Last week Warc Asia held its inaugural Warc Conversation event in Singapore. The goal of these informal, after-work events is to share some best practice and get people talking about some of the emerging issues in Asia’s marketing industry.

And we were lucky enough in our first session to have two particularly outspoken (and, needless to say, very experienced) panellists to help: Charles Wigley, Chairman of BBH Asia and also chair of the 2012 Warc Prize for Asian Strategy; and Tim Broadbent, Global Effectiveness Director at Ogilvy.

For our first conversation, we decided to take a broad theme (creating winning campaigns in Asia), and we used some data and cases from last year’s Warc Prize for Asian Strategy to look at how some of the current theories are playing out in Asia.

I really enjoyed the discussion that followed – Tim and Charles both made some fascinating points. They touched on a lot of topics, including the different ways consumers in many Asian markets process information (read more from Charles on this topic in this article). That calls into question whether Western concepts of what makes a great campaign really hold in Asia. Charles suggested that a lot of award juries have a Western outlook and tend to reward ‘clever’ ideas; they tend to dismiss Asian campaigns that are more traditional in appearance with a very emotional core. However, both Tim and Charles agreed that emotional strategies are even more important in Asia than in the West, and that being overly ‘clever’ might not be the best way forward.

Some key questions from the evening:

  • Has advertising in Asia found its ‘voice’? Charles argued that there is a distinctive style to Indian and Thai advertising, but not yet in Chinese advertising or in much of Southeast Asia.
  • Why is emotion so rarely used in Asian advertising, even though it is arguably a more powerful strategy? Tim’s argument was that it is best to leave the product demonstrations to media such as print and online.
  • What can be done about the industry’s addiction to pre-testing? Charles was adamant that this system judges creative work (especially in TV) by the wrong criteria and leads to campaigns that look identical.

I thought it’d be useful to highlight some of the books mentioned by the panellists and members of the audience as recommended reading.

  • The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett – referenced by Charles as a guide to how Asian consumers think.
  • The Hidden Power of Advertising by Robert Heath – both Tim and Charles talked about the concept of ‘low-involvement processing’.
  • Marketing in the Era of Accountability by Les Binet and Peter Field – Tim cited this book, and the research has been expanded upon several times by Peter Field (see this article, for example).
  • The Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell – Sonal Narain of Ogilvy (in the audience) suggested this book as another guide to improve our understanding of how people think differently in different parts of the world

Also, here’s the presentation we put together for the evening – many of the statistics are from the Warc Prize for Asian Strategy, and the cases are all on Warc.

We plan to run more of these in the future, and we hope they can provide a useful contribution to the industry in Asia.