China, India Offer Marketers Opportunities for Scalable Ideas

But It's Easier to Win Creative Awards in North America and Europe

By Published on .

Vasanth Seshadri
Vasanth Seshadri
How many campaigns can you think of which have the potential to reach 384 million consumers? Every digital campaign in China has that potential. A recent campaign that tapped effectively into this market was the Experience New Zealand Right Now campaign, which rolled out in April 2010. Tourism New Zealand teamed up with filmmaker Lu Chuan and celebrity blogger Hung Huang to promote New Zealand to Chinese travelers. Capitalizing on the star power of these big names, Tourism New Zealand rolled out mini video travelogues showing great experiences these stars had in New Zealand. The content was shared on a range of media platforms including social-media sites like, video-sharing sites like, blogs, online communities, and Tourism New Zealand's Chinese-language website.

It was the simplest idea: real-life stories of great experiences at a holiday destination. But it fulfilled a criterion that is key in Asia: does the idea scale?

There were three simple consumer insights that made this idea scale. First, celebrities have enormous credibility in China, and their opinions and insights are highly valued. Second, the Chinese consumer is digitally very well-connected and loves to share content. Third, everyone loves a good story! These consumer insights were gleaned not through mind-blowing genius, but through plain and simple sensitivity. Asian creativity relies on ideas which leverage on simple consumer insight and create a buzz among the people.

Asia's other enormous market, India, is also a place where scalable ideas spread like fire. A typical example is Gillette's Shave India Movement. This initiative started in 2008 under the mantle of "To Shave Or Not To Shave?" The public debated the merits of stubble versus the clean-shaven look. Last year, the movement took a new avatar as "Women Against Lazy Stubble," in which women who preferred the clean-shaven look created a movement persuading men to shave.

The Shave India Movement recognized the fact that Indians love to debate. By tying up with major media channels such as The Times of India, Gillette created a conduit for the average Indian to voice opinions on a personal issue. Cricket players and Bollywood stars, as celebrities with fanatical followings, were roped into the debate. The world's largest public shave took place in Mumbai in December 2009, and close to 2,000 men took part. Most importantly, Gillette, a brand with good awareness and respectability but lacking the oomph factor, finally exploded onto the Indian consciousness. It was reflected in a 38% increase in sales and a 35% increase in market share.

In a country where a multitude of citizens debate cricket, politics and movies at roadside chaat stalls and thattukadas, getting people to argue passionately about an issue is never a problem. But it required sensitive consumer insight to uncover these basic truths about the Indian consumer and create an idea that scaled.

In these respects, Asia is significantly different from mature markets like Western Europe or North America. In these markets, digital technology is often ahead of other regions, and the consumer engages with the online medium at a deeper level. Ideas that "wow" you and break through the clutter in a big way are more successful here. This could explain why European agencies like AMV BBDO and Jung von Matt outscore Asian agencies in sheer number of creative awards. Even in the Asia-Pacific region, the markets that win a disproportionate number of awards are Australia and New Zealand, both mature markets not very different from Western Europe and North America.

A typical example of good creativity in a developed market is Jung von Matt's Sounds of Hamburg campaign for the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra. CCTV cameras were installed at landmarks in the city to stream live videos to a site, and every user of the site could create a unique symphony for these videos. The user selected objects in the video and dragged-and-dropped musical instruments onto these objects. Every movement of the selected objects was algorithmically converted into a musical score, creating unique sounds representing everyday scenes in Hamburg. While a success in Germany, such an idea is unlikely to scale in Asia, where classical music is very much a niche pursuit. Campaigns that rely on innovation and novelty find their ideal home in developed markets.

In Asia, the marketer with the sensitivity and insight to reach this large population with scalable ideas will be the marketer who scores.

Vasanth Seshadri is a digital copywriter at Wunderman Singapore.
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