Is this a brilliant ad?
Is this a brilliant ad?

Advertising companies are ignoring these rules in an attempt to get our attention. But it is very hard to be creative after 150 years of advertising. And even if the creativity, the sexuality, the humour or the horror of an ad gets our attention, it doesn’t mean we’re going to interact with the brand.

Furthermore, consumers don’t engage with new brands the way they used to and besides, we are now carpet bombed by so many messages every minute of every day that most of us simply block out the noise.

Add the proliferation and fragmentation of media, the sheer number of ads, the ridiculous claims made in ads and the changing nature of how we absorb information and news means we don’t really need ads anymore.

Moreover, the concept of the ad that has to be conceptualised, created, approved, produced and distributed means it can take 6 – 12 months before a campaign sees the light of day and in that time, an idea can become obsolete.

However, according to the graph from statista below, worldwide spend on print advertising has dropped from a high in 2000 of US$152.2 billion to US$119.6 billion in 2014. The same report suggests spend on print advertising will grow to US$123 billion in 2016. ad spend Admittedly that growth is maginally positive but I can’t help but think that turning up the noise isn’t going to change the fact that we’re not really paying attention to advertising anymore. I can’t help but think that in the new publishing world, we’re not interested in ads, we’re interested in what others like us have to say.

And in this environment, firms would be better off saving the money they spend on advertising and use the money saved to generate content about their business, build relationships with their customers and encourage those customers to share that content. The debate rages about whether print advertising is dying or already dead.

Personally I don’t think it’s dead but it is wounded and unless it reinvents itself, it may soon be irrelevant.

I hate Thailand


Tourism accounts for about 10% of the Thai economy, employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates as much as US$65 billion in foreign currency.

But the ongoing political crisis that saw the military junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) take power and the brutal murder of two British tourists in Phuket has seen arrival figures plummet.

According to Reuters tourist arrivals dropped 10.3% in the first 9 months of this year and 2014 will see negative arrival growth for the first time in years. The authorities have moved fast to stem the hemorrhaging with a crackdown on widespread crime, corruption and inflated costs encountered buy all but the most savvy visitors to the country.

In Phuket many of the illegal buildings, sunbed conmen, intimidating food and drink vendors, dubious boat operators and unscrupulous taxi operators have been yanked off the beach and a certain calm has returned.

Initial attempts to get tourists to come back included ramping up mass advertising and a travel insurance scheme that provided visitors who couldn’t get insurance because the country was under martial law, with insurance.

Unsurprisingly these didn’t have much of an impact. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) changed tack and came up with what it calls “A romantic comedy short film.” TAT initially released the video as consumer generated media but soon found itself having to explain the film was actually an advertisement for Thailand even though TAT wanted to create an ‘unbranded’ advertisement because ‘they receive more interest than conventional commercials.’

The spot is a counter intuitive attempt to show a more hospitable Thailand by featuring a young British tourist who has had his bag stolen and does the British thing of ranting at everyone as a result and finally declaring “I hate this place. I hate Thailand.”

Then he meets a beautiful Thai girl and a bunch of other people who rally round and help him. Sure enough, after some beautiful sunsets, scenes with kids and wonderful encounters his bag is returned with his passport and money still inside.

Counter intuitive differentiation is a brave model to use to sell a destination. But it’s also a model from a different era. An era when brands controlled the message and pushed it out across billboards, full page ads with tear offs in the corner and press releases. An era when consumers took those ads at face value and believed what brands told them. An era without the Internet.

The video is a fun piece that has received 1,500,000 views in 10 days with 21,000 Likes on YouTube. But here’s the rub. TAT should have been upfront about the video. As it is, they have given the impression it is consumer generated and that is wrong.

The video has also received more than 1,625 comments and the majority of them are not very complimentary. In fact some of them are downright hostile, talking about robberies, threats of violence, policemen that don’t speak English whilst others say the video is a scam and wrong.

One Thai commented, “Its too good to be true. No one would come by and give you a drink like that and Thai people wouldn’t give you sleepover at their house, especially in the tourist area.”

Another focused more on the deception, “How you will discover the truth by watching a fake video where the first words are already a lie. His name is not James. His name is Oliver Smith and he got paid by TAT to make this video. Look around yourself and consider how many real friends are left if you are out of money. This is not a Thai related issue it is everywhere around the world the same story. No money no honey. Same same but different. I love Thailand but I definately hate liars. And using lies to portrait (sic) a countries (sic) image is a mistake and an insult to all the honest Thai citizens. If they just made a short statement at the end of this clip that this is a TAT promotional video I would give my congratulations for that nice pink tinted heart moving clip.”

TAT is going to have to work harder than creating a video and passing it off as genuine consumer generated media to restore faith in the country.

It’ll need to work out a strategy and communicate that strategy effectively with multiple proof points. And if it wants to use social media and create influencers it needs to do it properly. There are no shortcuts in branding.

Building a country brand requires more than just a well executed advertising campaign


If you are responsible for a country or destination brand, read on.

As cheap air travel and the package tour (as well as the devaluation of the Spanish Peseta and the abolition of currency controls in the UK) helped jump start international travel in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the world was still a fairly predictable place and countries were, on the whole inhabited mainly by citizens of that country and not by the multicultural citizens living in most cities today.

Moreover, due to the social and economic structure of Western countries, consumers were only just beginning to have disposable income that allowed them to experience the concept of leisure time.

At the same time, mass media was becoming increasingly influential as consumers purchased more and more TVs and radios.

So, with more disposable income, more leisure time and the establishment of commercial television, it was now possible to reach large swathes of a population reasonably quickly and relatively inexpensively.

In this environment countries put their faith in creativity to build brands, hoping that an exotic image, tagline or promotion would resonate with prospects and increase visitor arrivals.

And generally, because of the cultural and social predictability of countries, the same message could be used to communicate with everyone.

Moreover, with few conduits to increasingly wealthy consumers who had more disposable income than ever before and with limited competition in the market place, this type of creative driven branding often raised the profile of countries enough to attract visitors.

Countries and destinations such as Spain, the UK, Kenya, Florida, Greece, The Algarve, Singapore and Italy as well as many other destinations used this approach. And in this mass market economy, mass media – TV, Print, Outdoor, with its huge reach, was the logical vehicle to enhance the impact of creative-driven branding with reach and repetition.

bemuda

italy

Early tourism ads worked because markets were similar, new, eager and easy to reach
Early tourism ads worked because markets were similar, new, eager and easy to reach

But that mass-market economy no longer exists. Today’s consumers are increasingly overwhelmed with those creative images, taglines and promotions. And many of the messages have become so similar that it is virtually impossible to differentiate one from another. And of course, consumers have also become fed up with countries failing to deliver on promises made.

Same images, sames messages = irrelevant

Despite this new world order, countries, agencies and consultants continue to try and build country brands by using ‘cool’ advertising, creative or symbolic logo’s with pretty colours, catchy taglines and so on.

But these activities are nothing more than advertising campaigns and do very little to build a nation brand. And even the one’s that have made us sit up, take notice and seek more information are more often than not soon forgotten or overtaken by a new campaign from a competitor destination or the recommendation of a friend.

But most worrying of all, these advertising campaigns lull countries into a false sense of security. ‘Visitor arrivals are up so everything is good in the world’. The problem is that an advertising campaign might draw the attention of visitors to a destination but it doesn’t build a destination brand.

An advertising campaign may be important but it is part of what should be a well researched and planned brand strategy that takes into account all brand related activities.

These include internal buy in and a thorough understanding of external stakeholder requirements for value and other elements such as content development, social media, PR and most important of all for a country, crisis management. Traditional communications pushed out across traditional and digital media, may still have a role to play, but they are not a total solution.

Sadly, too many countries and destinations have short cut the process to try and get their ads out quickly. This has resulted in the demise of the brand strategy. Yet failure to invest in such a brand strategy can be detrimental to the long term success of the brand.

A case in point. The Maldives has invested more than US$10 million in the last three years on advertising itself as a luxury destination. But in 2012, political turmoil saw arrivals from the lucrative European markets fall, with the UK registering a 12.2% drop. If it weren’t for a sharp rise in low yield arrivals from China, the Maldives would probably have registered a major drop in arrivals.

To the detriment of the country, participants or perhaps victims of the political turmoil in the Maldives called for a boycott of the tourism business and attempts by the new government to develop the tourism business are constantly thwarted by opponents.

One example was when the Twitter hashtag #sunnysideoflife (the official tagline) was hijacked and brochures entitled ‘The cloudy side of life’ threw scorn on tourism players and drew the readers attention to human rights abuses and police brutality against Maldivians.

This year has seen further negative press after a 15 year old girl raped by her stepfather and sexually abused by other men was sentenced to 100 lashes for having pre marital sex.

So far the Maldives government hasn’t responded, leading one to suspect they don’t have a brand strategy with a crisis plan to deal with such a situation. What is certainly true is that this complicated issue will not be solved with an advertising campaign.

In 2012 Jakarta initiated an advertising campaign across Asia in an attempt to attract visitors to the capital and largest city in Indonesia. The campaign was poorly planned, conceived and executed. You can read more about the Jakarta campaign here.

Based on the advertising campaign and the website, it is fairly safe to assume these two elements were not part of a brand strategy.

Does this ad make you want to get more information on Jakarta?
Does this ad make you want to get more information on Jakarta?
Lack of integration and poor content suggests little or no planning
Lack of integration and poor content suggests little or no planning

India is famous for its ‘Incredible India’ campaign launched in 2002. By 2009, India was spending US$200 million advertising the country. This iconic advertising campaign is still going strong and in November 2012 at the World Travel Market in London and to great fanfare, India announced a new advertising campaign headlined, “Find what you seek”.

Early 'incredible India' ads - excellent execution
Early ‘incredible India’ ads – excellent execution

Officially launched by the new Indian minister of tourism at a hotel in London in front of 400 guests, the new Incredible India campaign highlighted to consumers ‘that they will find whatever they are looking for from a holiday in India.’

The Minister of Tourism India launches the new Incredible India campaign, a week later 10 years of advertising were lost due to a lack of planning for disasters

It was also announced at the launch event that the goal of the campaign is to increase international arrivals by 12% annual till 2016.

Little more than a month later, in December 2012 in Delhi a woman was brutally gang raped and left for dead on a public bus. The story made headlines around the world.

And then in March 2013, a Swiss woman was gang raped whilst on a cycling tour of Madhya Pradesh and soon after, a British woman was attacked in Delhi and only avoided further suffering after jumping from a hotel window to escape.

Within a matter of weeks, tour operators were reporting a 35% cancellation rate from women and a 25% drop in all arrivals with multiple cancellations from the lucrative markets of Australia, the UK, Canada and the United States.

Much of the outrage toward these events is related to the treatment of woman in India and numerous stories that would not normally feature on international news are now making headlines globally including the stoning, arrests and murder of Indian women. None of these events will be addressed by advertising.

If you are responsible for developing a Nation, country or destination brand, don’t allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security over a ‘successful’ advertising and promotions campaign telling the world how great is your country or destination.

To build a strong brand amid increasing international competition and unforeseen circumstances that are carried across social media and possibly across mass media as well, destinations must have in place a well defined brand strategy that covers all potential scenarios and doesn’t just focus on communications.

A brand strategy has other benefits. Here are five more reasons for developing a brand strategy:

1) A brand strategy clearly defines the organisation values and promises and ensures stakeholders understand what is required of them to deliver on those promises and values. For a nation brand this internal branding is critical to the success of the brand.
2) Staying with the internal brand, lots of tourism boards and CVBs attend trade shows but if I had a pound for every time I’ve been to ITB or WTM and seen poorly trained personnel representing countries or states, I’d be a very wealthy man. Trade shows cost a lot of money. A brand strategy will ensure training occurs at the best possible time.
3) A brand strategy ensures the brand is ready for every eventuality, with a crisis plan to address issues such as those that have happened in India, the Maldives and most recently, Boston.
4) A brand strategy ensures all stakeholders are pulling in the same direction. If one state is targeting visitors at the same time as another state, resources are being wasted. A brand strategy will ensure integration and engagement, not individual tactics.
5) A brand strategy ensures time isn’t wasted on stand alone tactical initiatives implemented at the whim of a government servant or other person who should know better.

Far too many countries or destinations give the responsibility of building their brand to creative advertising agencies. These agencies are called advertising agencies for a reason. They do advertising.

More thoughts on why positioning is wrong for your brand


The issue or issues I have with positioning are well documented in this blog.

But I still get a lot of resistance when I try to explain to companies that they are wasting their money relying on advertising agencies to manage their brands by developing a positioning strategy.

This is because another issue that is increasingly relevant is the fact that it takes time to develop a position, strategise it and then communicate it, normally across traditional media channels.

Please, not more messages!
Please, not more messages!

In a (reluctant) nod to the Internet and Social Media, agencies are beginning to use online channels (whilst online advertising is growing, I don’t think it is growing fast enough and one reason is because agencies can’t control it or rather it is too transparent) but they are using these channels in the same way as they use traditional media, ie trying to broadcast a position to as many people as possible.

Developing a position was alright in a ‘mono’ world such as the early to end 20th Century USA or in Europe where many of marketing’s traditional tools and tactics were developed.

Indeed, before commercial flights, mass migration of peoples, national TV and newspapers as well as a more localised population and limited competition, such a model had legs and made sense.

It was also easier to find those USPs – remember when quality was a USP? – imagine trying to build a brand on a product that wasn’t high quality. OK, Microsoft did it but there are always exceptions to every rule!

As Glen Myatt said in his response to one of my blog postings (read his reply in full here) Quote, “With the myriad touchpoints available to brands now, a better way of thinking about what a brand should represent is what its story is rather than what its positioning is.

This is beyond benefits and personality to its values, what it believes in, its purpose in ‘the world’, its ambition.

The result is usually a unique combination of associations rather than a single unique association. (For instance, some may argue Apple is positioned on simple & intuitive technology while others fall back on its creative values of ‘thinking differently’. Both of these are valid as are the myriad other associations that make up the Apple story).

A brand story is typically not single-minded though it often has a central theme. In this respect positioning as a single ownable thought that can be packaged in a 30 second television spot is probably redundant.

As the idea of a unique, ownable story it is alive and well. And companies need to have and steer those stories even as their customers may also be shaping them. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know what you stand for you’ll fall for anything”. End quote.

With 2 exceptions, I agree with What Glen says.

The first exception I have is that I don’t think Apple is positioned. I think it produces great products, tells a great story, creates a great experience and then lets consumers define the brand. In other words, it offers economic, experiential and emotional value to consumers and on their terms (it makes mistakes but generally addresses those mistakes in a transparent, emotional, fair and collaborative manner). It is very human in its approach. Unfamiliar corporate territory but in the social economy, branding dynamite.

Which leads onto my second exception. I don’t believe you can create a unique ownable story and then develop it into a position. And knowing what you stand for doesn’t equate to a position. Those are corporate values. Perhaps there is an overlap…

Going back to my original point, not many companies have the time, or for that matter the resources to go through what is traditionally required to build a brand.

The days of broadcasting a corporate driven message are over
The days of broadcasting a corporate driven message are over

I believe that instead they should focus on delivering economic, experiential and emotional value to customers and on their terms. And do this in a transparent, human, personal, collaborative manner. Everything else will fall into place.

Consumers have changed, has your marketing strategy?


Doe this sound familiar?

You need to spend time creating a position that is driven by the corporation.

Once created, the position must be communicate across traditional media (with a nod toward social media, but a nod only) to as many people as possible and hope that some of it sticks.

If it doesn’t, create a new position and repeat ad nauseum. Hopefully you will get it right. If you don’t, well you can always discount. This model was developed by Jack Trout in the 1970s. I wrote a blog post about it here

Sadly, despite US$1.5 trillion spent annually on marketing, 70% of today’s manufactured goods will be obsolete in six years (Industry Week magazine). There are estimated to be more than 30,000 new product introductions in the US alone every year, and that’s just in the packaged goods market. According to AC Nielsen, up to 90% of products fail to become brands. This means that as many as 27,000 of those new products will fail.

Today’s consumer has changed the way he lives his life and moreover, markets are so fluid, spending time developing a position and watching your competitors is the fastest route to business oblivion.

The key to success is the sales force and their ability to build your business through collaborations and by matching products/services to individual customer requirements for value and then maintaining those relationships and your brand communities team who develop brand evangelists and influence influencers.

And with social media and modern technology, that is not difficult. A lot less difficult than creating a position and pinning all your hopes on, well hope.

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.

Don’t let a bad copywriter ruin your brand


David M. Ogilvy erstwhile spy, farmer, researcher, promoter and of course iconic ad man wrote in his popular book “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, that there are essentially three main points of view on what is considered to be a good advertisement.

Ogilvy, “What is a good advertisement? There are three schools of thought. The cynics hold that a good advertisement is an advertisement with a client’s OK on it.

Another school accepts Raymond Rubicam’s definition, “The best identification of a great advertisement is that its public is not only strongly sold by it, but that both the public and the advertising world remember it for a long time as an admirable piece of work.”

I have produced my share of advertisements which have been remembered by the advertising world as “admirable pieces of work”, but I belong to the third school, which holds that a good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It should rivet the reader’s attention on the product. Instead of saying, “What a clever advertisement,” the reader says, “I never knew that before. I must try this product.”

Bearing these comments in mind, I would like to draw your attention to an advertisement that appeared recently in the Malaysia Daily Star newspaper.

In any market, good copywriting is needed to sell cars

Firstly have a look at the tagline, “This Season’s Style Icon.” What does that say to you? Does it say, “Buy this car and have trouble free motoring for years to come” or does it say, “quick get one now before the end of the season (traditionally a season in the fashion industry is 3 months) otherwise it will be out of date?”

One could argue that the good news is that there will be a newer model at the start of the next season.

I haven’t test driven the ASX but I’ve seen it on the road and it looks like a nice bit of kit and certainly doesn’t deserve to be portrayed as something fashionable to own for a season, especially when it costs almost US$50,000 in Malaysia.

In case you can’t read it, the sub heading reads, “The exceptionally stylish Mitsubishi ASX Euro.”

And the copy proclaims, “They say it’s the clothes that make the man (There’s the link to the fashion industry but I doubt it encourages many women to pay attention). In our case, that means the panoramic glass roof (Malaysia is a tropical country and the last thing anyone wants is a panoramic sun roof magnifying the sun’s glare) and 8-way power leather seat (Has anyone ever bought a car because of the number of options available on the power seat?) in our latest ASX Euro.

Not only do they (that’s the sun roof and leather seats) make this Euro-spec (does that mean it comes with a heater?) urban utility vehicle look classy (the sun roof that no one can see because it is on the, well roof and the seats make it look classy?), but also anyone who’s behind the wheel (So a sun roof and leather seats will make me look classy? Have you seen me?). If that’s not alluring enough, it’s only limited to 200 units. So hurry down to your nearest showroom today (Does anyone hurry to buy a car?).

I believe the art of copywriting is really under appreciated in Malaysia and you can see why. I think that this is one of the many reasons why 86% of Malaysian consumers no longer believe what they read in advertisements.

The poor quality of copywriting has led to shortcuts and the use of increasingly ridiculous claims that are at times laughable.

A copywriter should communicate a relevant or legitimate meaning quickly, connect with needs of the target segment, influence and hopefully persuade that segment to seek more information.

I don’t see how this ad does that. But it must have the client’s OK on it… What do you think?

What is the difference between an advertising agency and a brand consultancy?


As the consumer landscape changes and consumer habits and the purchase decision making process evolves, it is imperative that brand owners understand where, when and how to spend their valuable and increasingly limited resources.

Historically advertising agencies defined and controlled a brand’s message and through which channels it was broadcast. They would then blitz consumers with intrusive advertising and messages. The goal was to reach as large and as broad a target audience as possible on those platforms with the most extensive penetration.

But in the social economy, consumers have little faith in such corporate driven messages broadcast across mass media channels to which they are paying less and less attention.

Today consumers spend their time in a variety of social networks or in niche online communities with likeminded people. And it is to these people they look to when seeking information on products and services.

So does this mean the end of advertising agencies and advertising? Definitely not, there is still a need for good advertising agencies that create good work but the process has changed and the advertising agency can no longer be given responsibility for building brands.

In the past, branding and advertising used to be elements of marketing. Today, marketing and advertising are now part of branding and it is the brand consultant you should look to if you want to build a brand.

So here is an outline of the difference between an advertising agency and a brand consultancy. Hopefully this will give you enough knowledge to make an informed decision on who should build your brand.

1) Branding is strategic and advertising is tactical. The most strategic actions you will get from an advertising agency will be a brief. The brief will define the proposition that the advertising must communicate and to which segments. But then what? And what about internally? How will you get personnel on brand? Does the delivery driver or sales assistant know what their role is in the delivery of the promise/s made?

A brand consultant will develop a brand plan or brand blueprint that will drive the brand strategy, both internally and externally. This holistic approach will address all key elements of the brand from the copy used in recruitment advertising to customer facing departments and their ability to represent the brand to point of sale and retention strategies and more.

The brand consultant will then work with you to determine the best resources to use to get the whole organisation on brand.

It is not possible to define a brand through an advertising brief but it is possible to define a brand through a brand plan or blueprint.

2) Advertising agencies do advertising. That’s what they are good at. In fact some of them are very good at it. Advertising uses creativity and a slick message (normally defined by the organisation) to get your attention.

And this is done via campaigns pushed out across TV, radio, billboards, websites and so on. The idea is that enough people will see the campaign and the message will hopefully resonate with as many people as possible. And of course the agency gets a commission for placing these ads with the channels.

If it doesn’t work you either get the agency to come up with another creative idea and go through the whole process again, get rid of the agency, hire another one and hope they can come up with a creative campaign that does resonate or you can go out of business.

And as consumers have lost faith in traditional marketing and now distrust the messages contained in such campaigns or simply miss them because of the clutter, it is increasingly difficult to build a brand using such a model.

So unless you have very, very deep pockets and can advertise consistently for long periods of time, this approach is simply going to waste valuable resources.

A brand consultant will carry out an audit of your business, industry, processes, systems, stakeholders and more and then determine the best way forward for you.

Solutions may require advertising but will also look to improve R&D, sales, production, supply chains, operations, customer relationships and retention strategies.

3) If you are looking to go with an advertising agency, your strategy is likely to be in the hands of a creative director and his team. If the agency is going through a difficult period and doesn’t have many staff when they win your business, the agency will attempt to employ talent with experience in your industry.

Unfortunately, if the talent isn’t available, perhaps because they are working for competitor agencies, you will end up with sub standard people working on your brand and your chances of success are reduced further.

Because branding is a strategic institutional initiative, not a marketing initiative and therefore must have the buy in of executive management, a brand consultant will insist on having C level involvement in the development of the brand which places your brand strategy where it should be, in the hands of executive management.

4) Advertising agencies are often deemed successful if they have won lots of awards for creativity not whether a campaign increases sales or profitability.

There aren’t many awards for brand consultants which is a good thing because this allows them to focus on increasing profitability, often through developing and strengthening relationships with stakeholders and customers.

5) Most advertising focuses on a series of tactical initiatives to acquire customers. A brand consultant will develop a strategy to acquire and retain customers.

6) Traditional marketing activities are enormously wasteful as much of the advertising targets irrelevant demographics or customers that cannot afford or are not interested in the product. A recent report in the Harvard Business Review quoted a UK study that reported 72% of CEOs are tired of being asked for money from marketing departments without an explanation of how it will increase business.

Furthermore, in the same survey, 77% of CEOs have had enough of talk about ‘brand equity’ that can’t be linked to any real equity. A brand consultant will ensure budgets are spent on the right strategies for the right segments with metrics for measurement.

7) An advertising agency uses a one size fits all series of tactical advertising campaigns that use mass marketing across mass media with only a nod to digital and below the line activities.

A brand consultant will look to collect and leverage specific data to develop targetted communications across digital channels to engage prospects, whilst carrying on conversations with existing customers.

8) An advertising agency will often look at what the competition is doing and try to position an offering based on competitor actions. This approach is flawed because successful organisations are nimble and by the time you have developed your position the competition’s strategy will have evolved.

A brand consultant will be aware of competitor activities and will use that knowledge to strengthen the firm’s competitive advantage but will not allow competitors to define strategy going forward.

9) The impact of an advertising agency’s work is difficult to measure. A brand consultant will develop metrics to measure promotions, advertising and other activities.

Marketing is dead


In June 2009 I wrote a blog post explaining that in today’s social economy where consumers not companies define brands, the concept of positioning was no longer relevant.

You can read the full article here but the crux of the article is that the concept of positioning, a key element of marketing is no longer relevant.

In September 2009 I wrote another post about how the Malaysian Ministry of health spent over US$35 million on a traditional marketing campaign that failed to reduce smoking in the country. You can read the full article here

In January 2010 I wrote an article about how 95% of products fail to become brands despite US$1.5 trillion spent on marketing annually. You can read the full article here

There are lots more similar articles all saying the same thing – that in the new world order, where customers not companies define brands – the old rules of marketing are dead. Feel free to browse my blog to find them.

Now Bill Lee over at Harvard Business Review has got on the bandwagon. He claims in this article, and rightly so that marketing is dead and provides three very good reasons.

Traditional marketing is dead

a) consumers aren’t listening to traditional messages. He provides empirical evidence that proves that in the consumer decision making process, traditional marketing has no relevance.

b) CEOs have lost patience with marketing departments. A 2011 study reports that “73% of CEOs said that CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money (by CMOs) without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity. (I believe measuring brand equity is a futile exercise and you can read more about what you should measure here).

c) In a social world dominated by social media and the way we use it, traditional marketing doesn’t work and doesn’t make sense.

Bill goes on to provide some excellent advice on how to move forward with building a brand. If you have been spending too much on traditional marketing activities and can’t see the benefits, it may be time to review your strategy.

You know where to find us!