It took 30 years, but it finally happened. AdAsia, the largest and most prestigious advertising congress in Asia – organised every two years by the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA), returned to Lahore and to the same venue where it took place in 1989 – the Alhamra Arts Council on December 3, 4 and 5, 2019. Over the course of three days, more than 30 speakers, many of whom were from overseas, voiced their thoughts, ideas and viewpoints to an audience of over 710 advertising, marketing and media professionals.
Be excited, not scared, of tech
If one theme permeated most sessions, it was the need to embrace technology under all its many manifestations. Tom Goodwin, Head of Innovation, Zenith Media, said it all when he urged audiences to not only embrace technology but be excited by it. However, to do so, he emphasised the need to understand it. He gave the example of Netflix, which broke all the rules governing TV programming by releasing the entire season of a TV series in a single day and doing away with the 40-minute episode precedent. He added: “There is probably no better place on the planet to lead this change than an area like Asia and a market like Pakistan in particular with its reasonably high growth rates, incredible technology talent, amazing diversity of people and strength of women in business. This is an incredibly powerful recipe for you to lead the future.”
Data drives creativity
According to Sir Martin Sorrell, Founder and Chairman, S4, “data informs creativity; it makes it more effective.” (He said that digital is the present and not the future and furthermore that content and programmatic advertising will drive growth in the future.) Sir Martin’s viewpoint was echoed by several speakers, including Yasuharu Sasaki, ECD and Head of Digital Creative, Dentsu Inc. Japan, who stated that data does not kill but enhances creativity. For Sasaki, data is not only important for marketing but for creating new businesses. He cited the example of the Sushi Singularity, a sushi restaurant slated to open in Tokyo later this year. Customers wishing to dine there will have to provide their biological samples in advance and based on this data, the restaurant will create individualised sushi based on the nutrients each person requires. Sasaki elaborates the point further in his interview on page 29: “Data can expand our insights and if we use it properly, we can come up with interesting ideas to engage customers; in fact, if we do this efficiently, people will be more willing to disclose their data, which in turn, will lead to more insights and allow us to create better experiences that go well beyond traditional advertising.”
Technology is redefining advertising and creativity
Although this notion was at the fore throughout the Congress, it was perhaps illustrated best by Goodwin, who showcased an advertisement for Uber at Sydney airport, which only appeared on a screen when an Uber was five minutes away from the airport. “This ad is dynamically placed and created; it is not the best ad in the world, but it is remarkably effective for that moment in time. If we start to consider that every single ad is a list of instructions to do certain things if conditions are met, and can be created specifically for that moment, it will make the canvas to create advertising very exciting.” Ultimately, he said, “we need to think of every single ad as a dynamic screen.”
Growth with gamification
“We are not just an advertising agency,” said Sasaki, “we are also a toy store,” as he showcased several examples whereby advertising agencies created ‘toys’ for their clients. Among them was the Ton Ton Voice Sumo, a toy created by Dentsu for Geriatric Health Services Facility Hitorizawa, after research by the Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare concluded that choking is one of the leading causes of accidental death among elderly people. The toy is a sumo wrestler (a popular sport among the elderly in Japan) and every time a player says “Ton! Ton!” (which means “Go! Go!”), the model moves and fights an opponent. The point of the game is the fact that saying “Ton! Ton!” improves the throat function of the players. Such was the popularity of Ton Ton Sumo that it is now available the world over. Another example was Amazon’s ‘Everyone Is An Amazing Book’ campaign which was showcased by Edward Pank, Managing Director, WARC APAC, during his presentation ‘Measuring Marketing Effectiveness in Asia’. The objective of the campaign was to increase subscriptions to Amazon Prime’s Reading in China. On World Book Day, they launched a role-play game based in a virtual library and every choice a player made eventually resulted in him or her being ‘matched’ with the protagonist of a book based on the Myers Briggs personality test. Players were then directed to Amazon’s website to purchase the book. Over two million people played the game and sales increased by 69%.
The more things change...
Despite these technological advancements, the creation and customisation of content for the digital medium remains a challenge, even overseas. For example, videos that are primarily accessed on mobile phones are still adaptations of horizontal ones. Similarly, retail websites do not customise their content sufficiently enough to immerse consumers. In his interview on page 25, Tay Guan Hin, Founder & Chief Creative Officer, TGH Collective, points out that the reason for not creating customised vertical content for mobile phones (despite the fact that 94% of people hold their mobile phones vertically) has to do with “ignorance and partly higher costs in terms of editing and animation. It also has to do with stubbornness; people do not want to adapt and the fact is that a lot of work has to go into creating vertical content that is immersive.” Goodwin summed this attitude best when he said: “We are taking far too much credit for thinking that we understand what is possible; we are making far too few changes and we are not rethinking and rebuilding.”
Advertising can change the world
This may sound like a cliché, but it was a belief held by many marketers and the crux of the session led by Ali Rez, Regional ECD, Impact BBDO Middle East and Pakistan, who spoke about how brands are driving social change. Rez highlighted several initiatives that brands have taken to encourage behavioural change. These included, among others, MoltyFoam’s Billbed and Ariel’s #DadsShareTheLoad. The latter went viral, reaching over 65 million people across 22 countries, leading to a 76% increase in sales. More importantly, 2.1 million men pledged to ‘share the load’. To prove his point further, Rez quoted from the Kantar report Purpose 2020: “Companies that have developed a strong sense of purpose have seen their brand valuation increase by 175% over the past 12 years” and “nearly two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Z express a preference for brands that have a point of view and stand for something.” Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by Accenture, 62% of customers want companies to take a stand on issues such as sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices.
Pank reinforced this point when he stated that brand purpose is morphing into brand activism and according to a survey by WARC, 77% of respondents (which included marketing professionals) were of the opinion that brands need to take a stand on social issues and play a more important role in society. To illustrate his point, he mentioned several award winning campaigns that have led to positive behavioural changes. They included Tesco’s ‘Unforgettable Bag’ which incentivised shoppers in Malaysia to reuse their shopping bags by giving discounts. The campaign led to a reduction of 20 million single-use plastic bags and an overall 26% reduction in the use of single-use bags. Another example was Berger Paints’ ‘Truck Art Child Finder’ in Pakistan, which used truck art created by Samar Minallah Khan to help find missing children. The campaign’s initial fleet of trucks generated 1,015 calls to the helpline and led to seven missing children being reunited with their families.
There is beauty in imperfection
Apart from changing the world, advertising can change perceptions. In this regard, Hin discourages the use of beautiful and perfect people in advertising because imperfect people – and situations – can create more effective advertising – and more importantly, advertising that is memorable and translates into higher brand recall. Rez added credence to this notion when he said that according to research conducted by Unilever, unstereotyped advertising performs 25% better and improves purchase intent by 18%.
Don’t be afraid to take risks
In this respect, Fernando Machado, Global CMO, Burger King, showcased a raft of out-of-the-box ideas thought to be too ‘out there’ initially but which worked extremely well in the long run. These included the Burger King Detour campaign (to launch the brand’s app) which required people to go to a McDonald’s and log in to the app which then allowed them to purchase a Burger King Whopper for one cent. The company also launched products that were considered innovative, like the Impossible Whopper (which tasted like beef but did not contain any). To test the product, they served it to people who ordered a Whopper, most of whom could not believe that they had just eaten a burger without beef. Another seemingly outlandish idea was the launch of the Dogper – a flame grilled bone which was delivered free of charge to customers who owned dogs so they could enjoy their meal without being interrupted by their pets. As a result of these initiatives, Burger King has become one of the fastest growing fast food businesses in the world, and has won over 134 Cannes Lions in the last five years.
“There is no shortage of studies that tell us that inclusive organisations score better on every metric of success, yet the number and percentage of women leading organisations around the world remains very low. I don’t have to give you a percentage for Pakistan. Just look around you, among the audience and the number of women on stage.” This is how Atiya Zaidi, ECD, BBDO Pakistan, introduced the ‘Women in Power’ panel which featured Frieha Altaf, CEO, Catwalk Event Management and Productions, Seema Jaffer, CEO, Bond Advertising and Dr Zeealaf Munir, MD & CEO, EBM, and was moderated by Atifa Silk, Brand Director, Campaign Asia. What came across was the fact that advertising continues to be a ‘Boys Club’. Jaffer pointed out that women need to project themselves better and do more for each other to ensure they can rise up the corporate ladder.
Another point under discussion was the need for workplaces to be ‘safe’; according to Altaf, 60% of women who have graduated from college are not part of the workforce because their families do not think it is safe. Munir further pointed out that women have several traits that make them invaluable to workplaces such as a “moral compass, integrity, inspiration, multitasking and mentoring.”
Issues surrounding equal opportunity employment for women are not confined to Pakistan. Randy Zuckerberg, CEO, Zuckerberg Media, echoed these sentiments, speaking about the time she received a call from “Katy Perry’s people” who, thinking Facebook Live was a TV show, sought to have Perry featured there. Her reaction? “My instinct, especially as a woman in business, was to say sorry – it’s not a real show, but then I thought, wait a minute. What would my male colleagues do? They would want to meet Katy Perry; they would make it happen. So instead, what came out of my mouth was this: ‘Facebook Live is a very reputable TV show and that is definitely where you should launch Katy Perry’s world tour.’” Within four months, several well-known people (including then President Barack Obama), were using Facebook Live. Yet, despite her successes, Zuckerberg left for the simple reason that she became tired of being the only woman in every single room. “I thought, here we are in Silicon Valley, developing technology that will be used by everyone in the world, except how can we really do that when the people developing that technology are not truly representative of what the world looks like? How can we do that if more than half of the world consists of women and no women are giving their input into any of these products?” On a lighter note, Zuckerberg added that “when my sons said ‘Alexa do this’ or ‘Siri do that’, I asked myself whether we are teaching another generation of boys to boss women around? Later, I reframed my thinking to say that we are teaching them that if you want the right answers, you should ask a woman.”
A matter of ethics
The question of ethics was touched upon during several sessions. Javed Jabbar in his keynote address said that the line between content and advertising should be treated as sacred. More pertinently, Jabbar asked the audience to ponder this important issue: “Do we continue to promote consumption, volume, growth and discard conservation and respect for this beautiful irreplaceable planet in the name of progress?” Journalist Richard Quest also touched upon ethics in his session. “Today’s CEOs are the moral compasses of our society,” he said, adding that they should never forget traits such as responsibility, integrity, compassion and forgiveness. “A CEO must have the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong and he should not be afraid of taking responsibility... because his employees are the ones he has to look after. CEOs have to set the agenda based on moral grounds.”
Last, but not least, AdAsia 2019 served as a platform to project the positive side of Pakistan to an international audience. As Sarmad Ali, Head of AdAsia 2019’s Managing Committee, said in his interview in the November-December 2019 edition of Aurora, “ultimately, we hope to showcase Pakistan and its people as they really are. We believe there are two Pakistans: one seen in the western media and is extremely negative; the other is the real one which you cannot experience until you come here and are exposed to our rich culture, hospitality and history.” Given the success of the Congress, the pointers suggest that AdAsia did deliver on that score. We leave the last word to Faraz Maqsood Hamidi who writes his column on page 44: “As we move into 2020, whether we have realised it or not, AdAsia Lahore has kick-started the Brand Pakistan movement. What seemed like a pipe dream (“from terrorism to tourism”) is now slowly beginning to consolidate into an industry-and-category-wide shift in perceptions and cultural breakthroughs.”