Special Report: Pan-Asian Media - Secrets of Pan-Asian creativity

There are numerous cultural and linguistic variations to be considered when creating advertising campaigns to run aross Asia. Four figures tell how they tackled them and reveal their pan-Asian favourites.

LINDA LOCKE - Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific

Pan-Asian advertising is usually a recipe for disaster. It speaks down to the target in order to reach a huge geographical spread and believes in casting people who sort of, kind of, look Malay, Filipino, Thai and so on. These people generally end up appearing bland and characterless.

Having said that, there are great campaigns that work across Asia, but generally they are extensions of global campaigns.

The best example is the consistent award-winning campaigns for The Economist.

Whether created in London, Singapore or Hong Kong, they speak with one voice to a readership more similar than dissimilar, which gets and desires the intelligent editorial of the magazine. It's a brand that talks up rather than down and talks to, rather than at, its readers. Its strength lies in a very clear sense of its positioning and branding, using both to create a universal language that appeals to businessmen everywhere.

Another good example is O&M's work for DHL International. Working on the platform "No-one knows Asia like DHL", the ads are humorous demonstrations of DHL finding short-cuts to get its customers' goods to their destinations.

HSBC has consistently proved you can produce global advertising that has local appeal across Asia and the world by diving into cultural insights with great charm and excellent production values. Its advertising brings the global communication a step closer by allowing the viewer to both know and celebrate cultural differences while stressing the importance of cultural expertise in local markets.

The Axe anti-perspirant campaign created by both Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Lowe in Singapore is an extension of the London campaign for Lynx, its alter ego. It doesn't attempt to cast Asians, but uses its western heritage to add to its appeal.

There are a lot of pan-Asian campaigns out there as clients push for economies of scale but they tend to wash over you in a haze. Yet, the Soken TV commercial "Kill Bill" from Thailand or the Uni President Green Tea "worms" could have run anywhere in Asia, but would never have been created if the brief had been for a pan-Asian campaign.

There are great pan-Asian campaigns that are successful extensions of global campaigns, there are local campaigns that could work pan-regionally, but there are very few good pan-Asian campaigns - and that will continue to be the case, unless we work to universal truths that rise above ethnicity and local cultural diversity.

- Linda Locke is the regional creative director at Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific.

JORG DIETZEL - BBDO Asia-Pacific

Several years ago, we did some research all over Asia for FedEx. We found that consumers believed the FedEx people try harder than the competition to get their package to the destination on time.

Since this was also very true to the FedEx culture and to how the client saw itself, we made this into a campaign proposition and expressed it through the claim: "FedEx - we live to deliver."

The first two TV executions, developed with our London office, showed the kind of people that FedEx is looking for - people that "go that extra mile".

One example is "ambulance", where a paramedic, whose truck is stuck in traffic, gets out and carries an old lady to the hospital. The ads, which ran all over Asia, showed people being "grabbed" by FedEx.

The series continued with "Jenny", developed by our Philippines office and shot in Australia. When a customer forgets his fries at a fast food drive-in, Jenny, the sales- woman, runs after him - up stairs, climbing fences, running through dark alleyways, until she finally finds him.

Last year, we wanted to take this idea one step further to show how much teamwork was part of FedEx. "Difficult package", developed by our Singapore agency, which also ran Asia-wide, shows how the FedEx team goes beyond the call of duty to handle the most awkward of packages.

Every FedEx script we ran passed the local agencies to ensure the theme and message were understood by local audiences and that we weren't treading on any cultural sensitivities.

For "Jenny", we deleted some close-ups of her running feet, since those were considered rude in Thailand. In the Philippines, we substituted the English voiceover with a more American-sounding one. And for the team-shot at the end of "difficult package", we selected talent from all over Asia to make the TV ad relevant to local audiences.

Elsewhere, I take my hat off to the Mandarin Oriental campaign ("She's/he's a fan") by M&C Saatchi. It's a campaignable classic; locally adaptable by choosing relevant celebrities for different markets.

Speaking of celebrities, they are as popular in Asia as ever. Pepsi, Visa and the slimming brand Marie France use them across borders. And while the concept is often the same, the celebs chosen vary depending on their cross-border fame: F4, the Taiwanese pop sensation, still work universally (even though they are more popular in some countries, has-beens in others), but more local stars are used in countries such as the Philippines - the American Idol runner-up Jasmine Trias (who is a Filipina living in Hawaii) is a huge star in Manila where the telco provider Smart, the underwear brand Bench and even McDonald's are using her.

There are differences in maturity between Asian markets but if the idea is big enough, the message will be understood anywhere.

- Jorg Dietzel is the multinational client management director at BBDO Asia-Pacific.

CALVIN SOH - Fallon Singapore

We first won the Volks-wagen Asia-Pacific account in spring 2003 - slightly over a year after Fallon Asia was set up. We were the David against the Goliaths of O&M, Lowe and DDB. It was an intense pitch lasting more than six months.

Not many people in Asia know what VW stands for. Partly because it hasn't advertised for a while and mostly because its previous agencies weren't centrally co-ordinated. Certainly, Asians don't see the brand in the same way the Europeans do.

Our first job was to carve a distinctive, ownable space for VW and at the same time get to its core essence of great engineering.

Then we had to test that strategy across five markets to make sure it worked. We spent a few months getting it right before we got on with the creative work.

We must have gone through more than 100 scripts before we arrived at three that the markets approved and tested well in research. In terms of air miles, we flew to the moon and back to sell the ideas and keep them sold. Finally, we were given the green light to produce them. As anyone in our industry would know, from here onwards, it was plain sailing.

The cars couldn't be delivered on time, the location moved from South Africa to Los Angeles to Buenos Aires to Barcelona, actors fell sick, locations were triple- booked, payments were delayed as computers contracted viruses, dialogue hastily rewritten and because God wasn't part of the union, the clouds didn't part on cue. It rained when it shouldn't and yet more people fell sick.

The end product was a campaign for a German company, led by an English marketer, conceived by Singaporeans, Malaysians, Canadians, Koreans, account handled by a Canadian Armenian, directed by a South African, executive produced by a Czech, shot in Barcelona with European actors, edited and finished in London and translated into five languages, across 14 markets in Asia-Pacific.

From start to finish, this project took more than a year-and-a-half.

And if we had to do it all over again, we would.

So what should you remember? First, respect. More often than not, for whatever reason, we go in with our own preconceived notions, thoughts and ideas and try to make them fit without considering what the individual markets or cultures are like. That's not to say you shouldn't have a point of view. You must, but listen first. It's always easier to sell a point of view that comes from their perspective.

Second, human truths. Don't concentrate on what makes us all different.

Focus laser-like on what unites us all. These universal truths will transcend mountains and language barriers. And by their very nature, are simple and easy to understand.

But we all know that already, don't we?

- Calvin Soh is the president and creative director of Fallon Singapore.

STEVE ELRICK - Bartle Bogle Hegarty Asia-Pacific

It's often hard to grasp just how diverse a place Asia really is. An expanding population of hundreds of millions, more than 300 separate countries, 700 different ethnicities, more than 1,000 languages and dialects between China and India alone and sometimes 300 religions within the same household of only four people, more than ...

OK, now I'm just making these figures up. But the real ones are hardly any less mind-boggling (I have read somewhere that Asia's population is predicted to grow to 5.2 billion over the next 50 years). It is hardly surprising that there are so few campaigns to have successfully traversed the borders of nationality, culture, language, insight or empathy.

One that I did admire was actually about the diversity of the region and the world beyond: the recent HSBC "Never underestimate the power of local knowledge" campaign, by Lowe. My favourite ad was the English businessman in China.

Presented with a basin-sized bowl of steaming eel soup, he proceeds to drain it with determined gusto. Voiceover: "In England it's considered a slur on your host's hospitality if you don't clear your plate, while the Chinese feel as if you are questioning their generosity if you do!"

And so the farce continues, with bowl upon bowl being presented and slowly drained. Nicely done and, crucially, funny, charming and informative to both cultures. Funny that, because you could say HSBC's operating strategy is pretty similar to Bartle Bogle Hegarty's. Big global ideas, often executed with the benefit of deep local insights to make them more potent.

Take the Johnnie Walker "keep walking" campaign. We run both global and more local work. A global ad written in Singapore featuring Roberto Baggio triumphing under enormous pressure touched male nerves all around the world, especially so in football mad (Man United mad) Asia.

But in Thailand we complemented and deepened male progress stories with cultural insights that showed that the most respected men in Thailand progress spiritually by giving back to the community. In Taiwan and China we locked into the zeitgeist of near-unlimited opportunity and drive among young men within their rapidly expanding economies.

Global strategies, universal truths and cultural insights combine to bring richness and empathy. And could there be anything more universal than boy meets girl? Despite "The Axe Effect" being a huge global BBH idea that travels well across Asia, we do often change its clothes to suit the different climates. The subtleties of the mating dance can be painfully precise - as any bloke who's approached a girl can testify.

Not for us the blokey play-the-game humour of the UK, or the notch-on-the-bedpost Latin lover getting the girl.

Asian guys really don't want to be seen trying too hard to impress the girl at all. And the girl? Rather than attract multiple panting minxes that define male fantasies, our ordinary guy is more interested in attracting "The One" (Albeit the impossibly beautiful "One!").

Across Asia, in the brand game - just like the mating game - if you get your approach and patter wrong, or the nuances slightly off-key, then be prepared for an embarrassing and instant rejection.

- Steve Elrick is the executive creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty Asia-Pacific.

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