China's Women to Watch

Sophia Ong Is Building Tencent's Platforms Into Homes for Brands

Agency Vet's Campaigns for Intel, Pepsi Have Leveraged Popular Apps Such as WhatsApp and WeChat

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Like in other markets, digital is the most dynamic advertising medium in China, and one that marketers and agencies are still trying to crack.

Sophia Ong helps brands navigate the complex ecosystem at internet giant Tencent. Joining the company last year after stints at UM, Taiwan and Carat, China -- where she built digital operations from scratch -- Ms. Ong identifies strategic marketing opportunities among Tencent's many platforms, such as chat (730 million active accounts), microblog, social network and video.

Sophia Ong
Sophia Ong

Ms. Ong "has knowledge from the best of both worlds," said SY Lau, Tencent's senior exec VP-president of online media services. Extensive experience working with major brands has given her valuable insight on how Tencent can provide its partners with insightful solutions, he said.

Ms. Ong's collaborations include an Intel campaign following 10 people trying to get home for Chinese New Year -- when hundreds of millions pack onto planes, trains, buses and cars -- armed with only $20. They relied on the kindness of strangers to criss-cross China, using Intel laptops to post on their Tencent Weibo microblogs.

Tencent's WeChat is one of China's hottest apps, with more than 100 million users since launching a year ago. Similar to WhatsApp, users can send text, voice, photo and video messages. They can also trade personal details by shaking their phones at the same time. The voice-message function is particularly novel in China, where voicemail is rare. (It's acceptable to answer the phone anytime, anywhere.)

Pepsi launched a WeChat campaign at New Year's, with users shaking their phones in unison to help light up a landmark TV tower in the city of Guangzhou.

It's one of the few commercial campaigns with WeChat so far. "If we ever have a campaign with WeChat it must be big … be interesting and … be acceptable by the users," Ms. Ong said.

"When I joined [the industry] 10 years ago, there was already very mature media theory for TV planning, print planning -- everything is in place," she said. "But for internet media, it hasn't been there because the speed is changing too fast and people can't think deeply. So that 's my ultimate goal. I really want to build up the professionalism -- no matter what."

"Sophia is more than a thinker or a doer; she is a builder. She has an insatiable desire to build organizations, build capabilities and build partnerships," said Seth Grossman, Ms. Ong's boss at Carat. "It's impossible to spend five minutes with her without a smile on your face and the words 'I didn't know that ' coming from your mouth."

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