Apple Taps Eight Partnership, Not TBWA, for Asia Work

Agency's Tequila Had Been Considered the Front-runner for Marketing Communications Assignment

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BEIJING ( -- Within days of starting the iPhone rollout in the region, Apple has appointed independent agency Eight Partnership to handle its marketing communications for Asia, snubbing its own global creative agency TBWA Worldwide. TBWA's Tequila network was considered the front-runner to win the business.
Charles Brian-Boys
Charles Brian-Boys

"We have been appointed by Apple to work with them in Asia on their marketing communications localization," said Charles Brian-Boys, a managing partner at Hong Kong-based Eight.

Deal covers local marketing materials
He declined to elaborate on the assignment, due to Apple's tight security restrictions, but Apple insiders said it includes localizing the marketer's online content, product manuals, point-of-sale and in-store materials, posters and marketing materials at the brand level and dealer level for all products, including the iPhone.

The win is believed to be worth several million dollars.

The appointment doesn't officially affect Apple's relationship with TBWA, or rather with Media Arts Lab, a unit of the agency set up for Apple that includes executives from OMD and TBWA/Chiat/Day. "We continue to work with our global company TBWA, a relationship that is centralized in the U.S.," said Jill Tan, a Hong Kong-based corporate communications executive for Apple in Asia.

Still, Eight's appointment is a blow to TBWA, because Tequila was the front-runner and is a big Apple agency elsewhere. Apple generates little Asia revenue for TBWA offices, mostly localizing U.S. work. But TBWA has proudly trumpeted its relationship with Apple and its products, which have a small but strong following in the region.

TBWA has opened Media Arts Lab offices in Tokyo, London and, just a few weeks ago, Beijing, led by Max Hegerman, regional managing director for Asia.

Apple blossoms in Asia
Apple launched the iPhone 3G on July 11 in 21 countries, including its first Asian markets, Hong Kong and Japan, and sold 1 million handsets in three days. But the big business will come when the iPhone rolls out across mainland China and other Asian markets later this year. Apple will time the opening of its first flagship store in Beijing, the company's regional headquarters for Asia, to just before the Aug. 8 opening of the 2008 Olympic Games. That store, on a pedestrian shopping street near Tiananmen Square, will be followed by a second Apple store this summer in Beijing.
Apple launched the iPhone 3G on July 11 in 21 countries, including its first Asian markets.
Apple launched the iPhone 3G on July 11 in 21 countries, including its first Asian markets. Credit: AP

Ms. Tan confirmed Eight's appointment, which marks the first time the marketing localization business will be consolidated in Asia -- a sign of how seriously Apple regards the region. Previously, local agencies handled it on a market-by-market basis.

The appointment, covering Asia except Japan and Australia, follows a pitch against at least two other agencies. TBWA confirmed that Tequila, its direct-marketing arm, participated.

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 in the review.

Eight, a branding and marketing consultancy, has more than 80 staffers in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Macau. Clients include American Express, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Walt Disney Co. Last year, Eight created a stir in China with a humorous online and viral campaign for Nokia, called "MC Farmer," in which a Mongolian farmer takes credit for inventing hip-hop.

TBWA angers Chinese
Eight's win over Tequila is not TBWA's biggest headache in China this week, however. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that TBWA Paris prepared ads for Amnesty International showing Chinese authorities torturing Chinese athletes, with slogans like "After the Olympic Games, the fight for human rights must go on." Amnesty scrapped the campaign but let the agency run it once to be eligible for the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, where it won a Bronze Lion in June.

China's online community, quick to oppose slights to their country and government, attacked TBWA, which has also been doing Olympic sponsor Adidas' high-profile ads in China. One TBWA executive speculated that the attacks were fueled by lingering resentment toward France and French companies after anti-Chinese protests during the Olympic torch relay in Paris.

TBWA said in a statement: "Neither TBWA International nor TBWA China had involvement or prior knowledge of the development of this campaign. The work was created by an individual in the Paris office without approval from TBWA International. Consequently, we deeply regret and apologize for any offense the campaign may have caused and have introduced rigorous new guidelines and procedures to ensure no such event takes place in the future."
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