A media journo writes…

Where next for media and marketing?

Digital marketing – the ad world’s ginger stepchild*

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I’m busy writing up this year’s Digital Media Top Asian Brands report. This is the third year Media has looked at consumer attitudes toward brands and their online activities. It’s based on some pretty meaty research from TNS covering Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and Thailand.

Obviously I’m not going to give anything away before the data is published, but there is one very interesting finding that deserves to be aired and discussed. The data shows quite clearly that people really don’t like most of the established forms of digital marketing.

I’ll publish the full chart post-publication, but the key finding is this: across these Asian markets, the seven least trusted forms of marketing (online and offline) are all digital. Ads in video games, mobile SMS, email ads, banner ads and, interestingly, search ads are among the marketing channels with very low trust scores.

At the other end of the table, the most trusted marketing channels also include a few digital options. Unsurprisingly, recommendations from friends and family is the out and out leader. But expert reviews on websites, manufacturers’ websites, consumer opinion on blogs and consumer reviews on

Maybe digital does belong to PR after all!

Watch this space (and the Media magazine and website) for more data on this. I’m doing a feature on it too.

*No offence intended to those of red or strawberry blond persuasions. It’s just a phrase!

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Written by davidtiltman

March 5, 2010 at 5:45 pm

The future of mobile? Look to India

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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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March 1, 2010 at 6:32 pm

This is the news, as seen everywhere else

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Here’s a fascinating post from the Nieman Journalism Lab (h/t to Youku’s @kaiserkuo for digging it out). It’s a write-up of a study into the way news is reported then reprocessed in the modern, connected media. The study took one story (the tracing of the China hacking attack on Google to a couple of schools) and analysed the way the information appeared then spread among the news media. It used Google News to identify 121 unique stories in publications of various sorts (Google News discounts articles that simply reproduce text).

Among its findings were that of the 121 stories, just seven were primarily based on original reporting, and only another 13 included some amount of original reporting. The rest were rehashes, largely of the original New York Times piece.

Does this matter? The write-up is a little ‘o tempora, o mores‘, lamenting the decline of modern journalism. That seems to me a very US attitude. In the UK, where we have much lower expectations of our newspapers, we’ve known that many of our media sources are not always bravely forging their own paths but are quite happy rehashing whatever is already in the public domain.

However, it is depressing that so much of the news we read is simply rehashed, not just by blogs but by ‘proper’ publications. What if a piece is incorrect? How far round the world can it get before anyone notices? And from a PR point of view, how do you repair the damage once untrustworthy information is ‘out there’?

And it’s also depressing that the best examples of journalism appear still to be the places they’ve always been – the seven news sources that actually went out and got their own take on the story were The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Tech News World, Bloomberg, Xinhua and the Global Times. Excluding the two from China, which might be expected to do their own reporting, it’s four newspapers, a news wire and a specialist site. Maybe that’s not surprising, but given the financial pressure newspapers are all under it raises a worrying question: if the crisis in the media world continues to hit their reporting, where in God’s name is the news actually going to come from, aside from press releases?

All things being equal, a shrinking media sector would see the rehashers go to the wall and the ‘proper’ journalists shine. But when were things ever equal?

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February 25, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Social media is crap – AdAge says so

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Awesome article on AdAge this week on the limits of social media. It’s by a guy called Jonathan Salem Baskin, and he warns brands against blindly piling cash into social media and out of channels which, though unfashionable, have at least delivered results in the past. He also takes a swipe at the social media ‘gurus’ forever lashing out at the luddite marketers who just ‘don’t get it’. Here’s a choice excerpt:

I know all too many CMOs who find criticizing the social-media lobby something like debating the dialectic with avowed Marxists – you’re never right when the very premise of your existence is wrong, and it gets old being told that your visceral concerns are a result of your failure to perceive class struggle or to tweet enough. Nobody with responsibility for a bottom line has ever felt comfortable with social media as a replacement for traditional advertising. Arguing that consumers “buy more” if you “sell less” just smacks of another five-year economic plan for the glorious motherland.

While he’s obviously hamming it up a bit for effect (as I have done with the headline), he makes a very good point – and one that goes for media owners as well as brands.

A case in point – my own dabblings in Twitter last year for Media. When we set up a Twitter account we were just experimenting with the medium, watching what other media owners were doing and seeing what worked for us. Coming from a publishing background, where what you want is people reading the words you’ve sweated blood over, we began by pushing out our headlines with links to the stories.

At the time, I remember being told by the experts that this was the wrong way to go about it. That we wouldn’t be respected if all we did was pump out links. That we were no better than an RSS feed. One of our competitors even tweeted that we had completely misunderstood the site. But what did we actually want to do with Twitter? While it’s great to make a few people feel warm and fuzzy and engaged, we didn’t have the staff to devote to doing this consistently. They were too busy doing proper journalism. The stuff they’re paid for. What we wanted was for people to read our copy, driving clicks that allowed us to sell ads.

A year on? When I left Media the Twitter feed was one of the website‘s biggest drivers of referral traffic. We abandoned automated headline/link tweets early on to be a bit more ‘bloggy’, but the purpose of the feed is still to generate clicks through to the content. Funnily enough, most serious publishers do exactly the same. And it seems to work with what a lot of people in our business use Twitter for – finding and sharing interesting information.

And the competitor? Funnily enough they’re pumping out links to their own content now.

So kudos to Mr Baskin for having the cojones to suggest the Emperor may not be as fully clothed as we’re told.

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February 24, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Facebook to open Asian office

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So Facebook looks like it’s finally going to set up an office in Asia. And about time too.

As I’ve written before, last year was the year of Facebook in Asia (Southeast Asia particularly). It managed to dislodge former leader Friendster to become the leading social network in several Southeast Asian markets, with user numbers jumping 78% across Asia between January and September.

The interesting thing is that it managed to do this with no Asian presence. It has no office in the region that I’m aware of, and has outsourced its ad sales to companies such as Pixel Media and iHub.

That looks set to change. Facebook has commissioned a research company to look into how Facebook is perceived in Asia’s media-buying community and to advise on its best market-entry strategy. They’re speaking to the great and the good of Asia’s media community. I know this because they’ve approached me to give them some input too (though I’m not really great or good). One of their competitors I spoke to has heard that Facebook is currently debating between Hong Kong and Singapore for their regional hub.

The questions they’re asking make it clear that their priority is boosting their Asian ad sales. (Interestingly, the questions cover the basics of the media landscape in SEA, suggesting that the Facebook team still know relatively little about the markets they’ve conquered.)

Unless you’re employed by Friendster, it’s good news that Facebook is doing this. There’s been so much buzz about it in Southeast Asia over the past year, and the site needs to have its own people on the ground evangelising on its behalf. Another powerful voice for online can only help the industry as a whole.

It seems to me that there are two big challenges ahead though:
1) Facebook often seems to be handled as a PR tool. The way social media has been sold has been ‘get involved with the conversation’. That means branded pages, comments etc – which advertisers can do without paying Facebook any money. It needs to show marketers it can work as a Yahoo-style display platform too. Hopefully that means we’ll see some user numbers.
2) The low level of online spend in Southeast Asia and HK. With online spend still hovering around 5% of total budgets in the markets Facebook will be focusing on, the site shouldn’t expect to make big money in a hurry. Just like the rest of the industry, it needs to educate clients first of all. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Facebook joining IAB Singapore.

All in all, this is something to follow. Watch this space.

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February 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm

BMB’s Mumbai move: what is Cheil planning?

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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.

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February 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Brands and Chinese New Year

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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.

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February 15, 2010 at 10:50 am