Culture Clash: Why brand planning in Asia requires a rethinking of the Western Mindset

James_Parsons_flamingo

so I had the awesome pleasure yesterday of joining an OMG (that’s Omnicom Media Group – although you can sometimes forgive any mix up 😉 – Thought Bubbles session organised by the awesome Guy Hearn, Mark Gray and Shel Vei in Singapore.

the subject was The Myth of the Brand in Asia – a talk given by James Parsons (above) who is the Managing Director (Asia) of Flamingo.

James’ point wasn’t that the idea of a brand is a myth in Asia – rather that the idea of a brand in Asia is very different from the western way of thinking about brands … and that this has implications for brands and specifically brand planning.

James cited a Richard Nisbitt’s ‘The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why’, which I had never come across but which looks fascinating. the following is from the title’s Google books summary:

“When psychologist Richard E. Nisbett showed an animated underwater scene to his American students, they zeroed in on a big fish swimming among smaller fish. Japanese subjects, on the other hand, made observations about the background environment — and the different “seeings” are a clue to profound underlying cognitive differences between Westerners and East Asians.
For, as Professor Nisbett shows in The Geography of Thought, people actually think about — and even see — the world differently because of differing ecologies, social structures, philosophies, and educational systems that date back to ancient Greece and China and that have survived into the modern world.
As a result, East Asian thought is “holistic” — drawn to the perceptual field as a whole and to relations among objects and events within that field. By comparison to Western modes of reasoning, East Asian thought relies far less on categories or on formal logic; it is fundamentally dialectic, seeking a ‘middle way’ between opposing thoughts. By contrast, Westerners focus on salient objects or people, use attributes to assign them to categories, and apply rules of formal logic to understand their behavior.”

source: Google books

James’ observation was that understanding this difference has significant implications for how brands are planned for Asia. the conceptual approach traditionally adopted by western philosophy – that of the brand onion / pyramid / diamond etc, is less relevant for Asia, where things are thought of and described not as abstract, but in more tangible terms.

James’ two principal implications are that in Asia (1) context trumps content and (2) brands grow by doing not saying. he’ll get no argument from Mediation on that front.

in fact if that is the case I think you could argue that in many ways the West is catching up with the East in this regard. that brands are now defined and judged based on what they do not what they say is I hope accepted wisdom across most of the planning community (you could be generous and say not just judged by what they say but IMHO that’s a generosity too far).

its in the area of context versus content planning however where it gets very interesting. some agencies have played with the idea of context planning; a quick search on LinkedIn demonstrates that Naked here in Australia aren’t alone in job titling around the role of the context planner.

the examples discussed yesterday included exhaustive NPD and product extensions – the creation of context through new and next and tangible must have’s etc … the start of some thinking on this … will see where we go from here.

to request a copy of James’ paper, ‘The Myth of the Brand in Asia’ contact joot.teo@flamingogroup.com

featured image via Flamingo Group

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