This week Warc is reporting from AdAsia, a major conference for the Asian marketing industry. The event takes place every two years under the auspices of the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA), and the 2011 conference is being held in New Delhi.
Speakers on day one included Interpublic CEO Michael Roth and Harish Mahwani, Chairman of Hindustan Unilever. But the show was well and truly stolen by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan, who appeared to the sound of hundreds of cameraphones clicking away. Proceedings were delayed after he had finished as he was mobbed by photographers and autograph-hunters.
Khan was on stage at the start of the show to hoist the AdAsia flag. Yes, there really was an AdAsia flag, and a pole on which to hoist it. Unfortunately, the flag only made it half way up the pole before getting stuck. Insert your own joke about Indian infrastructure here.
Not only was there a flag, there was also an AdAsia anthem, sung by a choir that had won India’s Got Talent. Lyrics included “We are all AdAsians/ With a passport to be free / We may only have just met / But we feel like family” and “We hold the key / To creating new hopes and dreams / from sea to shining sea.” Bold claims for a marketing conference.
Khan himself was a great speaker, happily sending up his role as a brand-ambassador-for-hire. “I wake up to my TAG watch and check my Nokia N7 phone, because my Bharti Airtel signal is strong wherever I go,” he said. “I get paid for this, so let me go on.” He added that he still had slots free for a computer and a cola brand.
Then it was onto the serious stuff: topics included Brand India and Unilever’s CSR strategy, as well as more general topics such as social media. Watch out for write-ups on Warc’s conference reports page.
In the meantime, it’s worth highlighting one interesting discussion from the day. Moderating a panel of senior agency executives around the region, Tom Doctoroff, JWT North Asia Area Director, asked each one to say whether their markets were brand-focused or sales-focused. He was testing the idea that clients from emerging markets are not yet thinking about long-term brand strategies. The answers were illuminating:
Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman South Asia for Ogilvy & Mather India, said his market was definitely a brand-building market, pointing to work by Cadbury, Times of India and Asian Paints.
Kitty Lun, CEO of Lowe China, was candid. While multinational marketers were thinking of brand strategy, marketers from local firms were still very sales-focused, building campaigns to drive short-term sales, she said. (It should be noted that she cited Alibaba, a Lowe client, as an exception.) One reason put forward for this was that many of the big brands are state-owned, and do not face real competition from private operators.
Bruce Haines, Chief Strategy Officer at Cheil Worldwide, said it was a similar situation in Korea, with many local companies being sales-dominated. He described the market as a “work in progress”. However, the huge sales success of Korean firms such as Samsung, and the need to protect those sales in the future, mean that Korean companies are starting to think longer-term.
Finally, Akira Kagami, Global ECD at Dentsu, said the situation in Japan (which is, of course, a more established consumer market than the others) was different again. There, he said, companies were very brand-focused, but were now having to think not of their product brands, but of the corporate brands that sit behind them. Japanese consumers want to be able to trust the corporation behind the brand.
Stay tuned for more updates from the event.