CAMPAIGN REPORT ON ASIA: Think local, act local - Rachel Oliver reveals how the cultural and regional differences in Asia force agencies to tailor their work in the most subtle ways

Ad agencies and their clients are often guilty of treating Asia as a single, discrete entity, both in terms of the budgets that are allocated to the region as well as the advertisements. It feels like it's stating the obvious to say that Asia is not one homogenous place, but a vast collection of contrasting cultures, which is home to half of the world's population. You wouldn't always know that, however.

We took three global advertisers and asked them how they tailored their advertising to four different Asian markets. What we found was a collection of subtle considerations in each market, which can drastically alter the creative execution and, on occasion, the proposition of the brand itself.

For example, why are dogs so offensive in Malaysian advertising? What is it about men wearing an unbuttoned shirt that offends the Chinese so much? And how did McDonald's achieve the reputation of being a high-quality dining establishment in mainland China? The truth is that each of these facts steers the creative executions in each Asian market more than anything else. Conversely, there are some regional campaigns that work perfectly well and some instances where too much localisation of the message can actually alienate the audience. As they say in the US, go figure.

While the majority of McDonald's ads are shot locally in Asia to appeal to individual markets, the universal themes of family and fun remain firmly entrenched in its messages. However, there are some markets where McDonald's' image differs drastically. In China, McDonald's is seen as a clean, upmarket restaurant chain, "where people spend quality time together", Leo Burnett's executive creative director, Eddie Booth, says. Therefore it makes the perfect setting for a marriage proposal. In the ad, the hero slips an engagement ring inside a box of chicken wings. However, when his girlfriend opens the box, she's more interested in the chicken wings. "We came up with the idea specifically to take place in the store - store recognition is important in China,

Booth says.

The Philippines has been McDonald's most experimental market to date, according to Burnett's regional creative director, Linda Locke. Unlike its other light-hearted Asian campaigns, "Lolo

raised the trickier theme of Alzheimer's disease. The central character in the ad was an old man suffering from Alzheimer's trying to enjoy a McDonald's meal with his grandchild. "Lolo was produced during Alzheimer's Week. It's going back into strongly connecting the brand with family values,

Locke says.

South Koreans have a very strong, distinctive sense of humour, so McDonald's decided to use the services of a well-known comedian. It is one of the few ads not shot in the confines of a McDonald's restaurant. "A lot of people buy fries as snacks and buying fries and eating them on a bus is quite common,

Locke says. "The minute you see the fries, it screams at you. It's iconic."

In Singapore, following a controversial ad run by a local agency, 10AM, advertising McDonald's Hot 'n' Spicy range, McDonald's has gone out of its way to create a new look and fresh appeal for the brand. "You don't see that much animation here, so with this we wanted to create characters we could use time and time again,

Locke says. The campaign, which promotes its slashed prices, features three distressed burgers having an identity crisis following the price cuts.

Across Asia, Nokia's strategy has been to portray itself as a charming, human brand. Until recently, its policy of cultural representation in its regional ads has meant using three sets of acting talent. That sensitivity has diminished, according to Aris Theophilakis, the regional creative director at Nokia's agency, Bates Asia.

One regional ad shows a US rock group paying their hotel bill. When their credit card is refused, one of the band members attempts to make a phone call, using the card, with the idea being that one day we will all be able to use our mobile phones as wallets. For the conservative Chinese market, this was groundbreaking. The reason it got through? After a bit of digital retouching to offensive items such as one band member's open shirt, ultimately the offenders in the ad weren't Chinese and it appealed to the Chinese perception of debauched westerners.

Bates also filmed Cantonese and Mandarin ads in Los Angeles, with a storyline revolving around an older couple wanting to contact their offspring while on holiday. China's one-child policy meant the couple referred to "the kid

- the version shown in Hong Kong says "the kids".

Malaysia is well known for the number of guidelines it places on advertisers.

Always shoot commercials in Malaysia, always use local talent, and in Nokia's case, never use dogs. Nokia had to reshoot a 60-second pan-Asian ad entirely, with local actors and crew, and with the absence of the canine.

"Dogs are seen as a bad omen,

Theophilakis says. "So we used a cat."

Ironically, Japan is the toughest market for Nokia in Asia because people don't buy into mobile phone brands. Instead, they buy DoCoMo (i-mode) or J-Phone which own the technology used by the mobile phone manufacturers.

De Beers' diamonds are heavily associated with one major event in people's lives. However, the role of women and etiquette surrounding marriage radically differ across Asia. As a result, De Beers' ads range from schmaltzy to girl power.

Take China, where the tradition of an engagement ring is pretty much non-existent.

Instead, gold jewellery is typically purchased to commemorate the occasion itself. De Beers' advertising focuses on connecting diamonds with the theme of lifelong partnership. However, much of De Beers' strategy is to introduce the ring more in the engagement process. "We are trying to change people's perceptions of what should be given for a wedding,

the executive creative director at J. Walter Thompson in North East Asia, Lo Sheung Yan, says.

In Hong Kong, De Beers runs much of its Chinese and Taiwanese ad campaigns, but with subtle differences. In one TV ad, which ran across the three markets, the creative features a couple on a beach, at sunrise, with the boyfriend offering his intended the ring. The rest of the ad follows their lives, from the wedding, to conceiving a baby, finishing back on the same beach with their child. In the Hong Kong version, any suggestion of children was taken out. "When Hong Kong couples get married, they want a romantic life. In China, once you get married, you're getting ready to have a kid,

Lo says.

In South Korea, De Beers' advertising is more ballsy and conversely moves its focus from the intended couple to the mother-in-law, and as a result its advertising allows it to showcase a greater number of its products.

"You show the mother-in-law wanting to give the daughter face by giving her a nice gift,

Lo says. "The daughter-in-law is close to the mother so you are projecting a harmonious family."

De Beers' Taiwanese advertising is perhaps the most edgy, with a more contemporary angle than in other Asian countries. One TV ad shows a couple at a restaurant sitting by the window.

A beautiful woman stops outside to check her reflection, seductively twirling her diamond necklace. In the restaurant, the man ogles the woman and his girlfriend storms out.

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