Apple Steps Up Marketing in Asia

With new stores and iPhone on the way, China is top priority

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[beijing] Within days of launching its 3G iPhone in Asia, Apple has appointed Eight Partnership, a Hong Kong-based independent agency, to handle its marketing communications in Asia.

"We have been appointed by Apple to work with them in Asia on their marketing communciations localization," said Charles Brian-Boys, a managing partners at Eight in Hong Kong, where the independent agency is based.

He declined to elaborate on the assignment, due to Apple's tight security restrictions, but sources within Apple said it includes localizing Apple's point-of-sale and in-store materials, posters and marketing collaterals at the brand level and dealer level for all products, including the iPhone, which recently launched in several Asian markets.

It also includes localization of Apple's online content in Asia and product manual translations. The win is believed to be worth several million dollars across the region.

Jill Tan, a Hong Kong-based corporate communications executive for Apple in Asia, also confirmed the appointment, which marks the first time the marketing localization business will be consolidated in Asia--and is a sign of how seriously Apple regards the region. Previously, Apple's localization was handled by local agencies on a market-by-market basis.

The appointment, which covers Asia excluding Japan and Australia, follows a pitch that included at least two other agencies, according to company sources. Apple global creative agency, TBWA Worldwide, confirmed that its direct marketing arm Tequila did take part in the lengthy and rigorous review.

Apple consolidated the business because it "needed work of different quality and at a different level. Asia is very important to us," said an Apple executive involved with the selection process. "We went through an extensive process. They demonstrated an ability to be able to execute efficiently across a number of markets and gave us a high degree of confidence."

Eight, a branding and marketing consultancy, was founded in Hong Kong in 1993, and employs over 80 people in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Macau. It works with other multinational marketers such as American Express, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Virgin Atlantic, The Economist and Walt Disney.

Last year, it created a stir among the Chinese twentysomethings who frequent social networking communities with a humorous online and viral campaign for Nokia Corp., called "MC Farmer," in which a Mongolian farmer takes credit for creating hip-hop music. Eight Partnership's sister company, Eight Custom Media, is a leading custom-publishing and branded content company in the region.

Apple launched the new version of the iPhone in 21 countries on July 11, including Hong Kong and Japan, and sold one million of the handsets by July 14. Apple's partner in Hong Kong, Hutchison Telecom, said more than 60,000 people pre-registered with the company to buy iPhone 3G handsets as soon as they were released in the territory. During its first day on the market, Hutchison sold 1,500 iPhones.

Apple's new flagship store in Beijing
Apple's new flagship store in Beijing
On July 19, Apple opened its first flagship store in Beijing, now its regional headquarters for Asia, in Beijing's Sanlitun district, which is popular among expatriates for shopping and dining. A second major store is scheduled to open later this year on a pedestrian-only shopping street near Tiananmen Square.

The launch of the Apple showrooms in China suggests that the iPhone may debut in the mainland, the world's largest mobile phone market, later this year. Telecom analysts believe up to one million iPhones are already in use there unofficially.

The business handed to Eight previously was handled by local venders, not Omnicom Group agencies. And the appointment does not affect Apple's relationship with TBWA, or rather with Media Arts Lab, a high-security unit of the agency that includes execs from OMD and TBWAChiatDay. Formed in Playa del Rey, Calif.

"We continue to with our global company TBWA, a relationship that is centralized in the U.S., " confirmed Ms. Tan.

Created specifically to handle above-the-line creative for Apple, Media Arts Lab is behind Apple's popular 'I'm a Mac' ad. TBWA has also opened Media Arts Lab offices in Tokyo, London and, just a few weeks ago, in Beijing, led by regional managing director for Asia, Max Hegerman.

Eight's appointment is a psychological blow to TBWA Group, since its Tequila division was the frontrunner for the account, given its long history as Apple's below-the-line marketing agency. Apple generates minimal revenue for TBWA offices in Asia, since it creates little advertising overseas, preferring to localize work created in the U.S. and seldom runs above-the-line advertising in Asia.

But the agency has proudly trumpeted its relationship with the company and its products, which have a small but strong following the region.
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