As Europe struggles to come to terms with Brexit, Asean celebrates 50 years

Citynationplace is one of the most respected nation branding forums on the Iot and is also the organiser of the must attend place branding conference held in the UK in November every year.

This month they’ve asked a number of brand consultants in Asia about Asean@50 about the state of nation branding in the region and the potential of Asean countries to work together to drive tourism and investment to the region. You can read the full article here

As I was one of the consultants interviewed, I thought I’d have a look at what Asean is doing to drive visitors to the region as part of the Asean@50 celebrations. The primary goal of the campaign is to encourage visitors to look at visiting more than one ASEAN destination.

The introduction to my comments on nation branding in Asia
The introduction to my comments on nation branding in Asia

As part of the celebrations for its 50th anniversary, ASEAN has created a theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”. There is also a collaborative tourism campaign: “Visit ASEAN@50: Golden Celebration”.

I’m yet to see this campaign in Malaysia or Singapore but a new website has been created however it doesn’t seem to feature too much information. On the events page, there were no events for Malaysia in March and none till October.

For visitors to use the site, there needs to be plenty of the right information
For visitors to use the site, there needs to be plenty of the right information

There’s also another tagline for South East Asia “Feel the warmth”. This is featured on the Asean Tourism website. I couldn’t find a Facebook page however the hashtag #visitasean50 has appeared on Facebook but there doesn’t appear to be any structure to any of the communications.

There are a couple of videos on YouTube, one of which has been shared about 40,000 times on Facebook but again there doesn’t seem to be any strategy behind any of the postings.

A Twitter page was created in July 2014 but it appears inactive.

I don’t have the full details on the project and we are only at the end of the first quarter of 2017 so the strategy maybe to start later in the year although many in the northern hemisphere will be planning their holidays now so the digital representation needs to be improved and improved quickly.


Want to future proof your brand? You won’t do it with an advertising campaign

Advertising campaigns are as common as muck. We’re oblivious to most of them and even when we see one we like, we very rarely buy the product. And it doesn’t matter whether it goes out across social or traditional media, the reality is most advertising is simply noise.

Even if we do buy the product, we’re often let down at some stage of the experience. Because most firms don’t spend enough time and money on looking after us once we’ve bought something, even if the product works well, any positive perceptions created early on are destroyed later when there is an issue and the brand doesn’t respond well. When this happens, many of us become brand activists, for all the wrong reasons.

In the social economy, this can have a devasting effect on the brand. Harvard Business Review went as far as to say, “Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations and corporate communications — is dead.…in today’s increasingly social media-infused environment, traditional marketing and sales not only doesn’t work so well, it doesn’t make sense.”

So I wrote a book on the subject and you can buy that book from Amazon here.

The book has been selling well and there is a lot of interest in Asia. Recently the prestigious interviewed me and you can read the full interview here.

I think the interview works well and anyone who runs a business and is looking to build a brand should read it and if you like it, buy the book. Seriously I think you will learn a lot.

Thanks to Bobby McGill at Branding in Asia for doing the interview.

STOP ADVERTISING, START BRANDING is in all good bookshops NOW!

Attached is a press release for Stop Advertising, Start Branding. This is a book about change. Yep, another one. The difference is, this one is about changing back to what you and everyone else used to do. It’s about laying the foundations before building the house. It’s about researching the destination before getting on the plane.

Stop Advertising, Start Branding on sale now
Stop Advertising, Start Branding on sale now

That’s right, it’s about getting the fundamentals in place before coming up with the creative, the quirky, the clever, the funny, the whatever. Far too many brands try to compete in their markets today without doing the right research. Without even communicating to their staff what they are trying to say. At other times they don’t even know if they can deliver on the promises made. That’s mad and why so much advertising doesn’t work.

Stop Advertising, Start Branding is a book that doesn’t have a title with an animal name in it. It won’t win a creative award for the cover even though it looks great. It’s normal, it’s a bit thicker than many branding or marketing books today but that’s because the information you need to build a brand takes up this much space. Sorry.

But if you read it I’m confident it will make you stop advertising and start branding. Which means it’ll save you a lot of money because let’s face it, most advertising doesn’t make much of an impression on anyone.

And you can use the money you save to build a brand your people buy into and want to work for. And once they do that they’ll be able to deliver on the promises you make. And when they do that, your customers will come back to you time and time again and they’ll tell others how great you and your product are. And when that happens you’ll make a lot of money.

OK, it’s not that easy but that’s why the book is 300 pages and that’s why I wrote it. If you want to find out how to build a brand without wasting massive amounts of money on advertising, I suggest you get a copy from your local Kinokuniya, MPH or Times bookstore in Malaysia and Singapore or from Amazon in the UK. And if they don’t have it, make sure you complain and order it or call us at +603 7054 2075 and we’ll sort something out right away.

Click here to read the full press release for STOP ADVERTISING, START BRANDING by Marcus Osborne

It’ll take more than creepy campaigns to increase visitor arrivals to Thailand

I came across what I think is a new blog called Cross Channel Talk recently that has an interesting post on “Selling Nationalism”. The post discusses the concept of promoting the national identity to drive up visitor numbers. It’s an interesting read that suggests the proliferation of global franchises such as McDonalds and Coca Cola has homogenized diverse cultures.

Whilst I personally believe that’s a stretch, the post does explore the way tourism campaigns have become a fairly predictable mashup of generalized images, ideas and stories.

The post looks at ads from Australia circa 1984 to the present day with a focus on Australia and Thailand. It takes a long hard look at how these countries have tried to be innovative in the way they market themselves.

The post rips into Tourism Authority Thailand’s recent attempt to drive visitors to the country, calling it ‘7 minutes of awkwardness’ with a ‘cringe factor of +15’.

This isn’t the first attempt by Tourism Authority Thailand (TAT) to create a buzz around the country by using what TAT themselves call ‘unbranded advertisements’. You can read more about their previous attempt ‘I hate Thailand’ here.

When discussing the Australian campaign, the Cross Channel Talk blog quotes opposition tourism spokesperson Martin Ferguson as saying;

“We’ve been told it was a huge success and generated all these hits on a website but the latest tourism figures show the numbers are down.”

If the metric for success is hits on a video then the ‘I hate Thailand’ campaign might be considered a success as it has generated almost 3 million views in about 8 months. Released in November 2014, it may have been too late to have an impact on the 2014 arrivals that were 11% down on the previous year. However, TAT is cautiously optimistic about 2015 arrivals although the early signs are that any growth will come from the region and not the more lucrative long haul European markets.

And besides, any increase in arrivals will not just be a result of a new campaign, espcially a creepy one!

Where are all the global Asian Brands?

I came across an article posted on the Insead business school blog that asked the question, “Where are all the Global Asian Brands?” The author, Brand strategist Martin Roll argued that ‘emerging market companies have grabbed market share by doing things faster and cheaper.’ He also said that those Asian companies now need to build brands to stay competitive. I can’t argue with that either.

In the article he says that most Asian firms believe that branding is about logos and advertising and that Asian firms must create value for customers if they are going to survive and thrive in the new world order. Again, I can’t argue with this and he goes on to state that there is a lack of strong brands in Asia.

He says this is for four main reasons

1) A transactional approach to business rather than one based on relationships
2) The prevalence of small businesses in SE Asia that prefer short term wins over long term returns
3) Weak legislation and enforcement to protect Intellectual property
4) The traditional, family based, hierarchical structure of businesses in Asia that doesn’t appreciate the importance of intangible assets.

I agree that boards, or certainly CEOs should guide brands and I agree that many Asian brands are poorly managed, especially on the soft skills side.

Isn't Sony a global Asian Brand?
Isn’t Sony a global Asian Brand?

I believe however that this is mainly because demand has outstripped supply and as a result branding has not been a priority. Yes there are structural issues in many Asian firms and they will be found out however, many Asian firms are quite nimble and I am confident they are beginning to change, especially as more Western brands look to Asia as their own markets stagnate.

Now I don’t want to be accused of being pedantic and I don’t know what is Martin’s definition of an Asian brand but there are nevertheless plenty of global Asian brands from the aviation, automotive, transportation, Oil and Gas, entertainment, travel, banking, property, technology and other sectors.

Chang sponsors Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs
Chang sponsors Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs

Think of all the countries that are brands and their national airlines. The numerous LCCs, Proton, Haier, Sony, Petronas, Star cruises, YTL, Alibaba, Temasak, DBS, Maybank, SingTel, Tiger beer, Brands, Sampoerna, Lenovo, Jardines, Zalora, Chang Beer, Red Bull.

What is more important in my mind is that these companies became global brands in an economy that no longer exists. Where the political, social, cultural and communications ecosystem was very different to what it is today.

The danger Asian firms face is not one of inertia or fear it is one of using the wrong tools and techniques to try and build their brands. To challenge the established Asian brands and compete with cash rich Western firms and their massive marketing budgets, Asia’s challenger brands such as ZTE, TCL, CIMB, Hisense, Xiaomi, Ogawa, Jobstreet, Oppo, U Hotels and many more will need to be more focussed on delivering economic, experiential and emotional value.

Xiaomi. Delivering value at every touchpoint but spending very little on traditional media
Xiaomi. Delivering value at every touchpoint but spending very little on traditional media

If they try and compete, dollar for dollar with those established Asian firms and aggressive Western brands they will fail. Asian firms must be nimble, agile and ready to adopt new technologies and encourage their customers to be part of the brand’s DNA. Only then will we continue to see more global Asian brands.

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.

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.

Another example of how consumers are building destination brands

This interactive ‘heat map’ shows which tourist attraction at every destination around the world is photographed the most.

There are as many as 1,000 photographs in some countries with New York’s Guggenheim Museum the most photographed landmark in the world.

The most phtographed landmark in the world
The most phtographed landmark in the world

In Singapore the Merlion is the most photographed landmark whilst in Kuala Lumpur it is, rather unsurprisingly the Twin Towers. In Bangkok it’s the Wat Sraket Rajavaravihara and in Kuching it is the Sarawak river.

The Merlion, popular with tourists in Singapore
The Merlion, popular with tourists in Singapore

What does this site mean to the business of destination branding? Well primarily it will drive traffic away from tourism board sites and their carefully choreographed images to consumer sites and there peer to peer content.

Those destinations that continue to focus their funds on corporate driven strategies or groups of tactics instead of encouraging engagement across social sites and consumer generated content will lose business which in turn will lead to reduced revenue for the many businesses that benefit from tourism.

Virgin America safety video raises the bar for airline Brand content

In my previous post I gave 10 reasons why you should use video to build your brand. You can read that post here

But there needs to be a creative element to those videos. Looking at the airline business, far too many carriers believe the bulk of their marketing dollars should be spent on well produced but hugely irritating glossy videos featuring pretty stewardesses, cute kids and seats that look further apart than they are on any plane I’ve ever flown.

A case in point is Thai Airways. In 2010, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the carrier released a well produced video that gnaws at the heartstrings but does little new to differentiate it from competitors.

The video has generated a respectable 150,000 views since its launch in 2010 but only 400 likes which would suggest it has made very little impact.

There are some though that are doing their best to move away from this predictable and instantly forgetable approach. Most recently, Virgin America and Air New Zealand have approached the safety video from a new direction.

Instead of the oft ignored stewardess standing self consciously in the aisle and demonstrating how to use a seat belt, where are the exits, how to put on a life jacket and what to do when the oxygen mask drops, these airlines have gone to great expense with a refreshing approach to the tried and tested.

Earlier this week, on the 29th October 2013, Virgin America launched an airline safety video that it claims is the first safety video set entirely to music. They are probably right and the result is impressive.

Obviously I’m not the only one to think so as the video has already been viewed by more than 700,000 people in just two days. What I like about the Virgin video is that they are keeping the story live by inviting dancers to audition for future versions.

Potential participants must send an Instagram video to a specially set up safety dance battle website. Some of those Instagram videos, that can only be up to 15 seconds long will then no doubt take on a life of their own, thereby continuing the Virgin America narrative. So far, the video has over 13,500 Likes on YouTube.

Earlier this year Air New Zealand teamed up with Eton educated ex SAS officer Bear Grylls to create a unique and captivating safety video. The pretty stewardess and cute kids are still there but I’m sure you’ll agree the rest of the cast is unusual!

To date, the Air New Zealand video has garnered more than 277,000 views on Youtube. Not bad for an inflight safety video!

I did a quick search of Youtube to see what Asian airlines are doing on Youtube. Cathay Pacific has created a lot of content some of which has generated a lot of views. Last year they did a ‘Day in the Life’ feature with flight attendants, pilots and ground crew.

This video of a day in the life of Grace, a flight attendant has a respectable 200,000 views but not too many likes.

Malaysia Airlines YouTube page suggests the carrier is creating a lot of video content but judging by the numbers of views it isn’t compelling enough for consumers to engage with, Like and share. However, when they do get creative, or rather innovative interest in the brand goes through the roof, as shown by this flashmob video that has generated over 1,100,000 views in just under 2 years.

Unfortunately this project appears to be tactical rather than part of a strategic initiative because it doesn’t seem to go anywhere or be integrated with any other activities.

According to Cisco, 90% of all Internet traffic will be video by 2017. These Asian carriers need to start producing content that is interesting and relevant. And that content needs to be part of a planned, strategic story that resonates with target markets in order for those markets to engage with and share across the ecosystem. Otherwise it becomes just another piece of expensive content that is out there, rarely viewed and therefore ineffective.

Advertising agencies in Asia call their work crap

Spikes Asia is an annual get together for the creative communications industry to share ideas, network and possibly drink too much. It is considered by many to be a melting pot of creative talent from the east and the west and anyone who is anyone in the industry should be there.

There are lots of seminars, workshops and exhibitions. Work exhibited at the event is judged by leading creative minds and awards are handed out to the winners. A Spikes award is much coveted by anyone in the creative industry. The 2013 event was held in Singapore in September.

You are probably wondering why I am commenting on such an event, especially as I have written before that I think there are too many of these events and as a result creative people focus less on delivering value to clients and more on winning awards. Few people agreed with me. I remember some years back we interviewed a creative guy who had won nearly 200 awards and he was only 22!

I’m commenting again because I came across an interesting article on the mumbrella site about comments made at during Spikes Asia. Sonal Dabral, Chairman and CEO of DDB Mudra Group India said, “There is a restlessness among creatives to achieve fame fast without really understanding the consumer or the client’s product.”

Advertising in Asia is crap
Advertising in Asia is crap

He went on to say, ““Greed and shortcuts” are partly to blame for why there is “so much crap” advertising in Asia.”

Calvin Soh, the former creative head of Publicis Asia Pacific and now founder of Ninety Nine Percent said, “If you have a truly great product, you don’t need to advertise.”

You can read the full article here. Leading minds in the creative industries saying that a lot of what they do is crap, that many in the industry don’t understand their clients and that many companies don’t need to advertise does make me wonder why companies continue to let advertising agencies take responsibility for the success or failure of their brands.