Monday, December 18, 2006

Local brands, global brands

We’ve come very far with the Singapore Girl, a face for SIA which is Singapore’s contribution to the world of illustrious power brands. However, in this industry of hyperactive egos, there’s bound to be some dark points and one of them is the scarcity of such brands.

While Singapore advertising professionals talk a lot about creativity and spend significant amounts of time and money chasing awards, they seem to have forgotten that advertising is one of the pillars of brand building and a few posts ago I pointed to advertising also being a force in culture building.

I had tea with the grandfather of advertising and the man behind the Singapore Girl concept Ian Batey in November and if you ever have the chance to meet him, I recommend shutting up and listening.

He says there’s quite a number of opportunities not leveraged in the area of building a strong global brand – two of those that have the potential are Tiger Balm and Tiger Beer – but there hasn’t really been a significant development in the last five years, “what’s gonna happen over the next five years, will we see a surge?”, he asks.

Singapore needs more classy brands to take to the world stage. We seriously need to catch up with the Koreas and the Japanese who have for decades built successful, recognisable global businesses such as LG and Sony and made a name for Asia.

I’d like to report more on Ian’s views on advertising – we spoke for over two hours – but it’s been a long year and I’m looking forward to a break for these next two weeks. I’ll definitely come back to share more insights from our conversation in a short while.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A more powerful idiot box

Right now, tv watching habit wise, I’m pretty much a free to air (FTA) viewer – but that could soon change.

I had an interesting conversation with Craig Zimbulis, president and CEO of Anytime (a video on demand (VOD) channel) the other day. Just as the interview was winding down, we got to talking about the future of IPTV – and it was during this time that it really hit home how majorly tv viewing habits will be changing in just a few years time. I know the above sentence sounds really suaku, but this has to be placed in the context that I don’t have that funky StarHub time-shift thing-a-majig service, Tivo, or watched anything over IPTV – hell, I don’t even have cable TV at home.

Anyways, according to Craig, IPTV viewership is projected to reach 15-30 million by 2010, that just a little over three years away and not bad considering the figure stands at around one million at the moment. That’s also saying that in just over three years, IPTV will be a lot more ubiquitous, people will understand what it is and what it can do for you and you might see it deployed in many countries, if not in every country in Asia Pacific with multiple players in those countries. The advantages are obvious, it empowers consumers through offering them choices.

But where does FTA tv fit into all this? Does it at all? How about tv ad sales, and ads for that matter, because if clients aren’t buying spots, they don’t need to produce as many tv ads as before, if at all…?

According to Craig, if you look at FTA tv in any country, consumers are already easing off on their reliance on it, the advertising base is starting to erode, and the model of broadcast where you make money from ad supported revenue is changing dramatically. Eventually, programming line-ups might change where there’re less feature movies on TV because they’ve already been watched at the box-office, bought on DVD or shown on VOD or pay TV by the time they get to FTA so they can’t command the audiences they once commanded.

To survive, network operators are moving into interactive TV, and have an online presence as well as a broadcast presence – even the MediaCorp group is already getting into IPTV and VOD and communicating through the mobile device as well. It shows you just have to diversify in order to survive.

And as for advertising, there’ve been many who have/are predicting the end of the 30-sec commercial. Will the growth of IPTV push it off the cliff once and for all? I guess the real question is how effective were TV ads to start with? Is it more a prestige thing because if you’ve got the budget you can do a great production, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t cut through anymore, what’s the point? On the other hand just the other day, a GroupM study showed that TV is still the world's largest advertising medium, accounting for around half of all media investment, despite increasing audience fragmentation. So while it’s true that IPTV, VOD, Tivo and all the rest of these new media techonology things will change tv viewing habits, but I guess it’s not its time… yet.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A ‘difficult’ situation indeed

Everybody knows how important the customer service industry is to any economy. We’re all customers as much as we’re suppliers and we can’t stand shody service (which is a bit weird, I know, considering we live in Singapore, the land of bad service).

I just wanted to share with you a true life story on how NOT to treat your customer.

The following is a collection of emails from a lady, we’ll call her D for short, and the airline in question will be called VDA (short for Very Difficult Airline).

27 October 2006
My husband is a VDA Silver Frequent Flyer, and he has booked a flight to go to Syd at Christmas. Yesterday I went into the office to pay for the flight because the internet and/or your office would not take our Visa electron card (even though they say it is accepted everywhere that Visa is accepted).After paying for my husband’s flight, I came home and went to look for it on the internet. When I pulled up the booking under the evening contact info was the following SIN : ***VERY DIFFICULT PAX ****.Surely if your staff are to make comments on customers then they should be doing it in fields that cannot be viewed by clients!!!!!Regardless of how difficult a client might be - your staff need to remember that they only have jobs because people fly with your airline. If people stop flying with you, then they will not have a job. May I suggest that they think twice about putting comments on clients next time.If your staff thought he was difficult before - imagine what he would say if he saw that comment!I would appreciate if someone could get back to me on this matter.
Cheers, D

29 November 2006
Hi, Over a MONTH ago I sent an email to the Singapore VDA office regarding a situation that I find a little disturbing. I still to date do not have any answers regarding the below email, and the comment is still on my husband’s itinerary. Since Singapore could not be bothered to answer my questions, I was hoping that UK (head office) might have more respect for their customers!!!!!!!!!!! Can someone please get back to me regarding this, it is a little frustrating. Cheers D

29 November 2006
Dear D,

I am really sorry that you had such a poor experience of our customer service. I have forwarded your email to the relevant department who will reply as soon as possible. We appreciate your patience as different departments have varying response times. Thank you for taking the time to send us your feedback.
Regards, H

01 December 2006
Dear Ms M,

Thank you very much for contacting us.To be sure you have an answer from us as swiftly as possible, I would be grateful if you will speak to our customer support team. They deal with all pre-travel enquiries and they'll be happy to give you individual assistance. Please phone them on 0870 xxx x xxx and give your booking reference number when you call.I'm sorry not to be more immediately helpful, but do please phone our customer support team. They'll do all they can to help you at once.
Best regards, A. B.
Customer Relations

01 December 2006
Hi H,

I just received this email - obviously from the UK (pasted above). Is this the response from the 'relevant department', who by the way cant even get my name right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Cheers, D

01 December 2006
Dear D,

I am sorry you were addressed incorrectly, in future you will be addressed correctly.Thank you for contacting us about this and I hope you will travel with VDA soon.
Regards, J

01 December 2006
Hi J,
Are you SERIOUS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Have you even read my email - someone at VDA has put on my husband’s itinerary that he is a difficult person - and this is what I am getting back? No phone call, no emails except one asking me to call you in the UK - that could not even get my name correct - because Singapore have not responded to my email in 4 weeks.....and to date - the comment is still on my husbands explanations - no APOLOGIES....NOTHING.
Is this what you call customer service?
I would really appreciate someone to look into this matter and not just get fobbed off with all these preprepared emails.
Cheers, D

The husband’s itinerary still says ***VERY DIFFICULT PAX **** and D has not heard back from VDA.

Turns out, the reason why the husband became difficult in the first place was because he tried to use a Visa Electron card to pay for the air ticket but the airline refused to accept Electrons, despite the husband’s protest that Electrons are accepted anywhere Visa is accepted.

Oh boy, no points for guessing what category D has now been placed under too.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Update on the LEGO/Saatchis China story

This went up on on Friday night in place of the ads that were previously there. Turns out the two who created the ads have been given the boot.

What a price to pay man... shows so starkly the immediacy and the power of the internet to rally people together and how strongly companies view a bunch of negative comments as damaging to their reputations.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Saatchi & Saatchi China's kicks up a controversy

Ooh, look what the lego cat dragged in... Ouch.

And check out some of the comments on Ads of the

Note at 5.50pm: Oh my, looks like the YouTube video has been made private and the Ads of the World link is dead too. Somebody's in trouble...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Going off about online

I couldn’t help but notice that recently, all the signs around me point to online being the big hitter in 2007.

For one, multiple news articles that I’ve been reading are all reporting that there will be a significant growth spurt in online advertising, if the (forecasted) growth rates from recently released GroupM, ZenithOptimedia and Universal McCann studies are anything to go by.

When I hopped over the have a read of TK’s blog, The Pitch HK, there it was again (If these guys are convinced then you’d better be).

Even the emails I’ve been receiving from PR people pitching stories all tout the strength, and importance, of online advertising.

But is it any wonder that online advertising is going to be the next big thing? For a long time now we’ve been reading that companies have been gradually shifting ad budgets online. Much of this I guess, stems from the fact that that’s the ‘place’ where advertisers can reach that most lucrative of demographics, the youth. A Synovate study found young Asians between the age of 15 to 24 are a digital generation plugged into new media, and more financially savvy than ever before. The youth are the future, it’s been commonly said. Well, youth also quite literally drive the future of a brand. Witness Sony Ericsson, Samsung and StarHub’s attempt to engage with youths. A mobile industry insider told me that even though it’s true youths don’t have earning power now, they are the high power earning adults of the future. Quite simply, if they can hook teenagers/youth today, there’s a high chance those same youths will follow the brand as they age into adulthood, thereby assuring the brand’s longevity.

Just some stats to consider:
Brand Republic states a GroupM report that shows online advertising activity is set to grow by 27% this year and 28% in 2007. This corresponds to a ZenithOptimedia report which forecasts that online activity will increase its share from 5.8% during 2006 to 8.6% in 2009, “when it will for the first time outstrip radio advertising globally”.

MediaPost Publications reports online advertising opportunities is keeping the rate of ad expansion in check, according to the results of the GroupM study, which said “one thing stopping this (the increase in media growth) is the growth of the internet in developed economies. Its audience is growing even faster than its incoming tide of advertiser money, so it is actually getting cheaper. At the same time it is attracting cash from the big but fragmenting and hence inherently inflationary media, whose valuable reach is in shortening supply." MediaPost writes that the report also indicates TV remains the “number one growth driver for the global advertising marketplace, but the internet has become the second biggest contributor”, with the internet accounting for 21% of the world's ad spend increases in 2006 as opposed to 52% for TV.

If you’re a marketer, are you ready to bring your product to the online market/if you have already, is it working out for you and will you shift more of your budget online; and if you’re an agency, are you ready to catch the wave?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Early Resolutions

December is upon us – time to sit back and reflect on the passing year. Ok now that’s over with lets look forward to something ‘big’ happening in 2007. How about the rise of social networking sites in the Asian market?

Social networking sites are becoming big money and more importantly for marketers, it is a new form of communication for the youth and marketers can’t afford to miss that ship. A new eMarketer report forecasts U.S ad spending on social networking sites ballooning up to US$2.2 billion ($3.4 billion) by 2010. In Asia, the figure would be much less and so 2007 could be the year where the Asian market gets comfortable with social networking sites.

Developments in the coming year should kick start this process and a key player in this appears to be News Corp and its Fox Interactive Media division – which has My Space, the second largest site on the Web in its arsenal.

MySpace can already distribute newly released DVDs and even lets users sell their own music over the site – and in the coming weeks an announcement is expected for a deal allowing millions of additional users access to their accounts from mobile phones.

The potential is there but the environment is far from perfect and many advertisers will be turned away by the some times raunchy content on the sites but in my opinion, once advertisers see the plus sides to the social networking sites, and jump on for the ride – more and more will follow suit, especially if their competitor is already there.

Wouldn’t you?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Hong Kong clone

We have reason to be twice as happy today, because Marketing Daily Hong Kong has officially launched.

The compatriot to Marketing Daily Singapore, the Hong Kong e-newsletter will first start off as a tri-weekly, and then move on to become a daily service right around the Chinese New Year period. It will be exactly the same as its Singapore cousin (right down to having a blog as well – The Pitch HK), aiming to offer the same solid, breaking news to its Hong Kong readers.

It doesn’t end there – our first Hong Kong print edition, a dedicated country edition, should be out in March of next year, and like many others, I’ll be eagerly waiting for its arrival. While both online and print products will have a strong Hong Kong focus and are written for Hong Kong readers, the publication will also bring readers relevant local, regional and global news and trends. A lot of credit goes to Dawn (Dawnie) our sales superstar and our regional editorial director Tony Kelly (TK) who have been working non-stop, steadily laying the groundwork since they went up to raise Marketing’s flag in the fragrant harbour.

There’s no kidding that it’s going to be a long hard road ahead but we’re all super excited about the potential of the new office, because among other things, it gives us the license to say yes, we are now a regional business. Should you have an office in Hong Kong (or even if you don’t), feel free to drop TK a note, whether it be to tell him where the best ‘ha cheong kai’ is, to tip him off, to add him onto the press mailing list, or to simply say hi – his details are

I won’t go into length on this one -- while Marketing HK’s website is still in progress, you guys can check out TK’s inaugural blog for yourselves… and leave him a comment on the way too.

Here’s the link to The Pitch HK – enjoy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Point of no return

Why are SingTel and StarHub getting into this petty little thing where each produces ads with red and green warring characters and expect people to believe they are not taking cheap shots at each other?

StarHub started this first with its Fat Green Pipe concept. For the uninitiated, the recent TVC shows a green fish-like creature named Flash Green racing against Olaf The Red (a prawn?) and of course Flash wins because he’s racing in a fat green pipe – which refers to StarHub’s wide bandwidth for internet access.

I thought it was brilliant considering the treatment of the cartoon characters DDB used was unique – the look and feel was very different from previous StarHub ads which typically showed happy families.

That was until SingTel recently launched its version, with the red character named SuperWhiz and the green one called Big G and SuperWhiz knocks out his overweight opponent in a boxing match. Then I realised StarHub’s campaign wasn’t all that hot, it just employed one of the oldest techniques in the book – putting down your competitors to make yourself look better (pardon the paraphrasing).

It is obvious that both telcos are taking swipes at each other and while it may seem funny to some, I ask, what’s the point of all this? Who’s supposed to come out looking better?

A wise advertising guru told me today that companies such as SingTel and StarHub are amongst the most visible in our advertising landscape. To put it simply, the ads they put out help shape our culture.

Such ads are not art, they’re strictly commercial. And these are our leading, flag bearing brands no less. Shouldn’t they be focusing on real creative work and finding their own point of differentiation and building brand value that can stand alone even in the face of new competition?

Earlier today at the Beyond 2006 summit, Neil French said agencies shouldn’t be fired if something goes wrong, because the clients are wrong too and they are wrong together.

‘Nuff said.

*Images contained in this blog entry are not the actual TVCs but screengrabs from the individual websites. Can someone teach me how to attach YouTube videos to my posts?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Viewers not the only potential losers

StarHub’s win of the August 2007 to May 2010 EPL rights opens up a can of worms for all stakeholders involved, from advertisers to consumers, and even StarHub itself.

For one, ESPN STAR Sports’ loss of the rights places the sports broadcaster in a very vulnerable position at the moment. With the original and self-generated content surrounding the event they’ve churned out over the last six years that they’ve held the rights, a lot of credit goes to them for popularising, building up and redefining the culture of football and the way its consumed and enjoyed. But in an ironic way, ESS became a victim of its own success, as the popularity of the EPL and the success they were having with it, in terms of sponsorships and ad sales etc. would have doubtless attracted the attention of other players keen to obtain rights to replicate the network’s achievements, thereby pushing up the rights fees to levels ESS couldn’t afford.

While it is still too early to call, it’ll be interesting to see how ESS works through without having the rights to its key product, content-wise and ad sales-wise. It must be pointed out too that during the years when the network didn’t have rights to ESS, they were pretty all right, so while the next few months might be rough, the network can look to staffing up with other content programming to ease reliance on the EPL.

The aggressive bidding exercise for EPL rights also have repercussions on everyone involved. In a trickle down effect, StarHub would have to transfer costs to their advertisers and subscribers in order to not only recoup their payout for the EPL rights, but also make sure they profit from the deal for their shareholders. The question is, are advertisers and subscribers, the revenue streams for StarHub, prepared to pay the money? If there’s a significant drop-off in subscribers due to the increase in cost and StarHub can’t get the critical mass and eyeballs they need, it might be difficult to get advertisers on board, or even command premium ad rates. StarHub might be able though, to leverage on its other platforms of broadband and mobile to balance any fallout from TV.

The only winner in all of this looks to be the Premier League, who basically sits back to watch all the bidders fighting against themselves to score the highest bid, which the Premier League then pockets to distribute among the clubs. And it looks like rights fees are only going to get higher and higher, with sports rights and athlete fees increasing – I can’t imagine what the 2010 to 2013 bid fees would be like. There might be another way though. I read a few weeks ago an analysis article in The Straits Times about a different bid method, where players can band together to bid and share the rights. It’s already being done in Australia, where I think two cable operators share rights, and compete based on tier offerings. Bearing in mind Singapore’s population is so small, it doesn’t make sense to bid staggering prices only to have to spread it so thickly across… two million people? If it’s beneficial to everyone, banding together might be a method to think about the next time the EPL lease rolls round for renewal again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Local creative for local Batey

Everyone’s surprised at Tian It leaving McCanns and joining Batey, but if he cannot turnaround Batey, no one can -- having a local creative heavyweight lead an iconic Singapore brand is just perfect.

When Tian It joined McCanns in September 2003 after being headhunted by Sorab Mistry, the agency had quite a negative reputation and people were writing it off.

This was before my time, but Tian It shared that the agency was the butt of jokes at award shows and elsewhere.

Here’re some examples:

At the CCAs one year when Jim Atchison was the chairman, he said (and I’m writing this from memory so excuse the inaccuracies), “Ok we’ve got some awards here and agencies have five seconds to come up and grab them and if we have no takers by then, we’ll give them to McCann Erickson”.

An agency professional joins McCanns and he meets his compatriot one day.
Agency guy: I’m at McCanns now.
Compatriot: Oh. So when are you coming back to advertising?

Tian It has a knack for identifying young talent that no one else would give two hoots about. A good number on his creative team are ‘first-timers’ whom he has groomed to become stars.

Now that Tian It has put McCanns back on the creative map in a mere three years, he’s without a doubt the best medicine for Batey -- kudos to Alan Fairnington (pictured left) for snagging him. I have to say Alan has really made big changes since he’s been here, with the axing of MDK, the championing of digital capabilities and the installing of new blood.

There’s no need to dig up Batey’s troubles again, but looking forward, I’m eager to see the agency returned to its former glory. All these stories I hear about what Batey used to stand for, its illustrious history, it being the agency which put Singapore advertising on the world map – they’re nothing but stories to me.

I can’t wait to see what Tian It is going to make of it. He’s taking on a mammoth task and his labour will take a while to bear fruit but it will happen. He’s done it before.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Riding on the shoulders of a giant

It’s not often you get the chance to meet the worldwide CEO of any agency, but Marketing managed to do that and more when Jean-Marie Dru dropped into town recently.

Although the president and CEO of TBWA\Worldwide was exhausted from the previous evening’s revelry to celebrate TBWA’s 10th anniversary, his enthusiasm for the ad industry was so palpable and infectious that he all but awed Debbie and me with his insights – listening to him was literally, like going on an armchair adventure.

It’s hard to describe but listening to Jean-Marie and his vision on where advertising was going was like being taken on a ride with him, and seeing through his eyes a view of the industry from the top. With him, it’s not the nitty gritty daily grind stuff, but real forefront, cutting-edge thoughts on the industry, and what ‘experiments’ he’s conducting with other TBWA offices worldwide just to see what would result from it.

For instance, Jean-Marie is a firm believer in an advertising movement he terms ‘media arts’, where the science of allocating resources to the different media channels working together with the creative part (the big bright idea that works in tandem with the other secondary ideas for the different media) is increasingly becoming more important. While he didn’t go so far as to say the whole media planning and buying function should be brought back, he believes that a creative agency must, at the very least, have the top layer of media functionality in order to cope with the numerous consumer interactions today – apparently there’s been research done that’s counted at least a 1,000 touchpoints, which he says, explains the need for media planning capabilities merging with strategic planning. Jean-Marie also goes on to say that because media arts is about practices and taking the best from that, he has moved the team working on the Apple account team from his Los Angeles office across the street and jammed them all (creative, interactive, PR, account servicing) into the architecture office of his friend Frank Gehry, to see what would come out of having all sorts of people in a different creative environment – he terms this the Media Arts Lab, which is the forefront experiment for the agency. There’s a lot more he shared in the interview, but I don’t want to give it all away at this moment – you’ll just have to catch it in the mag’s Jan edition!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Coasting the scene for success

I attended the launch of Far Coast, Coca-Cola’s new coffee brand, last Friday and found out how the new product is going to give the established competition a run for its money.

After taking advantage of the unlimited free drinks we could order from the counter, I found myself talking to Shakir Moin, Coca-Cola Singapore’s country manager. Now Starbucks is literally just across the street from the Far Coast store, and while Far Coast will only have one concept store in Singapore, it is up against the multiple stores of Starbucks, CBTL, TCC, Coffee Express, and even McDonald’s McCafe, located throughout Singapore. So what I was keen to know was how Far Coast was going to pit itself against the other coffee outlets.

In a dramatic move away from its usual mass advertising approach used for its carbonated drinks, Shakir said the company’s strategy would involve more of a mix this time, especially the use of more direct approaches in engaging with consumers, through experiential marketing at its concept store as well as more use of BTL marketing initiatives. I thought it was really refreshing that a giant like Coca-Cola would still be agile enough, and savvy enough, to have its finger on the pulse of which marketing effort would work, and not just employ its usual tactic of blanket marketing to the masses. Because if you think about it, none of Far Coast’s other competitors, with the exception of McDonald’s perhaps, have fully tapped into the engaging consumers one-on-one space – but please correct me if I’m wrong.

The company is also aiming to introduce Far Coast to hotels, cinemas, food chains, restaurants, supermarkets, pubs, bars etc., which will give it a bigger footprint than having eight stores across the island for example – it’ll definitely be a lot cheaper as well. So what do you think of Coca-Cola’s marketing plan for Far Coast; will it work, or is it a far out idea?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

First chicken rice war, now chicken essence war

Eu Yan Sang’s latest chicken essence ads have raised more than a few eyebrows and not for what it claims rather it’s for how an unspecified brand located next to Eu Yan Sang’s tonic is packaged – in Brand’s Essence of Chicken green.

The problem that Brand’s has with the ad is a) the packaging of the unspecified tonic is in Brand’s trademark green and b) the point of the label ‘contains caramel’ on the unknown bottle is emphasised negatively by the label on Eu Yan Sang’s tonic which reads ‘caramel free’. The teaser line ‘what’s really in you essence of chicken’ adds to Brand’s potential unhappiness.

So are these ads simply brilliant or anti-competitive?

Under the Singapore Code of Advertising practice, it states ads should not unfairly attack or discredit other products, or organisations directly or by implication. Brand’s has already filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) – its job is to promote ethical advertising here.

For Eu Yan Sang’s ad to be proven unethical, Brand’s would have to prove they were unfairly and deliberately targeted and that the ad contains false information.

Brand’s can claim they were targeted in the ad with the unknown brand bottle carrying similar packaging and as the market leader – and a well known brand in Singapore, they might have a case. But this wouldn’t have been the first time similar ‘packaging’ tactics were used in ads before and I doubt it will be the last.

In terms of the ad being wrong, Brand’s Essence of Chicken does contain caramel, albeit a miniscule amount, roughly 0.32% of the contents from a bottle is caramel. So what now?

Look at this ad / online game from SingTel’s website – red vs green – hmm…? I don’t think it’s unethical, do you?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Difference is the way to go

I really didn’t want to go for yesterday’s D&AD event – it’s deadline, I still had a story to file and I was dressed in my best deadline-comfortable attire (read: shabby).

I was glad I went though, because I was blown away -- especially by Garrick Hamm’s talk right from the word go. It carried the dubious title of Inspirational talk on Creativity (I’m always cautious when it comes to titles that border on promising too much – it always hurts when presenters fail to meet the high expectations they’ve set up). But Garrick (that's him below) delivered.

For starters, he opened his presentation by offering an answer to the perennial question: how can creatives get clients to approve a creative idea? Bearing in mind I don’t have much space here, I’ll cut to the chase: show them the money. Because frankly, while they can argue with your creative idea, they can’t argue with results, facts and figures. And by results, it means increasing sales and profits into the double digit figure region.

The essential problem Garrick says, is that brands look too much alike. You line up all the bread brands available in Singapore and they’ll most probably look more or less the same, right? That’s the danger because that means there’ll be no brand loyalty and consumers can wander between the brands without having much of a connection. Why do brands look the same then? Because everybody copies each other, and during the brainstorming process, everybody comes up with the same vocab of how they want their brand perceived. Who doesn’t want their brand seen as being quality, value, and healthy? Not being different and not thinking differently will result in everyone getting the same results.

The solution, Garrick believes, lies in finding a brand truth and capturing it in a way that is unique and different, and he illustrated what he meant by showing numerous examples of what his agency, WMH, did for clients and in the process increasing their sales and profits. The end line he was putting across at the end of the session: “By doing something different, sales for (I forgot the name of this brand) went up 20%, we made them an extra £90m in profit. Difference is the way ahead. That’s one of the answers to the question of how do you get creativity through. You start to show them profits like that, you start to show them that actually not doing anything risky means that you’re never going to increase your sales,” Garrick said. What difference also means is you don’t deal with one digit growth, you deal in two. “That’s really what design and advertising should be about, really delivering significant growth.” Power stuff.

Garrick’s 6 tips to getting a client to approve a creative idea

1. Difference. Create something that is unique to your clients, something that they can own.
2. Focus.
3. Bravery. We all need brave clients.
4. Judgement. Insight – Garrick doesn’t believe that the consumer is going to show the future, that’s the job of the advertiser. Consumers show where the gap in the market is.
5. BIG ideas.
6. A good idea=good business (profits and sales).

Friday, November 10, 2006

Today’s blog: Winners, losers and bleeding ears

Short and sweet-ish entry about my time at the Promax BDA Asia awards which managed to surprise me in more ways than one.

First off all, I have never been to this awards show before but I was told this year was its 13th instalment (whoo-pee!) and that it is a ‘big deal’ (well double whoo-pee! for me – I don’t even like watching the Oscars in the comfort of my own living room so telling me that this is a ‘big deal’ is not going to brainwash me into thinking I will enjoy this – turns out I was wrong, I sort of did enjoy the show in the end).

I could go on all day about the little things I hate about awards shows but I won’t because (a) no one likes a whiner and (b) you got to take into consideration what the awards are celebrating and for whom it means something too -- and (c) this is supposed to be a short entry.

Anyways, fast forward to the awards show which was held in a smallish but cosy little place called ‘The Art House at The Old Parliament Level 2’ and you go in and you see these whistles on every chair. I would very soon start hating those whistles.

I walked past the trophies and took my seat.

Soon enough when everyone else was settled in mayhem took place and I am talking madri-gras (without the nudity) / national day?, type parade noises of mayhem which were bursting my ear drums and had me wishing the once impressive looking table of trophies would disappear and I could leave the madness. Everyone except probably me and Marketing’s new intern was blowing the #%*^! out of these darn whistles and it lasted for an eternity + 1 day.

Finally someone took out a gun and put me out of my misery…it was the host telling us the show was starting so we should all settle down. That’s when the good bits began.

They would announce the category, say who won gold and silver, display the work on the giant screen and then only present a trophy to the gold winner – throughout the entire evening the maximum amount of time anyone spent making a speech was 7 seconds -- great stuff.

But what I really liked about the show was how they played the silver and gold medal winning entries in full and on the big screen too. Not only did it entertain the audience (and let those involved hear the plaudits) but as a journalist at Marketing I could judge things for myself and ask myself questions like is this gold medal winner really better than the silver medal winner? Why? How come? I can think of a few better ones for that category and so on...

At least I wasn’t being force fed the idea that this piece of work is gold without even getting to see it and leave it at that. And I know I wasn’t the only one in the room who hadn’t seen a lot of those winning entries.

I promised you a short and sweet-ish entry so I will summarise the rest of the evening -- a bunch of deserving professionals won a bunch of trophies for good pieces of work and celebrated in style afterwards.

Did I disappoint you with this blog entry? Let me know, I am all ears – albeit bloodied and slightly deaf.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Don’t tease me

Today I received an invite from a PR company to attend a party for a major client of theirs. The invite does not stipulate much other than “come party with us and revel in the excitement”.

Perhaps to the lay person any excuse to party with free booze and makan would be welcomed with open arms but for a journo, the first thought that comes to mind is, “this event is for what one har?”

Every other day or so I’ll receive a cryptic invites to events promising “very very very very exciting”, “groundbreaking”, “jaw-dropping” extravaganzas which I HAVE to attend because I’d be absolutely retarded not to.

And after some probing (if I’m really curious and I have time while waiting for my cab to take me home at 11pm) I usually find out whatever’s being launched or celebrated at the event is usually not relevant to my publication.

I like parties as much as the next guy but I also like a really good, succinct pitch.

Tell me what the party or event is for, if for some reason you HAVE to keep it secret until we walk through your door, please whisper the secret to me while pitching. My colleagues and I have no time to attend events that PROMISE something newsworthy.

I hate to turn people down and I used to get really uncomfortable doing it but nowadays I won’t even flinch.

And many times after I turn down invites, the sweet voice at the other end of the line asks if I’ll be sending one of my journos down. The short answer is, if it’s not good enough for me, it’s not good enough for them.

Please hor.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The CCAs gets creative with its duration

Last Friday’s Creative Circle Awards was a grand affair, with nearly 1,000 hosted in a lush, dimly lighted extravaganza. But why was there less than half the room full by the end of the night?

The reason is, and I swear I waited as long as I could, that by 1130, the awards were still being given out, winners were still streaming up to the stage, and the Flying Dutchman and Carrie Chong (emcees) were still trying their best to be enthusiastic about each award they announced.
Clarice and I typically stay till the end of every award ceremony we attend so we can photograph the big winners at the end but we gave up this time. It had been a long week, we were exhausted and there was no way I could suck in my tummy in my silk cheongsam any longer.

The gracious CCAs chairman Robert Gaxiola and I.

I did a very rough count of the number of awards given out and this year had 179 compared to last year’s 152 (disclaimer: these are very rough figures) – perhaps that was why it the show dragged on for much longer than usual.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing the CCAs. It is the biggest award show in Singapore, celebrates and honours top creative talents in the advertising and communication industry here, and has been around for 26 years. It’s an institution in itself.

To give you an idea of how big it really is: CCAs 2006 attracted 1,655 entries compared to Hall of Fame 2006’s 199. This year’s CCAs was even expanded to have one Best of Show for each of the four categories instead of one overall winner.

Hope the 4As will speed up the process next year.

But otherwise, it was a glittering event, with a huge turnout, and excellent creative work showcased, so kudos to Bee Hong and team.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Travel agents are not dinosaurs

For those among us who have the time and means to travel, do you still book through a travel agent or do you book online?

If you still book through a travel agent, I wouldn’t be surprised – this year’s NATAS fair attracted upwards of 50,000 people and generated double digit millions in travel booking receipts. So contrary to the common perception that the internet would decimate the travel agent business, the travel agent is not dead (in Singapore at least), in fact he’s alive and kicking. Will the internet eventually ruin him though? Is it already?

At the recent Wired Travel Asia conference, I heard how online bookings are now mainstream – for corporate travel for instance, more than 6 billion in corporate travel bookings are done online and online bookings now comprise 60% of the market, versus 40% on paper. Driving this change is the convenience, cost and control that online offers, plus there’s more value and integration opportunities as well.

And then Robin Yap, regional director Asia of Insight Vacations -- who’s probably the travel agent’s best friend – stepped up to speak, and his talk went against pretty much all else that was said before. According to him, not only has the internet not killed the travel agent, the travel agent has managed to use and turn the internet to his advantage, embracing technology in order to reach out to even more consumers. It might be that online bookings win in the area of corporate travel, but in terms of personal holidays, the travel agent remains undefeated, especially when you consider that consumer behaviour is different in Asia. It might be culture, but many Asians still prefer talking to a human being who can tell them in five minutes the weather conditions in the country they’re going, which places they can go, and what to look out for. In short, travel agents provide the human touch which online can’t, which is important when you consider that buying a travel product is a rational, as well as emotional experience for the consumer. And then of course there’s cost: sometimes, travel agents can offer better and cheaper package deals than online options, as I found out earlier this year when planning a trip to Bangkok. That’s not to say though that online travel bookings are bad or that they’re are going the way of the dinosaur – far from it. Debbie’s parents recently went on a trip to Europe and booked everything online, which saved them heaps of money. As with most things, there are different situations which are better served with different tools and this is one case. So instead of prophesising that the internet will do away with travel agents, I think it should be seen that both can exist together, to serve different needs, market segments and functions. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The devil’s in the details

It must be that I’m talking to more brand consultants these days because I’m starting to hear the same gripe: that marketers are often clueless that branding needs to occur across all customer interactions.

It may sound like a really simple concept but one which apparently eludes most marketers, why? It might just be that ensuring consistent branding isn’t easy considering all the minute details you have to pay attention to, or just a perception that certain functions are only meant to achieve the ‘functionality’ objective. I was talking to a brand consultant earlier today and he mentioned in passing that it was odd how many companies fork out huge sums of money to release a polished and sleek commercial which makes them look really good to customers. But when customers call into the company’s call centre or dial in to complete a telephone banking transaction, their idea and expectation of the brand (no doubt brought on by that nice commercial), and the reality of what they discover on the other end of the line can provoke a huge disappointment. “And that’s where the disconnect happens,” says the brand consultant. “What’s the use of spending so much money on the TV commercial then?”

The brand consultant also said marketers need to be cognisant of the changing environment around them, and to change with it. A phone banking system that’s five-years-old isn’t going to cut it with customers anymore -- many marketers probably only have the time to make sure that they have a system, but then don’t do anything to it or forget about it after some time. Is that still the right way of interacting with customers, can you ‘update’ the voice on the other end, put in some new music perhaps? Simplify and make the technology easier? Maybe marketers need to get out of the thinking mode where they think a function, like the company delivery guys, merely serve as a functionality when in fact, they’re are at the ‘frontline’ of your brand and have a strong influence on the image projected to customers. It’s a difficult situation: marketers are sometimes placed in a situation where they just have to get in there and do it, while these branding improvements take time to carry out and more often than not, is a long term effort. When there is space and time to take care of these areas though, I’ll bet it’ll pay off putting in place training programs for staff and ensuring all other consumer interactions are consistent with the overall branding, because having a keen eye for detail in your branding can be the key to what makes you stand out from your next competitor.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Death by blogging or eternal fame?

The way bloggers want to be reached is only if what you have to share or tell is something that interests us on a personal level. So companies which want to pitch a ‘story’ to us have to plant electronic bugging devices in our homes to find out what actually tickles our fancy.

I’m kidding.

But seriously, Edelman hosted a very nice, cosy drinks session for a bunch of Singapore bloggers on Wednesday evening and it was quite insightful hearing the different perspectives on what kinds of pitches will bloggers tolerate.

By pitches, I mean that some marketers today view blogs as marketing tools through which they can get their brand messages across. Some lucky companies today have gained an enormous amount of publicity from their products/services getting reviewed on blogs and the news spreading like wildfire. Others have had to deal with the opposite kind of publicity.

Anyway, the aim of the session was for the PR company to get a better idea of how bloggers in Singapore think and operate and I’m going to try by best to give you my idea of a summary here.

Some of the attendees:

Richard Edelman and his team, Mr Brown, Joe Augustin, Adrian Lee, Bjorn Lee, Justin Lee,
Adrianna Tan, Jennifer Lewis from STOMP, The mediaslut.

So you’re a marketer and you want to get your new whatever famous overnight.

Here’s what to do:

1. Find a well-respected blogger such as Mr Brown and check out every single link he has on other people’s blogs. Birds of a feather flock together and bloggers worth their salt will link to other heavyweights they admire.
2. Read as many of their posts as you can to gain an idea of what they like or dislike.
3. Decide if what you’re pitching will interest each one. I don’t need to say this but if your product is crap there is no faster way to die than through blogs.
4. Find an innovative way to tell them about your ‘thing’. For example, Nokia gave Adrianna a phone with no strings attached except to say, “try it out”. She did, was blown away, and Nokia walked away with excellent PR value. But it was a risky move considering Adrianna was a Sony Ericsson fan.
5. The key is being innovative, and hard sell is NOT innovative. Remember, bloggers will only write what they have a strong opinion on, and their only opinion of your hard sell ways will be negative. Duh.
6. If the blogger writes positively about your ‘thing’, good. If your plan backfires, make sure you do not panic and sue the blogger’s pants off. Try to respond to backlash in a calm and measured manner and do not fan the fire with repeated, pronounced denials of wrongdoing. You may make things worse. Some situations do not even warrant a response from you.
7. If you want to invite a blogger to your press conference, he’ll go only if he’s interested in the topic/product, and you need to decide whether or not to categorise him as a Blogger or as Media. 8. Whatever you decide, please be decent to both types. (This point is for Mr Brown)
9. Joe Augustin (or was it Mr Brown) said it is important to remember that bloggers cannot be approached with the mindset that you’re ‘using’ them for commercial gain. Bloggers are people too you know, just like you and I.

I’d like to write more but I’ve got a press conference to attend.

In closing, I had a great time sharing thoughts with the group after the session and it was very refreshing meeting them face-to-face. I was also very honoured to be invited as a blogger as The Pitch has only been up for a few short months.

Thanks to the Edelman team for setting it up and it really shows how you guys are at the forefront of the digital communication wave and are willing to hear the views from the ground.

Monday, October 23, 2006

CSR=Cynical Scepticism Reaction?

I had a chat a while back with Al Golin about CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility, while he was in Singapore to celebrate his firm’s 50th anniversary.

Al’s the chairman and founder of GolinHarris and also the man who developed the concept of corporations having a ‘TrustBank’ – in a nutshell, this involves corporations doing ‘good work’ (and being seen to have done it) on a regular basis so that if ever the company gets involved in a sticky situation and the s*** hits the fan, you can mitigate the crisis by drawing from the bank of ‘good work’ you’ve done before.

I mean the philanthropy you see Bill Gates doing all the time seems well and good, but during my conversation with Al, I couldn’t resist asking him that really, aren’t these corporations carrying out CSR activities to contribute to a fatter bottom line, and not because they genuinely want to do it or sincerely think it’s good? In short, isn’t CSR for corporations a means to an end? Besides, even Al said CSR can act as a ‘tie breaker’ of sorts for companies – if they project an image of being trustworthy and reliable, more people would do business with them as they would rather deal with companies that they know, trust and admire than one that’s unknown.

Al didn’t miss a beat in his reply. He said, “Well, maybe it’s a bit of both, maybe it’s not all bad. Even if their motives are not as pure as it should be and they’re thinking of it from a business point of view, at least they’re doing something about it and getting it done. When you see Bill Gates and Warren Buffet give all this money to philanthropy, a cynic would say, well they’ve got all the money in the world, of course they’re going to give some of it away. Ok, it’s true, but at least they’re doing something about it, and something good is happening as a result of it. If they’re getting a good rub-off to their companies then why not? So I don’t think it’s a negative thing. If society is benefiting from it then it’s good.”

What do you think? Is CSR just a hypocritical myth for a shot at smiling for the cameras, or is there good underneath it all?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Trade messages on mainstream media… what the?

We’ve discussed how ad agencies don’t prefer advertising themselves but what about award shows advertising on mainstream media… I wonder why that happens.

An example is tonight’s Hall of Fame Awards which was advertised as a banner ad on, and on two walls at Raffles Link – our most celebrated creatives pose for the camera, representing the newly introduced creative director’s award for the HOF 2006.

Another example was the Singapore Media Awards which was advertised on radio and more.

The only people who are interested in award shows are agencies, who then rope in their clients for a “great night at a great table, with great company”, according to one of our blog watchers, thc. Thanks for your comments by the way.

Which is fair. I think award shows are great opportunities to reward creativity and having all your peers gathered together for a few evenings in a year is great. I, for one, love the atmosphere.

So why then, would running an ad on Class 95FM, for example, be of any use? Surely organisers can simply send an email to all the agencies in Singapore. There are only 300 plus of them and if that’s too many, then the usual suspects who are active at award shows are easy enough to identify and target.

One obvious reason why such ads appear on mainstream media is because parties such as SMRT Media are supporters of the award shows and it’s part of their partnership agreement to offer up some free ad space.

But I’m thinking, SMRT Media is a commercial organisation and it can make good money out of the space it’s giving away. I’m all for showing support of a worthy cause, but the support has to mean something.

I think it’s great SMRT Media is providing a platform for people our industry respect, such as Tay Guan Hin, Rob Gax, Ng Tian It etc., to come out from behind the scenes to be acknowledged for the work they do. But I don’t believe these names mean anything to the average MRT commuter, and he/she definitely won’t buy a table at the next award show.

My point is, trade messages in mainstream media does not make sense and there our media planners should know this much better than me.

I’m happy to be corrected on this.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

High5: spot the difference?

Let’s play a game of spot the difference -- High5 has moved to clear things up following the accusations of unsanitary and non-Halal bread practices. I've got the low down on this complete with images. Let the game begin.

IMSG has kindly provided me with the 'real' images of the High5 plant in Malaysia. I've also included the 'fake' images, so you guys can comment on what you think is real and what you think is fake or is it all fake?

Here we go...

One last picture for you guys, its a certificate stating High5 bread to be Halal.

Enough said from me, now its your turn to do the talking.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Advertising agencies are hypocrites

Did the above statement get your attention, because it sure got mine when my colleague Dawn told me an ad agency boss in Singapore said it.

Dawn told me what he said months ago but the topic came up again recently while we were having tea with Eye Corp’s Raju Bahkta.

Let us ask this: how many ads for advertising agencies have you seen in the past six months? None?

We discussed how many agencies refuse to buy advertising, even though they make a business out of telling their clients advertising is good.

Some reasons (excuses) for not advertising include: no budget, no artwork, no time.

Could a reason for the lack of budget be because agencies spend everything submitting award entries, and then buy a gazillion tables at such shows?

Maybe the lack of artwork is a better excuse. I guess if I were a creative person I’d never be able to create something that represents me perfectly enough.

No time is just a cute one.

I respect that one honest soul who said his is a hypocritical business.

But I’m sure some other agency practitioners do not agree with the statement.

I’d like to hear what you have to say.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Genius behind iPod ad comes out of the shadows

If you still don’t know who created that iconic iPod silhouette campaign that has become one of the most successful global campaigns ever, then you haven’t been reading our blog.

Susan Alinsangan (she’s the ex-TBWA\Chiat\Day-now-freelancer creator of the iPod silhouette campaign) was featured some time ago, when Debbie blogged about her coming to our shores as one of the judges for the upcoming Creative Circle Awards.

Well, she’s here now and I had the opportunity to attend her presentation at yesterday’s Creative Seminar 2006 event. Though she’s tiny (she’s only 4 foot 11 – that’s just under 1.5 m for those of you more used to the metric system), she sure packs a punch.

Her advice to the 300-odd audience of students and creative professionals? Keep it simple, because simple ideas can go anywhere in any culture.

The campaign flowed on from an equally simple brief from the client, which just showed a pic of an iPod, an equal sign, and the word ‘music’. Two ideas were developed (“never show just one idea” was the other advice Susan gave, “because the client only has two choices: to buy or to kill the idea.”) One was the silhouette campaign, while the other was the complete opposite, showing a jumble of pictures meant to communicate the depth, complexity and variety of music. It was Steve Jobs who saw the potential in the silhouette idea and told the creative team to run with it.

Susan also kept the presentation real by showing us her notepad which charted the evolution of the campaign. While the campaign looks simple, it involved countless drawings and hours of brainstorming and deliberation over what colours to use (it was her son Owen who eventually chose the clean background colours in the campaign), what singers/music would fit with the campaign, which dancers to use, and what the designers had to do. So it was that a simple silhouette idea for what was to be a billboard blew up into a full-scale campaign involving TV, print and outdoor, entered into pop culture and became one of the most popular Halloween costumes for the year.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

People power 2.0 not technology

The perception that technology is driving change in communications is wrong – it is the audience that is changing, says Aedhmar Hynes CEO of independent PR firm Text 100 International.

Hynes was in Singapore for a one-day stopover and spoke to a select group of 13 CEOs and senior marketers at an event sponsored by Text 100 and hosted by Marketing magazine last evening. The event was held to give a small group of Singapore’s marketing elite (think Nike, BMW, Google, Jetstar, Bang and Olufsen and Philips just for starters) the opportunity to meet a genuine global leader in business communications.

“We’re living in the world of change – our people are changing and technology is enabling that change, and more tools are emerging in response to change,” Hynes says.

In line with her observation, Hynes started blogging earlier this year to be able to “understand what it feels like, what the considerations are”, so she can better advise clients on it. She feels anyone born before 1975 can be termed “digital immigrants”, while those born after are “digital natives” and thus the immigrants need to work harder to understand new communications tools.

She says no company should start by saying “we need a blog”; instead, it has to ask itself what it wants to achieve and if having a blog will be beneficial.

“With blogging, you’re going to attract attention and it may not all be welcome so you’ve got to understand it,” she says.

According to her, there are three issues surrounding the changing audience. The first is trust, ie. the erosion of institutional trust – people more likely to trust info coming from their peer groups.

Secondly, there’s media fragmentation – previously, we watched prime time TV and read the same newspapers; now, we get news from different places and we want news at our own time, in the format we prefer.

Lastly, people nowadays are empowered to create content and respond to views from others and so proximity between brand and customer is one to one – “the right of reply is immediate”, which leads to crisis management issues.

Under Hynes’s leadership, Text 100 has grown its position as a leader in global communications and is a thought partner for almost 300 clients across the world. She oversees annual revenues of US$60 million, a staff of over 500, and 30 offices spanning North America, Asia Pacific, and Europe. She is based in New York City and works directly with many of the company’s key accounts such as IBM, Xerox, Philips, and Fujifilm.

She recently over saw Text 100’s entry into Second Life, making it the first global PR firm to establish a presence inside the rapidly growing virtual world.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Crowing about the Crowbar Awards

I did not feel like going to the Crowbar Awards on Friday night because I was in TGIF mode by the time my work day finished but I am glad I went. It was my first time going and the show was long…really long but a good host, some good speeches and good work made for an interesting and yet un-interesting evening as well.

(L-R: Anthony Kang, president of the 4As presenting the Overall Best of Show Award to a Media Design School, New Zealand team representative)

(Overall Best of Show Award for'McCoys-Never water down a good thing' by Neil Williamson and Rachel Walker)

I was outside the NTUC Auditorium around 6.45pm and had to take the glass lift up to the seventh floor, somehow I was able to stay calm even when I was staring right out the glass, my fear of heights disappeared as the smoky hazed sky totally blocked everything out.

When I reached the auditorium, I ‘checked in’ and got my ticket for the buffet and seating arrangement sorted out, was not hungry so I went to check out the entries on display.
(Best of Category Gold for Film, 'Hollow' by Shi Ming Ming and Yang Lin from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts)

Once in the display area, I looked around for important marketers to photograph, so I could fill our November issue’s events page spread but at 7pm, there were mostly students just hanging around, showing off their work. I took some pictures of their work and overall I was impressed at the quality.

Now I waited for any ‘adults’ to show up so I could ask them, “Hey you’re not a student right? What are you doing here and where are you from? My name’s Marcus from Marketing magazine…blah blah blah, can I get a picture?”
(Best of Category Gold for Photography, 'SKWIDD' by Cheong Meng Kwong, Ivan)

Hour’s later (ok maybe it was more like hour+++) I had a few good pictures and had continued my slow process of introducing myself to the industry as the new guy on Marketing’s block.

It started getting late so I went to take my seat which was right at the front and next to Carissa or was it Clarissa (didn’t catch her last name) and after chatting with her she told me that she was the host and I should get comfortable because it might be a long show. Oh well, I guess I should have eaten something at the buffet after all, at least the seats were comfortable though.

A couple of good speeches later, namely by Calvin Soh and Farrokh Madon, who are co-chairmen of this year’s Crowbar Awards, the celebration of the work began.

As with the norm of all award shows, there were too many awards but the host kept things lively enough and I can honestly say most of the work was of a high quality so a bronze for this and a bronze for that could be well deserved acknowledgement in retrospect.

Aside from the quality work I was also expecting to see more attitude and character on stage especially after Calvin Soh’s speech about swagger etc, and the fact that these are creative students here tonight. I kept on imagining a guy with a Mohawk running on stage, celebrating his victory with yelling and screaming and punches in the air. That guy never showed up…I guess he failed his copywriting class.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Another round of sangria for the team please!

Thank you so much to friends who turned up to celebrate Marketing’s redesign launch with us last night at Chijmes. It was one heck of a party, and was absolutely lovely to be surrounded by people whom we like and are the reason we exist.

We’ve been around for 4.5 years now and it’s high time we rewarded our loyal readers with a refreshed product with improved content, easier navigation, a more attractive layout, a more modern feel and vibrant colours to match.

So we pooled our resources and planned for about three months, spent about three weeks intensively putting the content and design together, and it all culminated in a bash last night where we unveiled a very very very hot looking magazine.

No, no no, it should be further left!

About 120 of you clicked glasses with us and shared feedback on the new look which we are very grateful for. I have to say that a few people whom we really wanted to party with did not receive our email invites (technology will let you down, it’s Murphy’s Law) and I’m sorry about that, and we wish you were there.

The Lighthouse ladies

You’ll receive your copy in the mail from next week and our phonelines/emails are open so do send us your thoughts on it.

Kudos to my team for the excellent work… it was great learning for all of us eh!

Hey bosses, may we have the rest of the month off? Pretty please?

(Confidential) Guess who don't sue, the joke's on us:

  1. Did you get a glimpse of Lighthouse’s very own New Paper beauty queen Jacqueline Thibodeaux? From what I noticed, a few members of the opposite sex kept her in close sight all evening.
  2. Which Marketing mag ace ad sales person had her mother call the office this morning on her behalf as she was hung over and had to stay home?
  3. Which (same) sales person stayed at the party till 3.30am and kept falling down stairs?
  4. Which (two) Lighthouse bosses were telling old-man stories towards the end of the night as a result of their getting over-familiar with the sangria?
  5. Which (two) Lighthouse colleagues showed up at work today in the same glamourous outfits they wore last night?
  6. Which Lighthouse ad sales person puked into her handbag at Bugis MRT station this morning?
  7. Which Lighthouse editorial person, also under the effects of sangria, thought she was a diva and kept making dramatic poses all evening?

If you’re wondering why we’re sharing such embarrassing happenings in such a public space, we say, “Come on, share a laugh with us!”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

It’s not enough to satisfy your customers

Guess what? These days it’s not enough to ensure customer satisfaction – if you want loyal customers (read: higher profit margins), you’ve also got to make sure you appeal to their rational and emotional levels.

At least that was the message of a breakfast briefing organised by market research firms Harris Interactive and Market Share.

According to a study they did, customer loyalty can be nurtured through building trust together with satisfaction – in a nutshell, if companies can get customers to trust them and believe that the product they’re paying for is value for money, this creates an emotional connection between customers and brands, thereby increasing the level of commitment. This trust-based commitment then has the potential to translate into monetary returns for companies, as these consumers are more price-insensitive. This means even if you raise prices, they’ll still buy your product(s).

(Ok, I know you can't really see the above diagram but that's the best I've got.) There’s a lot more to the study but this is the fundamental point. I could be wrong but at the briefing, it seemed as though the hosts were delivering their new findings to a slightly skeptical crowd and it was easy to see why as the concept of customer satisfaction has been central to the marketing research community for a long time. During the Q&A session for instance, one participant questioned the disconnect between trust and satisfaction, while another raised the issue of the risk of basing a business model on trust, because once broken, is something that is very hard to repair.

The briefing facilitators though handled the queries well – with the first question it was explained that there’s no disconnect at all as trust was merged together with the old customer satisfaction model; all the study did was to uncover the element and stretch the pic. As for the risk of trust, it might be a case of consumers being more willing to forgive secondary mistakes, and allowing the brand a second chance at redeeming itself.

As a marketer, what do you think? Does trust have a place in your strategy?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Tell me the future for a piece of toast

The “future of communications in a connected world” that was the intriguing tag line that got me to attend Text 100’s recent breakfast briefing, the other reason I went? Free breakfast of course.

The talk happened about a week ago and leading the discussion was Georg Kolb, EVP for Text 100 New York and member of its executive leadership team. It was at a cosy little venue and so I went there at 8.45am optimistic about breakfast and actually very keen to hear what the “future of communications” was going to be; my mind still buzzing from the short video Text 100 sent us as part of the invite: ( ).

If you have the time (it’s about five minutes long) watch it. It will get your taste buds set for the topic especially for those of you involved in a print publication which has online ambitions.
Back at the Text 100 briefing, I met a handful of people but I also managed to meet Georg Kolb and we started chatting about the topic and I tried to steer it towards a more Singapore or at least Asian perspective.

Off the top of my head I remember him saying the future of communications is about peer to peer platforms and he wished Singaporeans would think of peer to peer platforms beyond just blogs because they are so many other forms out there.

In fairness to those of us who do think this way, blogs are an obvious peer to peer platform to mention, for example if you took the time to view the short video which I recommended, well then that says a little something about the potential power of this peer to peer platform. Below are some links to blogs which were successful in using this peer to peer platform in the corporate world.

(IBM Corporate Blogging Programme)

(Stonyfield Farm)

An example of a blog which was unsuccessful and has since been shut was one by Mazda. To enlighten yourself Google terms like Mazda Viral Marketing or Mazda Kid Halloween to find out more.

Kolb said in the briefing, “It’s about building peer referrals, people are empowered to find their peers and talk to them. People will no longer listen to a brand spokesperson who is always looking to push the brand; instead they are looking for a two way communication which will allow them to tell you what they think of the brand”.

Examples of the peer to peer platforms Kolb talks about include social networks (like MySpace), search engines and virtual life platforms, specifically Second Life. For those of you unfamiliar with Second Life, it is a virtual world on the internet where users, who are represented by 3D figures or avatars, can do everything from running businesses to having sexual liaisons.

At the briefing the importance of Second Life was debated and I got the impression not all were convinced the platform offered anything new, other than 3D imagery. Personally I think from the point of view of an internet user who sometimes struggles to keep up with the early adopters of today, it looks fantastic but how does it rate as a peer to peer platform? What is its Unique Selling Proposition to advertisers?

So as we come to the end of my blog entry, we are left with more questions than answers. I want to know, what my peers think the future of communications in a connected world is?
Hopefully not all of you will have read this entry and thought “what a load of crap I can’t believe I just wasted ten minutes of my life reading this, ten minutes which I will never get back, I hate you The Pitch and I hate you cruel connected world!”

That’s fine if you do though because we totally appreciate the way online works, and are prepared to get the criticism and praise which can come with a blog.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A tall order

A bunch of media and journalism veterans getting together to produce a bi-monthly 300 page news and analysis magazine with 100,000 subscribers eh….?

The management won’t reveal how they derived the 100,000, but earlier, their PR reps mentioned subscribers had to pay $3.80 for each copy. It’s a confirmed $15.80 off the newsstands but they’ve since retracted the $3.80 and the amount is now to-be-announced.
They are even planning to audit the publication (MCS/BPA) six months into print.

The mag’s credentials are fantastic but it’s a risky endeavour considering The Business Times only has an audited circulation of 29,533 and that only goes for 80 cents per copy.

Ok, you may say The Business Times is a daily so it can’t be compared to a bi-monthly, but what about the bi-monthly Singapore Business Review with an audited circ of only 11,639?

Very interesting stuff indeed and I’m eagerly anticipating the launch in December.

Seriously, it sounds like a mag I’d love to read, because it aims to give a different perspective to politics in Singapore, amongst other things.

I think everyone who works and plays in Singapore deserves to hear a unique perspective on our political landscape, aside from what we’re currently getting.

Editor-in-chief Ken Jalleh Jr--------
Hopefully then, my generation will no longer be labelled as the one that couldn’t care less about politics.

So the politics angle, coupled with the fact that they’re targeting it mainly at men (what?!?!?!?!) makes me want to tell even more women about it, and make sure they get on the mailing list.

So can they pull this off or will the mag crash and burn? I can’t wait to find out!

Creative Director Dick Lee
(picture from Lee's CV on his website)

GM Holman Chin

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Beijing on Sunday

Sunday Sep 24

The one thing you notice in Beijing is the speed at which the chinese talk -- it's rapid fire, and when your command of the language isn't strong like mine, it's a tad difficult to understand what they're saying sometimes. This is in stark contrast to the speed at which Beijing taxi drivers drive. On my way out on Sunday morning, I caught a cab which drove at approximately 40km/hr, and it wasn't just him, the rest of the taxis on the road were driving at a similarly languid pace. Bicycles are the choice of transport here, and if Singaporeans cyclists think they have it bad, they should come have a look at the road etiquette here: basically, there is none.

Beijing is pretty much a grey city -- from the sky to the buildings around you, there isn't much colour around. Still, sometimes you pass sprawling temples with Qing dynasty architecture or old historical houses along hutongs (alleys) that lend the city its character and that makes all the difference.

Like this church I went to on Sunday:

Known as the North Cathedral (i think because it's situated in the North district, according to the taxi driver who took me there, there's one in the south, east and weat of Beijing as well), it dates back to 1703 when the Emperor of the Qing dynastry granted the land to the church. Nondescript outside, you just have to step through the metal gates and you're greeted with a Kodak moment.

The next cab I hopped into took me to a favourite haunt -- a shopping strip. By and large Beijing taxi drivers are a friendly bunch and this one yakked non-stop although I'm sure he knew I didn't understand all of what he was saying. He took me to Xidan, a shopping mall a 5 minute ride from my hotel, and it was here that you could see China's progress at its best (see above pic right). Construction and development was all around, and the roads were lined with cars, bicycles and people. Drivers here are a fortunate lot -- you get to park your car right in front of the shopping centre, and there're parking wardens to guide you as you parallel park. If you have a manual car and leave your gear in neutral, the warden will even push your car forward when lot ahead of you is vacated.

The highlight of the day though was the WTA tourament -- we arrived at around 3pm and watch a doubles match against Spain and Russia. The Spaniards won (see below pic, left). The electric moment though was the women's final match between Amelie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Though the match was marred by an overcast sky and patchy rain which delayed the play, the audience was an appreciative one, clapping frequently and letting out collective "aiyah!!!!"s whenever a shot was missed. The crowd was also clearly in favour of Mauresmo, cheering her on even when it was clear she was going to cede the match to Kuznetsova (that's her, below pic, right ). It was the first time I was watching a match live and while it wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be (I thought Mauresmo gave up too easily, but she had a difficult match on Saturday while Kuznetsova was more rested) it was good enough.

Reporting from Beijing

Saturday Sep 23 (my laptop went bonkers so apologies for the late posting)

I was part of the media invited to Beijing by Sony Ericsson on a four day trip -- the mobile phone company was sponsoring the Women's Tennis Association and the itinerary promised a ticket to catch the final match, an interview with SE's branch manager in Singapore, and lots of free time.

I actually wasn't expecting very much from Beijing -- the accumulation of 'horror stories' about the city over the years had me forming a perception of the city that was not flattering. The terrible flight over didn't help either. During a particularly bad bout of turbulance (the plane was shaking so violently you could hear the toilet doors rattling) the bottom of my muffin was wet with tea that had sloshed over, and the elderly passenger next to me had his whole tray flooded with coffee.

I realised I was dead wrong about Beijing the moment I set foot in the airport -- it was as modern as any other I've ever seen, and probably even better than some others. On the way from the airport to our hotel (which is very swank), the city landscape was an ecletic mix of both bricks, motar and wood buildings standing side-by-side with concrete, steel and glass high-rise skyscrapers. While traffic was chaotic, it wasn't nearly as bad as what I had thought and we reached our hotel at around 4pm, with about two hours to unpack and settle in before meeting in the lobby again at 6.30pm for dinner -- we were going to have the capital's most famous dish, Peking duck.

We were shuttled to a duck resturant which according to our tour guide Echo, was legendary for its Peking duck -- it seems all the famous people and state guests come to the Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant to eat the bird.

The first thing I noticed after biting into the dish was how was how oily the skin was, much more so than the ones you get in Singaporean. There is literally an explosion of oil when you bite down -- which, according to your preference, you may or may not like. Echo explained later that the duck is force fed about 10-20 days before being killed, which explains the fatty-ness of the dish, and after that roasted in a oven fired up with fruit tree wood (in this restaurant at least) to give the dish a special fragrance. We then washed down the whole meal going through around 10 bottles of Nanjing beer. Very yummy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

High5-ing again

Follow up blog time, more than a week ago I posted a story about the supposed pictures of a certain bread maker’s secret factory inspection. It left some readers wondering what the bread maker and its PR firm were doing to managed this viral ‘crisis’

The answer can be found in the newspapers and from my chat with Integrated Marketing Solutions Group (IMSG) chairman, Rose Tan. High5 is a client of IMSG in case you’re wondering.

The viral emails and of course blogs as well have led to the lawyers coming in and cleaning up the mess. They’ve placed legal ads in various newspapers and not just the English language papers too. Here’s one from an English language newspaper though (left).

And the lawyers have also instructed High5 to make a police report to find the culprits of the fake pictures. When I spoke to Rose Tan, chairman for IMSG, she laid down the law to me on how they approach such problems.

“Any good PR agency would sit down with the client and find out what is true and what is false and then advise the client to tell the truth. If the product is a health hazard then we have to tell the client to recall it. In this case, the truth is High5 bread is safe for consumption. This has been verified by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore. The bread is halal and safe for consumption and we believe this (the viral pictures) is the work of spies and espionage. A police report has been made.”

Woaah! So now we know what they think (as in team High5) but what do the bloggers think? Is it espionage or disgruntled workers or do some people still think the pictures are actually accurate?

What I do know is this forum of blogs and viral videos and emails can be deadly to a brand. As I said last week, it really doesn’t matter if the pictures are fake because the average person probably doesn’t care or worst case scenario, they don’t trust printed media anymore.