Mobile. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told how important mobile will be in Asia.
At conference after conference, the mobile vendors are there explaining why mobile is so important. Why internet penetration is being driven by mobile phone usage in markets like India, China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Why mobile offers the chance to target emerging consumers in geographically vast countries. Why these consumers are more receptive to mobile marketing than most others. And it all makes sense. But for a variety of reasons (lack of co-ordination, lack of metrics, all the usual stuff) nobody seems to be making big money out of it.
But there seems to be something stirring in India. There was a really interesting article in today’s FT about the Bollywood mogul Amitabh Bachchan and his new vlog. Every day ‘Big B’ will record an audio blog. Nothing unusual there, perhaps. But the way consumers will be able to access this blog is by dialling into it. So that’s a marketing channel and a means of monetising your audience all in one.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen India going its own way in the mobile sphere. At last year’s Spikes Asia, I moderated a session on mobile at which Nokia’s Sandy Agarwal talked extensively about Nokia Life Tools, a mobile phone service launched in 2008 for rural customers in India and now being rolled out elsewhere. The features are pre-loaded onto an entry-level handset and work via text message (no point making it internet-based as its target consumers are out in the middle of nowhere). It gives users information such as weather updates and market prices. He made the point that there were huge opportunities for brands to get involved in these services (though I guess he would say that).
Why is there so much innovation around mobile in India? It is huge, obviously, and internet penetration has been much slower to gain ground than in China, meaning that the gap between mobile penetration (413m) and web penetration (33m) is vast (figures for early 2009 from the ADMA Yearbook). That means mobile is almost a standalone medium, rather than an adjunct to digital, and so is more likely to develop its own marketing ecosystem. At the same time, it’s now a market with enough scale to make money out of using some sort of micropayments model. That makes it a good testbed for these types of service. Then there’s good old-fashioned Indian entrepeneurialism – as the FT story makes clear:
The Tata Strategic Management Group, a consultancy, estimates that the number of what it classifies as middle-income households – those earning between Rs110,000 and Rs240,000 per year – in India will rise from 75m today to over 103m by 2015. This would make middle-income consumers the biggest group in Indian society for the first time in the country’s history.
Products, such as Mr Bachchan’s vlog, are aimed directly at this group. In a country where internet penetration remains low but mobile phone use is burgeoning – India now has 550m mobile phone users – the vlog unites India’s fascination with celebrity and its growing communications revolution.
Going back to the FT story, it’s interesting that it’s a celebrity taking this step rather than a brand. But marketers in India should certainly be watching out for the results of ‘Big B’s’ vlogging venture. Mobile in India may not have the bells and whistles of the iPhone-crazed markets in the West, but for anyone interested in connecting with emerging consumers it is probably far more relevant.
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Interesting interview with Cheil’s Bruce Haines in today’s Media, talking about the plans for UK agency BMB, which the company purchased in 2008.
Haines says the Korean company has decided against launching BMB in Singapore, opting instead for Mumbai as a first port of call for the agency in Asia, with Shanghai and Sydney possible follow-ups:
“We need to invest prudently and to grow new acquisitions in markets where we’d have the best chance. So we changed our minds on Singapore but we could re-visit this.”
“We were also mindful of the way agencies had tried to enter the market here. That’s where our attention moved to Mumbai as our first stop for Asia. We are considering Shanghai and certainly Sydney as a next stop. Those markets themselves are so substantial that I think it will give us a better chance. We are in heavy discussions at the moment.”
Mumbai’s an interesting choice. There’ll certainly be plenty of business flying around, but it will end up a very India-focused office. If you look at micro-networks like BBH and Iris, they’ve set up shop in Singapore first and done a good job at expanding their model. Simply because Singapore is so small, these agencies quickly adopt a multinational outlook.
But Cheil is already in Singapore, and Thailand too now. And this begs the question, is BMB there to ‘fill in the gaps’ in the Cheil network, or is it a separate agency within a holding company model that has to live or die without the crutch of the Samsung account (Cheil is owned by Samsung)? Haines points to the latter in the piece, and I’m pretty sure I know which one the guys at BMB would prefer – their website makes no mention of their link to Cheil at all. Are they ashamed?
The decision to expand BMB (and possibly do the same to Barbarian Group) marks Cheil out from Japan’s Dentsu. Both have traditionally been huge players at home but have not set the world alight overseas – Dentsu has ended up with a patchwork of joint ventures, stakes and even the odd wholly owned overseas agency, but the decisions are still made in Tokyo and none of this has been properly knitted together in a network.
Cheil seems to have decided that to expand overseas, it needs not only to buy overseas firms, but to rely on its acquisitions to do the expansion for it (a recognition that Western companies find it easier to do this, perhaps?)
It’s worth seeing whether BMB’s expansion ends up fitting round Cheil, or whether the company’s bid to recast itself as a holding group will run as far as allowing the two businesses to compete in the same markets. This will tell us a lot about the type of company Cheil really wants to be.
Kung hei fat choy, as they say in Hong Kong. That’s happy new year, as Sunday marked the start of the year of the tiger.
People in the West don’t really get what a big deal Chinese New Year is – a cross between Christmas and New Year with a dose of astrology thrown in for good measure. It’s really interesting in China especially, as it sees hundreds of millions of city-dwelling workers trek back home (sometimes thousands of miles) to celebrate. It’s the planet’s biggest voluntary migration. An estimated 2.54 billion journeys will be made this CNY.
So it’s no surprise that brands have been looking into how best to approach the festival. With so much goodwill going round, it should be a perfect time to do a bit of brand-building. And the good news for brands has been that TV plays a big role in the festivities – the annual CCTV gala, a variety show of often questionable acts on state TV, is the biggest television – and, therefore, advertising – event of the year. CCTV claims 50% of households watch it.
But the last few years have seen brands become more adventurous. And rightly so – this year the internet appears to have played a bigger role in CNY entertainment. There was a great piece on Media’s website on marketing during CNY. It pointed out how important work on transport media is during CNY (think of all those journeys). It also pointed out the importance of returning urban workers as brand ambassadors. And it pointed out that the further south you go, the fewer people watch the CCTV gala.
The work to keep an eye on is Coca-Cola’s. Last year it took a bold approach to CNY marketing by trying to create a whole new ritual around it. The brand introduced the ‘First Coke of the Year’ – the idea that you should pick somebody special with whom to share your first bottle of Coke of the lunar new year. The campaign involved TV – and in particular an ad starring former champion hurdler and Chinese celebrity Liu Xiang. Importantly, it also had a strong online element, with e-cards that could be sent to friends. The take-up was very impressive and seemed to lay the foundations for an ongoing initiative as Coke sought to take a degree of ownership of CNY – much like it has with Christmas in the West.
This year it has shifted even more of its focus online, with a campaign offering consumers the chance to customise a festive bottle label. The campaign involves uploads of new year greetings and celebrity involvement from Taiwanese pop band Fahrenheit.
To be honest I was expecting a more obvious follow-up to First Coke of the Year – video upload contests are pretty standard in China these days. But either way, it’s worth checking on the results of this campaign over the next few weeks, as Coke seems to be the brand thinking most intently about CNY.