ASIAN MEDIA: Clients on media

Which media choices are appropriate to cut through the ever-increasing level of clutter in Asia's ad markets? Jo Bowman asks some of Asia's biggest media spenders for the secrets behind their strategies.

Just as advertisers have to tailor their creative messages to meet the tastes, habits and sophistication of consumers in individual markets, they also have to tailor their media buying.

In deciding the right media mix, however, there are added complications.

In Asia, what is legal, what is achievable on a budget and, of course, what is effective can vary wildly between markets.

Most global brands, then, allow their individual country offices to determine how their own media budget is spent, in the belief that those closest to the market know best how it works.

"We provide some guidance and guidelines, depending on the nature of the creative we've done and what we think is the most effective way of using it," Levi's Asia-Pacific vice-president, Steve Castledine, says. "But you get more value out of selecting media locally."

At Virgin Atlantic, decisions are again made by local offices. "Each office has its own thinking and strategy to do its promotions," Angelina Wong, the Hong Kong-based marketing head, says. "It's very localised - we don't use the same thing across different stations."

A brand that relies almost solely on television in one Asian market may spend little or nothing on TV in another, despite a creative message that is essentially conveying the same brand values. And global brands that experiment with outdoor or online advertising in some countries may be strictly traditional in their media choices elsewhere.

David Fielding, the strategic marketing director at Coca-Cola Asia, says there's a constant exchange of ideas between markets. This is despite campaigns being highly localised; not only in terms of using local celebrities but also with regard to different media choices.

He says: "Our colleagues always look to understand what other markets across our system are doing, test ideas from other markets and steal, where appropriate, innovative and powerful work from around the system for application within their local markets."

One of the first factors determining differences in media selection in different markets is the range of rules on what can be advertised and how. From a creative point of view,in China, for instance, lip-to-lip kissing and anything that resembles a protest rally are banned. What's more, the media that certain product categories can use are also limited.

This is a particular issue for alcoholic drinks makers. "Some things you simply can't do," R Ramesh, the regional marketing director for Pernod-Ricard Asia, says. "We'd love to do TV advertising in Korea but it's not allowed, so we do print and outdoor. In Malaysia, you can't do TV either and in other markets you can do TV but not until after 9pm."

Such rules can lead to bizarre situations such as in India, where so-called surrogate advertisements run in place of those that would offend the rule-makers. Marketers of a whisky brand there, for instance, run a TV ad for a pineapple juice that has been given the same name as the whisky. The ad promotes the image of the alcoholic drink and consumers all know the name as a whisky brand but, strictly speaking, the ad is for another product.

After government regulations are taken into account, the laws of economics apply. The cost of a 20-second TV spot or a roadside billboard can vary greatly between markets. Some media can be prohibitively expensive for marketers on a budget, while others are affordable but are not regarded as effective enough to be good value for money.

Castledine says the cost of outdoor is a good example of this: in Manila, it's expensive compared with Malaysia, where it's not as popular or as effective. "Outdoor is effective in Manila because of the high concentration of the population and the fact that the city's quite spread out, so people use their cars more," he says.

Once the office accountant is satisfied, next up is the challenge of matching a strong media choice with the creative message to ensure it sticks in consumers' minds. Wong says there is a constant search for new media, particularly because Virgin is one brand that likes to cause a bit of a stir with its selection of media. The airline scored a branding coup when it transformed Hong Kong's trademark green and white Star Ferry into a floating red advertisement for Virgin. Wong says the current Hong Kong campaign, promoting upper class on the new Airbus 600 series, marks another media first for Virgin, using eye-catching bulkhead panels along the track of the city's underground railway. The campaign also uses 12-sheet posters and online work.

"Sometimes it's difficult to find something that no-one has done before," Wong says, adding that the usual media mix draws on outdoor and print resources, in both English- and Chinese-language publications. "We don't use TV as there are budget restrictions; there's no global ad available for us to use and production costs are high. But the mix depends on the individual campaign and whether or not we're talking about just pricing."

Castledine agrees that doing something new with media is increasingly important, as increasing clutter means that consumers are more likely to let advertising "wash over them".

To this end, the brand has started to shift its media buying in Asia away from its traditional mainstay, television, towards more outdoor and alternative media. The change began about two years ago, when Levi's launched its Engineered jeans. Ads for the first time featured people who were clearly Asian, so consumers could not only identify strongly with the talent, but could also see how the product would fit on an Asian body. At the same time, Levi's broadened its use of media in the region to include more tactical placements such as posters, in clubs and in-store, which are now regarded as beacons for the brand.

"The cost of our campaigns hasn't really changed a great deal," he says.

"But I'd say that in the past 18 months we've seen the mix of media shifting towards this more on-ground, local media and proportionally less TV and other traditional media."

Castledine says TV advertising, for example, no longer has the resonance with consumers that it once did when there were only a couple of channels and no remote control.

"The challenge to media and creative agencies is to identify other ways to get the message in front of the consumer," he says. "Every single thing you could possibly do has been discussed. We even talked about re-enacting our TV script in real life in the high street so people would see the ad happening in front of them."

Levi's push towards using more outdoor media is being mirrored by international brands around Asia, where outdoor has largely been neglected.

While sophisticated advertising markets such as Japan have long been renowned for their creative use of outdoor, markets such as Singapore and Thailand are only just discovering how best to exploit outdoor media space, and the proportion of total adspend going to outdoor and transit advertising has soared in the past three years.

The telecoms company StarHub used an airship over Singapore in a branding exercise: it was later hired to hover over Hong Kong to tell consumers about ANZ Bank's platinum credit cards.

Giant TV screens are getting bigger and sharper all the time, posters and billboards are growing in size and quality, and innovative media space is constantly being discovered. Bikes with a message and signboards mounted on vans are being driven around Singapore, while train windows have become media space in Bangkok.

Many clients in the region are also looking to combine several media in a single campaign to create an impact bigger than the sum of its parts; TV and press advertising often guide people to websites, data is collected for e-mail or direct mail campaigns and invitations to events are sent to customers and potential buyers in the resulting database.

Nokia, for instance, was a key sponsor of last year's MTV Asia Awards, and built an eight-month campaign around it involving online, mobile, print and on-air advertising. It also has a relationship with the regional business news channel CNBC, creating vignettes about developments in wireless mobile telephony and sponsoring one of the network's lifestyle and technology programmes.

"There's more of an emphasis on long-term strategic partnerships in what we're doing with media, as opposed to short bursts," Shelley Gayford, the executive group director at Zenith Media in Singapore, which handles Nokia's buying across the region, says.

She says Nokia's media strategy is largely determined by how developed the target market is, with a fairly consistent mix being used in places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia and the key Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai. A different approach is used for those less developed markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia and India.

"In the more developed markets, we use a much broader media mix and that's shifting towards more outdoor," Gayford says. "Out-of-home media is a very effective way of reaching the youth market, and in Taiwan and Australia we also have heavy use of magazines, mainly lifestyle, fashion and some prestige titles. In the developing markets, it still tends to be very TV- and newspaper-focused because they're much more cost-effective media for reaching broad target markets."

At Pernod-Ricard, combinations of sponsorship and traditional media are being used to promote the Chivas Regal brand. In partnership with the record company EMI, a CD of chill-out music was released last month encouraging listeners to "Chill out with Chivas", win prizes and take advantage of new promotions.

Ramesh says that while campaigns are crafted to take into account the values of the brand being advertised, as well as the cultural mores of the target market, the media mix generally draws on print, television and, increasingly, outdoor.

"In our case, outdoor is not general outdoor, so we wouldn't stick up a poster in a train station just because the station is busy, but we'd put it in a site near a lot of bars and nightclubs," he says. "Some budgets are quite low, so we don't get into TV at all in some markets. There'll be zero spend on TV but a combination of outdoor, DM and print."

Not everyone is rushing to the great outdoors; some clients are sticking with the same media formula they've had for years, simply because it works.

Coca-Cola, for instance, is heavily focused on TV, but ventures into other media in specific markets, such as outdoor in Thailand, where it uses posters, and online in Japan, where it has run an online competition in tandem with a drama mini-series on TV for its "no reason" campaign there.

Richard Pinder, the regional managing director for Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific, which handles McDonald's in China, the Philippines, Singapore, Pakistan and Taiwan, says the burger giant also remains loyal to the American model of buying TV advertising first, and other media later. "The focus is definitely on TV, almost without exception, as a starting point. It's their media of choice," he says.

The media that are used to complement TV work varies from market to market.

In Hong Kong, bus panels and posters are widely used; in China, McDonald's ventures into other media only in the major cities and, like Nokia, sticks primarily with TV in the rest of the country.

Aside from the cost variation in media across different markets, Pinder says the quality of work possible in print and outdoor media, for instance, is also inconsistent.

China, for example, is not synonymous with high-quality print work.

Most international brands determine their total media spend in each market based on how much revenue is generated there. The result is that the media choices tend to be local rather than pan-regional, with the biggest proportion of spend going to wealthy markets such as Japan.

Castledine says the bulk of Levi's regional adspend goes to Japan, followed by Korea, Taiwan, Australia and the Philippines. While there is little media buying that covers the entire region, he says cultural overlaps between certain markets mean that not all media choices are local. Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, for instance, share a lot in terms of language and consumer interest, so publications that span the three markets are used for print ads. Similarly, campaigns created for Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia can often be used in media that cover all three markets.

For McDonald's, spend in Hong Kong and China leads the region, with markets such as Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines trailing. Pinder says pan-regional media is rarely even considered because each market funds its own advertising, but it may be used in conjunction with major world events such as the Olympics.

Ramesh says that for Pernod-Ricard's top-end brands, such as Martell and Chivas, a combination of local and pan-regional advertising works effectively. "The audience travels around the region, it may be the top 1 to 2 per cent in each market, and you might reach it in Singapore but it consumes in Hong Kong," he says.

Marketers say that as consumer markets become more developed and the quality of reproduction improves, more creative use of media and, consequently, more impactful campaigns will emerge.

"We see exciting things ahead in Asia, especially in outdoor and regional media," Ramesh says. "There'll be some great opportunities."

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