Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The price of a popular face

We ooh and ahh at beautiful ads shot with beautiful models (the not so beautiful ones are known as talents), and we gasp at the huge budgets thrown at such creations, but there’s a community out there that scoffs at sentences containing both the words ‘money’ and ‘advertising’.

You see, just like A-list Hollywood types, the majority of Singapore-based artistes ‘belong’ to artiste management companies such as Fly Entertainment (owned by Irene Ang) and Artiste Network (owned by Ken Lim). These talents, aside from acting or singing on TV programmes, derive a large portion of their income from endorsement deals and shooting commercials.

Recently, one such artiste, who previously did a shoot for a large furniture brand, was heard saying he was surprised to find the ad being aired in places such as cinemas and on cable channels because he only signed off on being exposed on terrestrial TV.

When he found out he was being short changed, he had to go as far as to threaten legal action before he was paid the extra royalties from the additional media buys. The tricky thing he encountered, was finding out which parties to go after for the money.

The chain:

Artiste --> artiste management firm --> production house --> creative agency --> media agency --> client

I don’t know exactly where he went to get his money in the end, but it wasn’t the artiste management firm, because it couldn’t care less its artistes were being exploited.

I’m quite sure such occurrences are common place -- especially since so many players are involved, it is easy to neglect to pay the face of your commercials a couple of thousand dollars.

But I just wanted to give a voice to the neglected talents whom we depend on to create hype for our brand but who are then tossed aside once the shoot’s over. Yes, they’re wheeled and dealed like commodities (aren’t service providers all) so the least we could do is pay them fairly.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The PR versus advertising debate

PR and advertising belong to two separate camps. PR agencies tell clients PR’s better, while ad agencies tell clients advertising’s better. What then does a PR person for an ad agency tell people then?

Note: I’m not comparing agencies which leverage on both disciplines to provide an integrated offering. I’m talking about dedicated PR agencies and dedicated advertising agencies.

Was having lunch with a PR person who works at an ad agency yesterday and he agreed it’s a slight difficulty, having to explain his job scope to people without putting advertising down.

A conversation on this topic would go something like this:

Advertising person: What’s so good about PR?
PR person: Coz it’s the most economical way to reach mass audiences.

Advertising person: So you mean advertising is expensive?
PR person: Erm, oops, no. But, erm, PR attracts public interest.

Advertising person: Isn’t that what advertising does?
PR person: Hold on, PR creates long-term results.

Advertising person: And advertising is a short term thing...?
PR person: Well, people regard companies more favourably when they read about them in a positive editorial spread and that pays off in the long term.

Advertising person: Now you’re insulting me. Are you saying advertising is biased? But advertising is based on truth!
PR person: [sigh] That’s not what I mean.

Sure, any marketer worth his salt will know you need both advertising and PR to build your brand or promote your product, but the truth is the two camps do play down each other’s strengths to get the client to put money with them – they are, afterall, fighting for a cut of the same marketing budget.

Thing is, even in an agency such as O&M, which has Ogilvy PR, my understanding is each division has its own P&L to watch and it’ll be interesting to find out how each division manages to sell itself without drawing the inevitable comparisons.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A face to launch a thousand ships

A recent report has it that the Malaysian government is reviving a ban on multiracial Asian faces used in advertising and in magazines.

According to the South China Morning Post, Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin said models with ‘pan-Asian’ features were not representative of Malaysian demographics.

"Using pan-Asian faces means downgrading local faces," he said. "We have to give priority to models with local looks."

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The announcement on Sunday extended the ban to advertising carried by private television stations, the print media and billboards.
The minister said the ban would eventually cover all media, but it was unclear when it would take effect.
The ministry would have the power to decide on whether a model's features were appropriate, and be backed up by the weight of law.
A similar ban was imposed in 1997, but the law was l
ater shelved amid an outcry. Now, the government is again under pressure from cultural and religious purists who want to promote "local faces" in the media.
The Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia
said rigid guidelines were already "killing creativity" in the industry.

Malaysia’s conservative stance on advertising aside – there’s no point debating this – it is commonly noted that in Singapore too advertisers seem to prefer using pan-Asian faces.

Australians Rebecca Tan (1st pic) and Sarah Tan ( 2nd pic) – they’re not related – are two of the most high profile faces in the local modelling business. You may not be familiar with their names but you’d definitely recognise their faces. Not to mention MTV darling Denise Keller (3rd pic).

Singapore is a cosmopolitan place where you can find people – and food! – from all corners of the world. But due to the majority of our population being Chinese, you do see a lot more Chinese TV and music artistes gracing billboards and magazines. How many endorsement deals does Fann Wong have, for goodness’ sake!

So aside from the Chinese faces we see, and I’m generalising here, possibly the next largest groups would be the pan-Asians and Caucasians.

From an advertiser’s point of view, let’s do an informal poll, what’s right or wrong about preferring models of mixed parentage? Does race affect actual sales figures?

Personally, I feel such images in the media have gotten so commonplace that I don’t question them anymore, but is there even a need to question?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Stretching the matrix

I attended a media roundtable lunch briefing today by travel facilitator company Abacus, and while there, took the opportunity to clarify with the experts on a previous post I had done before that bugged me.

That entry (Travel agents are not dinosaurs) was about making travel bookings through online vs physical travel agents and there were some interesting issues raised in the comments to the blog that I wanted to air during the lunch to get deeper insights – in those comments, some straddled the middle ground while others were adamant that travel agents, to quote one response, “are so dead”.

Well not quite – it isn’t as simple as that and apart from that comment being a very general sweeping statement, there are, as in every situation, different issues to consider. According to Don Birch, president and CEO of Abacus, it really depends on the nature of your travel and the differences in services available at the moment. If you’re after a point A-to-point B destination, online’s more suitable. This is good for huge countries like India where it’s huge and has big infrastructure. But in smaller countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore, even with the level of comfort that we have in using e-commerce and technology, the “propensity to see and touch” is much greater, hence the role of travel agents. Kenneth Low VP for South Asia said although the next generation may prefer a different way to purchase, travel fairs still have its place – in fact, travel agencies are coming up with more shows built around NATAS, and these are growing well too.

It also depends on the travel booking service you’re after, and there’re three kinds – those offered by low cost carriers, the online travel agents like Zuji, and the travel agent. According to Don, people can and do buy across all three channels, and all three modes can coexist together – the fundamental question is, as the nature of the travel industry changes, how do I make myself more relevant, bearing in mind that travel is an emotional decision, and some feel more comfortable dealing with a person than an online travel site? There’s no silver bullet answer and it depends on circumstance, but taking into consideration that the nature of travel in our part of the woods is different by and large, the travel agent role will still be around.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The view from the grandstand

Seriously, was last night’s Singapore-Thailand face off resulting in a 2-1 win for the Lions a game to debate about for weeks or what? Check these pictures out.

Nevermind the fact that a Thai player was stretchered off the pitch barely two minutes into the game, nevermind Singapore capitalised on the opportunity for an early goal in the 17th minute, nevermind that stretchers continued to appear on the pitch for every few minutes throughout the entire evening, nevermind even that Thailand came back with a good looking goal right after half-time.

Moments before Singapore scored the first goal

What was the most interesting was the Thai team walking off the pitch at the 83rd minute in disagreement with the referee’s decision to award Singapore a penalty kick a mere few metres away from the goal. As far as I’ve heard, no team has done that in Singapore before, nor England for that matter (can someone confirm this?), and the Singaporean fans were in absolute shock.

Throughout the tense 15 minute stand-off, when match officials in suits approached the referee and the Thai side, all the fans could see were gesticulating and the Thai team huddled together in heated discussion. Meanwhile, fans shouted a variety of “Booooo”, “Loser” and sang “Oleh Oleh Oleh”, seeming extremely entertained by the turn of events.

Here’s the report.

I mean, talk about drama!

When the situation cooled off, Singapore then went on to convert the penalty kick into a brilliant goal so that was the icing on the cake. I say cake because the penalty was arguably a harsh decision by the ref, and I’ll bet he didn’t sleep very well last night.

I’m now really worried for the Lions because this fiasco has undoubtedly further strained relations between our countries, in light of the political issues involving Temasek and Shin Corp, so Singaporeans should take care for the second leg of the match.

I had the privilege of interview Aviva’s regional brand and communications director Jessica Lee earlier in the day and as Jessica’s a veteran in dealing with sports sponsorships, I asked her how do sponsors cope in situations where an event goes bad or when an athlete breaks the rules.

Without giving too much away (you’d have to read Marketing’s March edition for the interview), she said sponsors enter such deals with their eyes wide open and are prepared to distance themselves from specific athletes should they do something disgraceful. Clauses protecting the sponsor, specifying what will happen in the event of negative situations are laid out from the start.

Cheers to World Sport Group which kindly offered me complimentary grandstand tickets to the match through Edelman after reading my blog on the Saturday game. It was an awesome experience, I’m a soccer convert!!