Monday, August 31, 2009

Smoking Merdeka Celebrations

Started my Merdeka weekend on a bus to Singapore then a ferry to Indonesia's Batam island for some fun in the sun. Is it me or are the cigarette advertisements in Indonesia getting out of control?

I have to admit I'd read about and heard about how criminal the cigarette marketing landscape was in Indonesia but you never really fully take it in until you actually see some of it because people tend to exaggerate. But no, there I was on a shuttle bus from the ferry terminal to the resort and I saw the first of a series of outdoor ads pass by.

I couldn't get a decent shot from camera as the bus sped along but here's what I can describe to you from memory of one of the more shocking executions:

Two young boys (I'll be kind and say they looked like 14 year olds but that's debatable) are in a competitive game of tug of war against an unknown team (the other end of the rope disappears into the bottom left corner of the billboard). The sweat and strain on the boys faces make them out to look like they could be winning while the slight hint of muscles on their arms show that the two are not your average skinny 14 year old weaklings. Up above their heads is, of course, the product shot.

Couldn't decipher the Bahasa Indonesia copy but the cigarette maker is Sampoerna and judging by the light blue packaging of the pack it must be for a lite brand suitable (??) for the younger demographic but being positioned as cool and macho enough so you don't think its for women.

Where did I see the giant billboard? As we passed a nearby school and headed into a small road where makeshift convenience store huts littered either side of the road - and where the cigarette brand amongst others can also be found.

About 6 or maybe even 9 months ago I read a great article from BusinessWeek which reported about Philip Morris International's race to win market share in developing markets around the world. That article cited some interesting figures like:

  • The company bought local kretek maker PT HM Sampoerna for $5.2 billion in 2005, which has since helped it grow from less than 10% of the cigarette market to nearly 30%.
  • In 2007, PMI had $2.7 billion of sales in Indonesia and spent $220 million on marketing and related costs.
  • Almost a third of the population is under 15, and nearly 50 million people smoke.
  • According to a recent study funded by the Bloomberg-Gates initiative, smoking rates are rising fastest among the young, with rates among Indonesian males age 15 to 19 up 139% between 1995 and 2004. Data tracker Euromonitor International predicts 10% more Indonesians will take up smoking by 2012.

And although Malaysia is certainly more relaxed about smoking laws than Singapore, there are more marketing restrictions here in place when compared to Indonesia. If I am not mistaken, Dunhill hasn't been allowed to sponsor football tournaments for a while now.

As for me, I'll admit that I am no saint (everybody hates being preached to anyways) and that I used to smoke regularly and am still prone to occasional drags when the mood sets in ( I still find pleasure in having a smoke on a rainy day with a teh tarik in hand).

This latest anti-smoking ad from MOH takes a pretty hard line and it's hard to watch. It did leave an impression on me but I am still not sure whether the gruesome facts work on the majority of smokers. The spot was created by Spencer Azizul.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hermawan Kartajaya's tips

Last week, the president of World Marketing Association, Hermawan Kartajaya was in town to talk about new ways approach marketing in today's economic climate.

During my college days, I learned about the four P’s of marketing (price, place, promotion and product) but in Kartajaya’s approach he says there are 12 C’s to the new marketing wave. Without trying to bore you with too much detail (it is a blog post after all) the 12 C’s, in a nutshell, clarifies when, what and how to do marketing right.

Here are some of his tips:
1) Strategy is vital as it is the key to successful marketing
2) When selling your product, sell the differentiation not the product
3) Online marketing only creates excitement but not intimacy
4) Database is NOT a community. You must have interaction
5) Most new product launches will fail so co-creation is very important.

He then cited Starbuck Baristas tell their story campaign as a good example to support point (5).

And Kartajaya's advice to marketers attempting to figure out how boost their brands during the current economic climate was:

"Redefine your advertising and marketing terminology. Try to rethink about traditional media when it comes to what product you are offering."

Monday, August 24, 2009

That time of year again

The fasting month has well and truly started but other than the plethora of F&B promotions I am expecting to see - who else thinks a dip in customer service is also just around the corner?

This will be my first time experiencing Ramadan in Malaysia but having spent over 15 years in Brunei - I think I know what to expect here. Good food, bad driving, and tired grumpy hungry customer service staff -- am I right?

Just yesterday I went to Watsons pharmacy at KLCC to get something for my ankle which I sprained badly last weekend (yes it still hurts) and the service was terrible. First, as the pharmacist saw me approaching she decided to strike up a conversation with a passing colleague and when I reached the counter and said "excuse me" she carried on her conversation giggling for another 10 seconds while gesturing for me to wait.

When I did have a attention, she wasn't the best example of what a Watsons brand experience should be. I lifted up my ankle meekly and asked her "do you have anything for a sprained ankle, something to take the swelling away?" She didn't even bother to stand up and look at my ankle - she just pointed behind me and said "there".

"What..!? where is it? what is it called?"

She replied, "the next row, bottom."

Can I get some service here, or what?

Not realising how pathetic I was about to sound to anyone who just happened to walk past and hear me, I scolded her saying, "Well, aren't you going to help me get it - I am crippled here!"

"Ah..never mind then, i'll find it myself."

So I did.

I don't know if I would have got better service had the lady not been fasting but it reminded me about a conversation I had recently with a friend's father. He used to train all the pilots for Royal Brunei Airlines and he was pretty cutthroat about pilot's who intended to fast before and during long-haul flights.

"If you're fasting, you're not flying," he would say.

Sounds harsh but the reality is - the pilot needs to be full focused all the time, not for brand experience reasons but for safety!

Anyways - if you have any customer service nightmares send them in ( and I'll see if I can share it on The Volatile Customer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Take a deep breath

If you're like me, when someone sends you an email about some sort of business competition you usually hit delete faster than you can say Skype. Well, a few months ago I got an email about the First Skype for Business Competition.

For once, instead of thrashing it, I thought... hang on we can win this! We use Skype all the time, for everything, and it helps make our business run so efficiently across Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

And today Skype's regional PR agency Upstream Asia sent a press release confirming my first thoughts -- we won! (release below)

Winners demonstrate how Skype enriches their business communications

Singapore August 12, 2009: Skype has announced the winners of the first Skype for Business Competition, which puts the spotlight on how companies can use Skype for cost-effective communications around the world.

The month-long competition - launched to celebrate the new look for the Skype for Business portal ( was open to companies in the Asia Pacific, EMEA and Americas regions. The judges looked not only at the creativity and originality of how Skype is being used, but also the range of Skype features used and the geographic spread of their use. Entries were judged based on the following criteria :

Creativity and originality of submission and use of Skype (50%)
Range of Skype features used (20%)

Geographic spread of Skype usage (20%)
Clarity of case study (10%)

Prizes include bespoke Skype solutions for first place winners, along with Skype Credit and Skype Certified hardware.

The winning companies in Asia Pacific, who best demonstrated how they are saving time, saving money and staying ahead by using Skype, are as follows:

First Place: Lighthouse Independent Media, Singapore – An international publishing company that has made Skype an integral part of its daily editorial and production processes.

Second Place: RareJob, Japan – A company delivering more than 2,000 English conversation lessons via Skype each day.

Third Place: Rusty, Australia – An international surfwear and apparel brand that uses Skype to enable close collaboration between its employees around the world.

And here's what they said about us:

Lighthouse Independent Media: A publishing company with offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur uses Skype to operate seamlessly across borders. Lighthouse Independent Media uses Skype as an everyday communications tool to keep all offices and all people in all offices connected throughout the day. In addition to the conversations and file sharing capabilities, Skype is used in the three market morning news conferences held between the different editorial teams as well as a medium to address the entire company over Skype via speakers. Apart from work purposes, Skype is also used to celebrate birthdays across geographic markets. They even had a two office bar night via video Skype- making it a tool that is used effectively to balance work and play!

Nice bit of mid-week news for us but in the spirit of Web 2.0 -- let's keep the conversation going with comments on how we can use internet companies like Skype to drive business forward.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The madness of Murdoch

There was a lot of feverish conversation around the watering holes of KL last night over the latest table thumping declaration by News Corp's Rupert Murdoch that enough was enough of the free content ride - online news will cost damn it!

Actually there was less fevered conversation and more me just ear bashing anyone who would listen, in the end I got told to shut my pie hole and go and write it out of my system, so here I am.

If you took the time to read through News Corp's results yesterday you can kind of see why Murdoch's in an angry sweat again - an overall US$200m loss is just part of the story. There was a US$400m plus write down on myspace and a 60% decline in profits in the newspaper division.

It might seem simple to just ask people to pay for online content in much the same way as they pay for a newspaper, but ah, and I hate to be the one to say this, people aren't paying for newspapers anymore.

Murdoch just doesn't seem to get the post newspaper world - and anyone who doesn't agree that that's where we are now, is kindly invited to follow this link, but only if you agree first to come back afterwards. It's a time line of closures of newspapers in the US - check out the carnage around December 2008 to say, July 2009 it's not pretty.

Yep print newspapers are at a pivotal point in their history - it's called death.

But hang on before you sit me in the corner, with the other old media hating, facebook friend whoring, twitter follower harvesting, myspace single launching, Bing V Google war declaring, "OMFG", "WTF", "ROFL", "pwned", "epic photoshop fail" saying, Rick rolling brats consider this, and I hate to come on all "when I was a boy" but, when I was a boy I worked my way up from a copy kid in a newsroom to editing a daily newspaper.

Actually that's not strictly true I actually did some God awful degree, regularly touted as one of Australia's best journalism degrees (note I don't hate the degree or the institution just that people think it takes three years in University classrooms to learn how to write for a living) then landed a fourth year cadet's job on a daily newspaper.

It took approximately six months to unlearn everything I learned at University and then relearn how to become a halfway decent journo (and approximately two weeks to learn how to drink properly - which as everyone knows is the only way you can become a halfway decent journalist).

Why do I tell you the sordid tale of my journalistic apprenticeship? Because it's important that you understand I'm not a new age blog journalist who has a vested interest in the downfall of traditional print media.

I was crazy passionate about newspapers, but hey I got over it.

They were fun, a lot of fun and there is a powerful attraction to being the first to know everything, which is how newspapers used to be. You would impatiently wait for the newspaper every morning to see what happened and to hear how it unfolded. That just doesn't happen anymore and it's what's killing newspapers. The newspaper now, if you do read one, always seems like the last one to know.

Newspapers just aren't fast enough any more which brings us to online. A lot of newspapers do a pretty reasonable job online, but they are still largely written by traditional journalists in a pretty traditional way.

I have to admit I consume a lot of news content everyday and to be honest a reasonable amount of it is Murdoch owned content, but I'd be a sadly uninformed individual if I relied solely on newspapers. In fact a lot of the stories particularly in the online, social media, media, world affairs, entertainment and "shaggy dog" space has usually been broken in the non-traditional media sites and then is picked up - usually about a week later (poor old newspapers). Consider how the Iran elections were reported - most media outlets were reporting using twitter sources.

If all of the Murdoch content disappeared off the face of the planet tomorrow - and lets face it when he starts charging for it, it might as well have disappeared, I guarantee I will be no less informed and neither will you and I certainly won't be paying for it.

Murdoch runs a pretty old fashioned media operation - ie massive and expensive with an army of journalists all sitting between the expensive walls he rents. This makes it a low margin, moving fast towards a no margin, game particularly when you consider bloggers sit in cheap space (usually a bedroom at their Mum's house) and have no overheads and aggregation news sites harness the wisdom of mobs who cost the site nothing. Agreed the content has to come from somewhere but the links to articles on sites like Digg and Reddit are rarely to places like the New York Times or the Asia Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch like many of the other big old fashioned news organisations are trying to re-establish news journalism as a premium product, when the market has already decided it's a commodity and a not particularly difficult to produce commodity.

As someone who has seen the best of both worlds, slogging it out in an old fashioned newsroom, chasing ambulances and competing for the front page, as well as the new news collective where everyone contributes and news is told by the minute not the day, both are exciting, but one's time has past and the other's has arrived.

Swing the gate open, get smarter about ad serving to free content and become part of the search for better ways to monetise content, rather than protecting an outdated model that consumers don't want anymore.

Alas poor newspapers we knew them well, but hey, whatever.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Web Wednesday does Microsoft-Yahoo

There was plenty of boozing at last night’s Web Wednesday but not before we all got stuck into the curious Microsoft-Yahoo deal which promises to bring the fight to Google.

On the panel for the discussion was Integricity executive director Warren Tan, Carat managing director Roy Tan, and Media Prima’s GM business development and strategy Navonil Roy.

So, what do the guys think about the deal which basically sees Microsoft take over Yahoo’s search operations in exchange for some value?

Carat’s Roy Tan described Google as a “frienemy” and said the partnership was a good idea because anything that brings more competition to the market is a good thing.

“Google has so much of our information that it’s scary,” he said.

While Alt Media’s Paul Moss got involved and added that it was good Microsoft’s Bing gives you a different set of results from Google because “you don’t always get what you want from Google.”

I asked the panel whether they thought the deal showed Yahoo had given up on search and that Microsoft with Bing, and the upcoming Windows 7, was now back -- I got varied responses.

However Media Prima’s Roy did say he thought “Yahoo had walked out of the search space” which we all know is a highly lucrative market globally.

My own thoughts is the deal is good news for Microsoft because it will help propel them forward in markets which they haven’t been performing very well in – search and online advertising.

Plus when the news was announced, it was Yahoo’s stock that went down while Microsoft went up which goes to show what Yahoo shareholders think of the deal.

Sure, Yahoo doesn’t need to invest in search anymore which will make them more profitable but they are breaking up their search team – the guys who built something great – and if they want to be a top internet company they need smart guys like that around.

Anyways back at Web Wednesday and the conversation swiftly turned to Twitter.

“Twitter democratises search,” Integricity executive director, Warren Tan said.

Tan reckons because of this he would put Twitter on par with Google and that he trusts Twitter search more. But Carat’s Roy Tan argued it was a case of search for information versus search for opinion.

Good night!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Agency Of The Year Malaysia

Arrived back in KL last night, after a week of helping to put together and celebrate our Agency Of The Year awards gala night in Singapore.

Yes, while Pamela was holding down the A+M Daily fort in KL last week, I was in Singapore learning what it means to play host to over 750 marketing professionals. I only bring it up because although A+M will publish the Malaysian results in our August edition - we'll have to wait till next year before we can put on a similar show here.

L-R: John Davidson, Ben Burrowes, Tony Kelly, Matt Eaton

We live blogged the event on and we'll leave the event active for another day so you can check out what happened (warning - spoiler ahead)

And what happened that night was, for the first time in its history, the Agency Of The Year award did not go to a creative agency heavyweight like your O&Ms or Saatchis.

Nope, this year marketers (your clients) voted digital agency Blue (founded in Singapore)as the winner. Amazing. Fantastic. Shocking?

Sure, you can say the survey results are based on client perception and not by a panel of judges (isn't that a good thing?) but perception is reality. And while huge organizations like O&M (with its creative, PR, digital, direct, activation arms etc) tend to dominate and take home the overall Agency Of The Year honour, it seems so appropriate it went to a digital agency this time.

Blue win

So, you'll just to wait a few weeks to know what the Malaysia results are - and next year we'll buy the beers.

Me having a beer with Futurebrand ECD Andrew King