By MARK BLAIR, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 06 June 1997 12:00AM
There is a view that Asian consumers are incredibly superficial in
their choice of brands, amazingly literal in their interpretation of
advertising and so seduced by years of double-digit economic growth they
have sacrificed all loyalties - both to traditional family values and
This is nonsense. Asian consumers are not unsophisticated; if only
Western marketers would probe beneath the surface, rather than skate on
the thin ice of old theories.
Simon Sherwood’s opinion piece (Campaign, 11 April) showed how easy it
is to be caught by catch-all myths.
The so-called problem of no loyalty stems from a rapid increase in the
number of consumer choices as a result of increased prosperity. However,
the ’trading’ mentality often cited by Western marketers as a reason for
this exists only in Hong Kong and, to a lesser extent, Singapore.
There are many significant brands that act like brands and are treated
as brands by consumers, such as Sampoerna in Indonesia, Milo in
Malaysia, Singha in Thailand and Ericsson in Taiwan. Mainland China has
a number of local clients whose ’local’ brands give multinationals a
licking: just ask Colgate what it thinks of Chonqing toothpaste.
Mainland China is probably the country most misunderstood by minds
located in faraway New York, London and so on. Very few Western
companies have made a profit in China in the 18 years since Deng’s
reforms opened up in the social market economy.
Is it because they cannot attract and retain a loyal user base? No.
Evidence suggests that the brands (Western or Chinese) which invest most
in advertising share of voice gain most in market share.
Is it because consumers are so superficial in terms of selection that
building deeper brand values doesn’t work? No. Just ask women in
Shanghai to compare Dior with Estee Lauder, students in Sichuan to
discuss the representative brand personalities of Coca-Cola and Pepsi or
young executives in Guangzhou to decide whether to go for the ’face’
brand Mercedes or a BMW.
In all cases, they are making decisions on standard brand-related
principles - and all in the face of a lack of heritage, subtle
advertising and often poor distribution.
Let’s not berate the consumer for issues that arise out of the business
environment that accompanies periods of phenomenal economic growth.
Instead, let’s adapt Western brand-building understanding to this
environment, and take on the responsibility to get ahead of consumers.
Right now, they’re ahead of us.
Mark Blair is regional planning director of Ogilvy and Mather
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk