As the end of monoculture sharpens the focus on understanding Asian cultures and identities, WARC Asia Editor Rica Facundo looks ahead to the new year and the insights that marketers will have to understand to effectively navigate this diverse region.

Earlier this year, I set myself two key questions to shape my 2023 editorial agenda: What can the rest of the world learn from Asia? And how can we lean more deeply into what makes our marketing ecosystem and audience segment different?

Suffice to say that after doing a content review and a lot of reflecting, I can end the year (and enjoy my holiday break!) with some definitive answers, all thanks to the great contributions from our various partners. It has been a landmark year of various regional reports and local insights.

A burgeoning local media ecosystem

Sense-making Asia’s new storefront will always be front and centre of our editorial agenda, especially as Asia continues to be a high-growth digital market and we seek to close the digital divide beyond the metros. In 2022, we did a SEA spotlight on e-wallets, but this year, we took it one step further by curating the first-ever APAC regional spotlight about how the region is innovating in social commerce.

The battle of the marketplaces and the future of TikTok Shop amidst increasing regulatory scrutiny remains to be seen. But if innovation and the money follow where audience behaviour sits, then it would be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

What’s the genie, you ask? The fact that Asian consumers are “social shoppers” and social media usage is changing from connection to commerce. Products and services such as live commerce, shoppertainment and conversational commerce will continue to adapt and become commonplace.

One key outcome of the social commerce revolution is that it is paving the way for a unique local media ecosystem in APAC that’s characterised by local and regional marketplaces and superapps. As Grab’s Ken Mandel argues, it provides fertile ground for the growth of retail media networks in Southeast Asia, the latest darling and contender in the digital media industry.

Despite how the platforms and media mix evolve, there will always be perennial questions on effectiveness and tactics.

In our white paper in collaboration with Google, we explored how marketers can balance the use of channels such as and marketplaces.

If shoppertainment is becoming a key audience engagement and conversion tactic, we analysed how it delivers full-funnel impact in our white paper with TikTok.

Amid the rapid expansion of platforms and formats in Asia, and questions surrounding the believability and effectiveness of ads, Dentsu’s Arindam Bhattacharyya makes the case for growing the “attention economy” market in the region, providing tips on how to pitch the idea of attention studies to clients. We also covered how to raise the bar on media quality and drive more effective performance outcomes in APAC in a white paper with DoubleVerify.

Cultural shifts and emerging need states

For years, “glocal” marketing has always been my underlying beat and this year, we are seeing this equation tip in favour of “local”. It was only when working on the first Asia-led global WARC Guide to Cultural Advantage did it occur to me that this is just a symptom of how monoculture is ending.

This is good news for Asian marketers because it provides the permission to tap into the rich and diverse underbelly of our region – our usual moniker on the global stage – and remix it for endless cross-cultural possibilities and overseas expansion. The consensus I’ve been hearing is that Asia is finally becoming an exporter, not an importer, of culture and strong local brands. We are already seeing examples of this from the Korean or “Hallyu” wave, to the rise of anime and Hijrah culture. But doing so requires strong, differentiated and culturally relevant brands that espouse trust and credibility outside of home markets.

The end of monoculture intersects with another profound shift in Asian values and demographics. The most striking piece of evidence was from Kantar that shows a whopping 65% of the predominantly Muslim Indonesian population identify with the “me” in the “we” mindset across the metros and rural towns, thereby challenging the typical “collectivist” trait of Asian audiences.

This shift necessitates going beyond a “just enough” understanding of Asian audiences. Rather than make broadstroke assumptions and overlaying on old constructs, more work needs to be done to understand how Asian identities are being re-contextualised, and the taboos being challenged – all of which provide emerging need states and fertile ground for marketing innovation.

For example, once thought of as taboo, the pandemic is starting to lift the veil on the importance of mental wellbeing, and the role of brands to help alleviate consumer anxiety, a theme we explored in our SEA spotlight earlier this year.

More questions in 2024

While this year’s contributions indeed provided more clarity to the questions I posed at the beginning of the year, it is by no means the end of that line of inquiry. Rather, the task next year (and the year after!) is to get more pointed, keep building and layering our insights.

Here are some regional areas we’re looking into next year:

  • How is the shape of aspiration and luxury changing in the region, especially with the growing middle class, rise of new wealth hubs, etc?
  • What are new strategies for outbound Asian growth and tapping into the Asian diaspora?
  • How can marketers better understand and leverage Asian subcultures, communities and niches?
  • How can we market to consumers beyond the metros to bridge the digital economy divide?
  • What are the emerging Asian values, behaviours and attitudes as the region continues to urbanise?
  • What marketing strategies are working in categories such as Gaming, Financial Services, Alcohol/CPG, Travel & Tourism, Automotive and Retail, all of which Asia is well-positioned to lead?
  • How do we ensure brand safety in the age of AI-generated content and misinformation in the wake of many global and regional elections next year?
  • How do marketers test, learn and ensure effectiveness in new attention frontiers in Asia, such as streaming and CTV?
  • How do we ensure cross-media effectiveness in Asia’s fragmented media landscape, not just across channels but countries?

Aside from regional topics, there’s also the global beat of marketing discussion.

  • How do we make the case for investing in creativity and brand building in the C-suite – a topic that was front and centre of our SXSW Sydney coverage.
  • What are the new skills required for strategy professionals – from systems thinking to researching communities?
  • What’s working in how companies are decarbonising, working with local communities and stakeholders, changing their packaging, innovating and nudging effective behaviour change on the issues that matter most to local consumers?

Alas, it looks like I ended the year with more questions than answers. But in my book, that’s always a good place to land. Reach out if you are interested in contributing.