INTERNATIONAL: OPINION/UNDERSTANDING ASIAN MARKETS

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 brands.

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

brands.



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

Asia/Pacific.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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