Thursday, December 11, 2008

When the going gets tough, the government gets going

Every business has its modus operandi of dealing with the global economic crisis - some lay-off, some freeze hiring, some seek policy support to bail them out and some turn towards government accounts to make sure business keeps flowing.

And it is the advertising/marketing industry in particular of late that is pouncing upon any government or quasi-government account that is out to pitch. A recent briefing for a pitch from a government department drew as many as 45 agencies to attend the briefing session.

Another government tender saw 15 agencies, much less of course, but on any given day it’s a lot more than what is the usual turn-out for a government account.

Some of the ongoing tenders include the Ministry of Foregin Affairs and the family development division of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

On this trend, one industry insider says: “Welcome to 2009. I am not surprised. It had to happen”. Another remarks: “The situation was almost similar back then during the SARS period.”

The entire uncertainty that looms large over the corporate sector, has made agencies jittery to pitch for some accounts, particularly those in the banking market. Another industry source says, “It’s strange to see even the big ones [agencies] pitch for the smallest government account.”

The pinch is being felt everywhere isn’t it?

Recent lay-offs announced by banks and financial institutions, most of which cover support services like marketing, have undoubtedly had a bearing on the way agencies approach an account. Well, it is a nightmare if you are an agency in the middle of an ongoing pitch and one fine morning you learn that the entire marketing team is laid-off and the pitch revoked.

It will be interesting to see how agencies will behave during the boom that will follow the recession (It has to, it always happens).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bold, provocative and controversial, but going too far?

Sportswear brand Skins has been renowned for its unique and often controversial advertising in the past few years, but recently the brand suffered a massive setback, igniting a question about just how far should marketing push beyond its boundaries?

Last week the Advertising Federation of Australia (AFA) took back its illustrious gold pinnacle award that it gave to Skins’ creative agency The Furnace in 2007. Why? Well as you can read here the award recognized The Furnace’s work for Skins and honored a particular campaign for the compression garments manufacturer which stated that Skins doesn’t pay sports stars to wear their products, sports stars pay Skins for them.

This is the ad:

But last year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) brought a court action against Skins when it was revealed that the brand actually did pay sports stars to wear its products. Oops.

Last week the ACCC unsurprisingly finally found Skins guilty of false and misleading advertising, and the AFA asked for its award – Australia’s equivalent of a gold Effie – back.

Skins and The Furnace have been doing campaigns that push the limit for quite a while. Here’s another of their efforts.

These ads have been very successful in that they have driven huge sales of Skins' products and put the brand on the world stage.

Now I personally feel there’s nothing wrong with controversial advertising, if it has a point or message behind it. It’s so hard to get cut-through these days and to actually get the attention of consumers, so advertising must be unique and different to have an impact. But there’s also a very fine line that once you cross, you’re in trouble. Making unsubstantiated claims about a brand, like the first Skins ad above, is a no-no.

But the second ad above, shot in LA and featuring a series of African-Americans, is in my opinion, OK, and has an actual message for the viewer. It's not controversial for the sake of being controversial. Sure it’s provocative, but it doesn’t go too far. However, the ad ran into trouble in the UK and US for being deemed as 'racist'.

What do you think? Has Skins gone too far in these ads? Should advertising be controversial?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Brand’s brainstorms bloggers

Brand’s, the manufacturer of a range of health supplements who’s selling point is that they increase brain power, recently organised the first Brand’s Blogger challenge where five well-known bloggers from Malaysia and Singapore competed in a mental challenge.

While the quiz was as run-of-the- mill as it can be, the event garnered much attention and enthusiasm as it involved social media, a marketing move that Isabella Tan, vice president for regional marketing at Cerebos (Brand’s holding company), says helped them engage with their audience.

Inspired by a regional survey commissioned by Brand’s on how Asians in eight countries viewed their mental performance, this was the first time that a team of Singapore bloggers were pitted against their Malaysian counterparts in a series of mind challenges.

Here is what Tan had to say about the challenge and the idea behind getting bloggers to quiz:

The survey revealed that that Singaporeans, compared to the rest of Asia, were relatively less engaged when it comes to undertaking activities that would help boost their mental performance. Comparatively, Malaysians are more engaged than Singaporeans in this aspect.

But Singaporeans, do have a reason to cheer, even if the results of the survey didn’t favour them, they emerged the winners of the first Brand’s blogger challenge.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is there any loyalty in the industry anymore?

Around half of the marketing, media and communication executives in Singapore barely stay with an employer for more than two years, a new study from Aquent has found.

Steven Pang, Asia regional director of Aquent, spoke to Marketing’s sister publication Human Resources about the Aquent Orange survey, and he nominates a few ways companies can increase their staff retention rates.

The topic is definitely an interesting one and raises some questions.

Is loyalty dead? Or is it just the Generation Y trend to move jobs regularly? What is the real affect of high staff turnover in the marketing, media and advertising industries? And during the downturn, will turnover levels increase or improve?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Musings on Burger King and Borat

Despite the many shocked faces I see when I say I haven’t watched Borat, I refuse to lend my eyes and sacrifice my ears to view a single minute of it. Reading about it is bad enough for me. Imagine having to sit through Mr-Hanging-Balls and camera-crew scour the remote villages of ‘Kazakhstan’ (in reality filmed at Glod, Romania)-- making fools of unbeknownst villagers, have them open their doors, catch them on tape and next overlying the most wretched of fictitious dialogue over what was filmed.

Borat humiliates "Mom", has an Incestous "Sister" and The Man with a Sex Toy Fist

The BIASED me says that the producers and Cohen himself were preying on the lack of knowledge and the communication divide between the natives and him.

So when I chanced upon this campaign named “Whopper Virgin”, by Burger King to market its burgers, I was having mixed feelings. And believe you me, I am a Burger King fan.

According to the website, the ads will document the ‘Virgin’ whopper experiences of people from what I see to be (purely from guess work at the moment) maybe some Eastern Bloc country (dressing and beaded hats), an Inuit community (physical appearance and furry shoes) and a remote SE Asian village from Vietnam/Thailand. Some also get to do a taste test between Burger King’s burger and its bitter rival’s Big Mac.

Not exactly Borat… (At least these people don’t get sex-toys affixed to their body parts and they got to eat something they have never eaten.). I don’t know if this ‘talent’ get paid for their appearance or they are aware that they are being filmed for a commercial.

Anthony Bourdain once lamented that mass tourism was changing the landscape of remote villages in Laos. Somewhat similar in this case, this talent have been brought from the realm of the unknown to know the existence of commercialism - like how some missionaries worked in days of the past, perhaps these natives should feel ‘enlightened’ as they have been touched and duly greased by the oily fingers of fast-food.

My point is this, while many TVCs are scripted and mostly always 'fake', and even though these ‘real reactions and emotions’ bring to the art of filming advertisements to another ‘high’….

Is it considered ethical? Am I over-reacting or is there a tiny inkling of deception and exploitation is this new “adver-mentary” (advertising-documentary) style of speaking to the target audience while ‘connecting’ with them?

As a practioner, is this to you considered acceptable

The ad/film has not been revealed yet and this are just my preliminary thoughts on it. Perhaps it has been tastefully done, with large stroke of humanity and a sprinkle of commercialism.

Perhaps I will eat my words along with a huge whopper and fries.