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?