branding, managing, planning, understanding

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


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

featured image via Flamingo Group

managing, pitching, social media-ising, social networking

Live Pitching and the Economics of Free: the genius, tragedy and slippery slope of Toyota Yaris’ social media pitch

so you're a car brand that's after a social media agency.  what to do?  hold a pitch of course.  but rather than waste time getting lots of agencies into your office and getting them to pitch their ideas with some creds and test out the chemistry, why not just get them to do the work and put it out there in the real world.  see which ideas work the best and appoint that agency.  my favourite – for the record – is Iris' effort above.


you get to see how real ideas work in the real world – the most important metrics are how ideas actually translate into buzz and conversations, you get to measure these live in real time.  there's no or minimal media budget and production costs are low, so for not a load of investment you get a load of exposure.  you get feedback thru comments and posts, not from a focus group paid to tell you what they think you want them to think, but from real people fitting your brand into their busy lives.

its a genuinely innovative, real and interesting approach to take in both developing work for a brand and for establishing with which agencies you would like to work.  you get to judge agencies on what they produce, not what they promise.  our industry is the better for it.


its an irrelevance that each of the pitching agencies was given $15,000 to produce and deploy their work.  the fact is that this approach undermines the two most precious commodities in our industry; ideas and people.  you ask people to come up with ideas for free; OK, that's the nature of a pitch.  but then you ask them to create and deploy those ideas for free; in ways that will build and grow your brand, for free.

you may very well get an architect to pitch a building design for
free, you wouldn't get them to build you one gratis.  I could pitch a
movie idea to a Hollywood executive but I'd have to explain that I'd be
hard-pressed to make it for free.  I might choose a restaurant based on
its menu, but I wouldn't expect a chef to make my a meal for free (nb
I'd have a boyfriend for that).  in each case asking for product for free undermines the professionalism, expertise and product of the individuals that create it.

there's a strong counter argument to this – one which I am very much aware that I have made in the past – that people (who don't work in planning, advertising, ideas or comms agencies) are out there creating and deploying stuff on your behalf.  and that not only should brands acknowledge that but they should actively encourage it.  in fact there's an interesting model which is that everyone works on a project basis and ideas live or die on their own merit.  payment by performance taken to the logical extreme.

but the slippery slope is clear.  there's a conflict between the academic theory of the evolution of media and communications, and the agency model that underpins much of the work upon which brands – and brand equity – is built.  in the near future, agencies will all have to get used to and embrace the fact that our agency ideas increasingly exist in an ecology with others that came from somewhere – anywhere, everywhere – else.  but in that future we have to ensure that we nurture the people and ideas upon which brands in that future will be built.