brand experience China

There is a subtle difference between brand pushing messages to consumers, and letting consumers discover what the brand represents.

Recently, a giant pavilion in the shape of a Louis Vuitton suitcase emerged on Moscow’s Red Square. The construction is part of an exhibition called “The Soul of Travel”, marking Louis Vuitton’s 150th anniversary. The blatant display of branding in a conservative culture didn’t go down well.

In fact, consumers in parts of the world where branded goods used to represent status are now turning towards more subtle expressions of taste. China is one of them, and luxury products have already seen heavily branded merchandises slowly losing their charm.

Brand presence has to be more intelligent, subtle, understated, and localised.

In doing so, brands need to dig deep into their DNA or develop a multidimensional personality, and not just fulfilling a functional benefit. Sportswear is not just for helping people excel in sports performance but as a fashion statement; cosmetics is not just about beauty but about fulfilling a social purpose; and coffee shops are not just about beans but about sharing with friends.

Brands are also becoming more like publishers. Creating content around the brand needs more than just one dimension. To be involved in popular culture, particularly the creative side, gives brands the opportunities to contextualize the brand stories, and build key components of their brand promise. It can also give them “currency” and relevance in specific local markets.

There’s a trend that resonates this movement – brands are making the most of retail space. Not just as a place for transaction of sales, but also as a place where they can project a multidimensional character of their brand.

The beauty and make up company Sephora created a pop-up museum concept in New York entitled “Sensorium” in 2011. The category of perfumes has always been solely relaying on glossy print ads and images, but the interactive journey of the setting of the “Sensorium” space introduces consumers to a new way of appreciation of fragrance. All of a sudden, beauty is not just skin deep, but adds a layer of intelligence to it.

In September this year, Starbucks opened two flagship stores in Beijing. They are not ordinary flagships, they are brand-defining establishments. One, located at Beijing’s glitzy and busiest Kerry Centre, is a 4,000 square-foot, two-story “coffee tribute”. The temple-like space features a giant, bold, Starbucks siren icon on the exterior of the building that illuminates at night. The other “eclectic” version, located in Sanlitun, is a 24/7 operation. Featuring ceiling-to-floor glass windows with a special club on the second floor called “Club 1971” that features live music by local talents on weekends. The Chinese Millennials are in dominance. It also reflects the young Chinese growing up in the one-child system with a strong desire to connect with their brothers and sisters outside the family.

In Shanghai, Under Armour opened its first store in China by blending art and science, presenting the Chinese consumers a sensory journey into the brand. The “retail theatre” is located in the new Jing An Kerry Centre, and designed by Marc Thorpe Design in collaboration with HUSH Studio.

China has a complex relationship with sports, although Chinese athletes are winning more medals in the global stage, but still relatively few Chinese has a personal relationship with sports. Global brands such as adidas adapted their strategy by creating two different divisions, on the one had is their flagship sports performance line; and on the other hand, capturing an aspect that translate sports into lifestyle and fashion. The result is, sub brands such as Originals and Y3 had been successful through the halo effects and the connections with its sports performance heritage, effectively crafting out a strategy that is relevant in the local market.

But developing local product strategy is not enough anymore. The idea behind the Under Armour’s “retail theatre” is to open up the minds of the consumers by redefining the notion of training – not as a pursuit of profession in sports but working to achieve physical greatness. It elevates the proposition from a physical one to an aspirational one.

In an age where authenticity of the brand is so critical that it defines what the brand is all about, by presenting consumers a production quality of epic scale it breaks down the boundary between the physical space and the digital, it will certainly triumphant over any content people get just from small screens.

Creating unique brand experiences is one of the most powerful, immersive means of building a brand. Ultimately, it boils down to making it relevant to local consumers while enabling sharable conversations.

I came across this campaign earlier this year. It was created by Print Power Europe, advocating the effectiveness of print media in the multi-media environment. Like any organisation exists to protect the role of a specific media in the integrated marketing world today, the message single-mindedly focuses on the effectiveness of the media, communicating the notion that print often demands the ‘full attention’ of the reader.

However, this is of course just one side of the story. When was the last time you were not being interrupted by a push message appearing on your mobile while reading the newspaper? Or have you ever read something interesting from the newspaper, and quickly tweeted it in 140 characters?

In fact, any single media attempts to operate in silo is surely going to fail. The Print Power Europe also acknowledged that digital integration is central to the success of the print media.

But newspaper and magazine advertising now offer that interactivity with the use of QR codes, Augmented Reality and Near-Field Communication. 
This digital integration is now central to the success of print media and offers the marketer a host of opportunities to engage with their customers in a number of new and exciting ways.

The challenge today is not only because of the multi-screen media consumption habit of consumers that caused huge disruptions to any specific media, it’s also much more difficult to make a strong business case if we frame contributions of one single media too narrowly – and not from the entire customers’ journey.

What we have started to see happening is cross over interactions. Twitter had successfully reminded the advertising industry about their close relationship with TV viewership, their 140 characters actually could be a good fit as and when the consumers’ eyeballs are glued to the TV screen.

In the context of print media, we also see innovative partnerships. Here are just two of the recent examples:

Enhanced Lexus print ad:

By inserting an iPad screen under the print ad, it transforms a print ad into multi-media visual sensation.

Independent+ Powered by Blippar:

Through ‘visual discovery’ pioneer Blippar app, the enhanced Independent content is enriched with videos, pictures, story updates and all sorts of interactive engagements.

The original page:

Independent_original page

Scan with Blippar which triggers additional content:

Blippar_independent_screen_1

Instant access to constantly updated online content:

Blippar_independent_combined

As everyone is talking about ‘mobile first’ when it comes to digital strategy, we are in fact just touching the tip of the iceberg in its potential. I am so looking forward to seeing how the creative folks can think of even more innovative ways to create interesting partnerships with traditional media channels; and how such ideas could be implemented for brands on a global scale. It’s a constant and never-ending iteration, and it’s only going to get better.

Sir Dave Brailsford

It was a blast at the recent first ever Advertising Week Europe in London. There were truly diverse viewpoints from a wickedly broad representation of thought leaders in the industry.

True, it was pretty London-centric, and not representative of ‘Europe’ as such.

However, there was one point I found particularly refreshing.

Sir Dave Brailsford’s ability to balance art with science and his point on ‘clarity’ as the most important thing in winning is truly inspirational, especially for an industry that is constantly in a state of change.

Clarity, not contradiction, is what we need.

The advertising industry at large remains operating in silos. When mobile becomes increasingly important in the consumers’ journey, the only way to be creative is ‘to be mobile’. As clients demand the evidence of effectiveness through big data, creative ideas have to be ‘data-driven’. As the boundaries between ‘content’ and the traditional form of advertising are blurred, everyone starts raising their objections and protect their line of business, reminding everyone else to ‘mind their own business’.

Everyone has a point, within each individual’s own territory. But why can’t we think in a media-neutral way?

Or should be listen to what Chuck Porter from CP+B said: ‘Don’t start with ads, start with business solutions’?

Nevertheless, there were some fantastic debates and remarkable insights coming out from the conference. In the true fashion of today’s ‘bite-size’ communications, I summarise it in a slide show here.

And as Sir Dave Brailsford also suggested, ‘don’t let numbers inform observations’.

Untitled-3

Topshop is no stranger to creating social media sensations. Last year, Topshop took the high street fashion chain’s social presence to a global level when they collaborated with Facebook on a “Customize The Catwalk” experience during London Fashion Week (see my summary of it in my previous blog post).

This year, the brand worked with Google+ to create yet another multi-dimensional experience. The trend for brands to work with social media platforms takes the definition of ‘the medium is the message’ to the digital age. The benefits for brands to co-create content with social media platforms directly is to tap into the expertise of the technology and jointly exploring innovative ways to connect with consumers.

It also guarantees a certain level of exclusivity during content-rich season such as the London Fashion Week when every brand is now producing live streaming of some sort and winning the consumers over unique experience is important.

Brands are also able to make the best use of data collected from various activities. While live streaming, and other ways to give consumers digital access to runway fashion, was more of a marketing tool at first, is now being seen as a research opportunity.

Here I would like to give a brief summary of the key elements of the campaign to illustrate how they are all inter-connected with each other:

Teaser: On 12 Feb, a trailer “The Future of the Fashion Show” (as featured below) was released as teaser of the upcoming activities, giving hints on the ‘storyline’ that would unfold in the following days leading up to Topshop Unique show at London’s Tate Modern on Feb 17. It’s also a crucial step to invite fans to get onboard Google+ that essentially acts as the hub and springboard of the Topshop ‘story’ of the season.

The Future of the Fashion Show – the trailer:

Creating buzz: On 14 Feb, Google+ and Topshop installed a “Be The Model” photo booth in Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street store in London. Customers can try on Topshop outfits and snap pictures in the booth, the device creates animated GIFs users can share with others on their social networks. Organically growing the number of followers and Topshop fans were turned into brand advocates through peer-to-peer recommendation.

Connecting with professional influencers: On 15 Feb, Topshop unveiled behind-the-scenes videos of the models and creative team preparing for Sunday’s show on its YouTube channel, and invited bloggers and fans to join a Google Hangout with Topshop’s creative director Kate Phelan and the Topshop design team. Specific content targets at the fashion circles that in turn act as credible voice for the brand – to give ‘a 360° view of what goes into creating a catwalk show’

Real-time experience: On 17 Feb, Topshop activated its full portfolio of interactive tools. 3-D Google Map technology was employed to give fans access to the show’s space in The Tank at Tate Modern. To create pre-show buzz, 30 mins before the show kicked start, Topshop broadcasted Google Hangouts between fashion bloggers, Topshop fans, and celebrities on their way into the unique space. More opportunities for the content to be widely spread on various platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Hangout Live Backstage Before Topshop Unique AW13:

Topshop Unique AW13 – The show:

Multi-platform distribution of content: The Topshop Unique Show was streamed live on Topshop’s owned website, as well as on Google+ and Twitter (Tweek Walk), in embedded media players on news organization websites and various fashion blogs, and on a giant screen in the window of Topshop’s Oxford Street store.

360° Interactivity: Runway models’ outfits and accessories were fitted with ‘Model cams’, HD micro-cameras powered by SIS Live’s Hawkeye techonology. The tiny cameras broadcast model’s-eye video in the corner of the show livestream, giving audience an opportunity to experience stepping out onto the catwalk through their favourite models’ eyes.

Content optimization: Other spin-offs were adopted from the success of the previous season’s livestream “Customize The Catwalk” initiative. These include the very successful “Shoot and Share” feature for fans to take still shots from the webcast, and various ways to prolong the experience by allowing fans to download the catwalk music tracks (this year the music featuring tracks from the Smiths, Beats International and Saint Etienne) and purchase the make up range. Every single element was fully utilised to extend the lifespan of the campaign.

Data intelligence: “Be The Buyer” post-show custom Google+ Hangout app was launched so that every clip from the runway will be swipable into a ‘wish-list’ which will then be featured on Topshop website. The data from the Google+ Hangout app will help the buyers decide what they are going to actually bring to retail. Fans feel like they are literally taking control of what they are going to buy.

It’s exciting to see how brands embrace digital channels to produce experiences that consumers really enjoy. The use of data also allows designers for the first time to make a very educated decision about how to plan. I believe the clever and seamless application of technology without making consumers feel like they have been put under the microscope is the key to success. As we know, the worst things happen to some of the digital campaign is that they tend to make consumers feel like they are generating content on behalf of the brands rather than having an enjoyable experience.

I would also like to see how this kind of co-creation could evolve to a global level, creating universal experience for consumers from different markets joining in the big event. It also allows brands to understand what works where globally. That could well be the next big news in global digital content creation.

Celebrity endorsement in advertising is nothing new. From the long time strategy adopted by brands such as Lux who pioneered female celebrity endorsement or Pepsi’s relationship with pop culture in their ‘Taste of the New Generation’ platform, to the more contemporary usage of celebrities by brands such as Mandarin Oriental’s ‘I’m a fan’ campaign. The use of celebrity used to be about helping to shape the brand positioning (as in the case of the Lux being the choice of ‘stars’ and Pepsi’s association with the ‘New Generation’), or in some cases, purely as an awareness exercise.

In Asia, celebrity endorsements had long been a ‘formula’ favoured by brands aiming to achieve an instant fame, from China, India to Japan, often without much careful consideration of the compatibility of the celebrity’s persona with the brand’s image. Every Bollywood star has a product to endorse, and every Japanese whisky has a Hollywood star in a talking head commercial. That’s probably the reason why in the past when a client said they wanted to use a celebrity in the upcoming campaign, it almost always signified the beginning of a formulated creative process.

To a certain extent, this has changed.

The recent trend for brands to associate with celebrities indicates both a changing nature of ‘celebrity’ and the practice of ‘endorsements’. Celebrities are no longer just the face or simply play an acting part in a commercial. In fact they are now hired as creative directors. Some of the recent appointments include:

  • Justin Timberlake for BudLight Platinum
  • Alisha Keys for Blackberry
  • Marc Jacobs for Diet Coke
  • Will.i.am for Intel
  • Lady Gaga for Polaroid

Here are some of their own words in response to their appointments:

Some of them are more credible, as in the case of Will.i.am who actually carries the title of Director of Innovation and reportedly holds an Intel fellowship at the company’s HQ in Santa Clara to constantly dream up innovative ideas, working in collaboration with Intel’s futurist Brain David Johnson. This seems to me one of the more successful collaboration. For other, it could well be just another ‘form’ of celebrity endorsement.

However, one thing is for certain, celebrities are no longer one-dimensional and with their ability to generate ‘content’ in the digital space, it’s where the potential begins. And when brands are moving towards acting as ‘publishers’, the need for relevant and quality content is paramount. When BudLight announced Justin Timberlake’s appointment they said he will ‘provide creative, musical and cultural curation for the brand’ while Justin Timberlake said he is ‘looking forward to not only being a part of the creative process, but in bringing other talented musicians to the forefront as well.’ Could that mean the brand’s future involvements on platforms such as MySpace? Let’s wait and see.

Will the trend of ‘celebrity creative directors’ adapt well in your market? What are the differences in terms of the driving force behind it and its effectiveness? I would like to know.

viral ad 2012

It’s hard to imagine any ‘socially active people’ who has not tweeted or posted a link of a video this year. Sharing content, be it in video format or otherwise, has been part of our lives. This is the time of the year when everyone is putting together ‘The best of 2012’ listings, so I will pick a few that I have come across and ‘share’ it with you, adding a few of my thoughts along the way.

I read the ’20 most viral ads’ compiled by Adweek the other day. First of all, I am not a big fan of the jargon ‘viral ads’. I think the notion of creating conversations with people (consumers) these days has made ‘viral’ being one of the key success factor in any form of communications anyway. In a sense, everything should be ‘viral’ these days. The listing has also only captured videos that were most shared, in this case they are pretty much all on one single platform – youtube. Nevertheless, there are a few gems in it and here are some of my observations:

  • The ‘technique’ of making a video ‘viral’ is beginning to repeat itself. The domino-chain-of-reaction type of action continues to amaze. However, there is a danger that this technique will become old school very quickly. Don’t forget the classic success of the ‘cog’ TVC from Honda was produced back in 2003, and arguably that film was inspired by Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s video ‘The Way Things Go’ which was produced back in 1987. So the key is to find fresh angle to engage and in my opinion, make sure that the execution really does add to the value of the brand. (reference: Red Bull – ‘Klug’ (Clever): The Athlete Machine)
  • Authenticity is one of the most important element of content that worth people to share. We begin to see ‘fleshmob’ starting to feel much more designed and staged. The spontaneous effect is diluted and very soon we all will see through it and lose interests. (reference: Banco Sabadell – Som Sabadell)
  • The idea of judging the effectiveness of video content on its own is hugely misleading. Unless we are in a creative award whereby we are purely looking at a single media of the specific entry. Best campaign effects come from the synergy created by online and offline and everything in between.
  • Simplicity continues to be the winning factor. If something is genuinely interesting, 5 sec is all it needs. We also need to make sure there is ‘meaning’ behind the ‘making. People have not stopped communicating. What’s changed is we are getting better and better at filtering. It’s only the valuable stuff that will spread between people, igniting conversations among those who trust each other. (reference: P&G – Thank You Mama – Best Job 2012)
  • Video content is becoming more sophisticated with much higher production value. This is both driven by the fact that producing high quality videos is much easier to achieve cost effectively these days. With the popularity of mobile device with HD quality video capability, it makes sense to optimize that for the benefit of bringing out the brand message. The downside of it is there is a tendency to use technology for the sake of it and forget about the ‘story’. (reference: GoPro HERO3)

I have embedded a few of my favourites here:

Red Bull – ‘Klug’ (Clever): The Athlete Machine

TNT Belgium – A Dramatic Surprise

P&G – Thank You Mama – Best Job 2012

Here are the titles of the full list of 20 videos:

  • Safe Internet Banking – Amazing mind reader reveals his ‘gift’
  • Air New Zealand Safety Video – An Unexpected Briefing
  • Banco Sabadell – Som Sabadell (We are Sabadell)
  • Red Bull – ‘Klug’ (Clever): The Athlete Machine
  • NIKE FOOTBALL – My Time is Now
  • ‪Sesame Street – Share It Maybe
  • Nike Football: Mercurial Vapor VIII: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Rafa Nadal
  • Coke Zero – Unlock the 007 in you
  • GoPro HERO3
  • Google Project Glass – One day
  • PBS Digital Studios – Garden of Your Mind
  • Volkswagen – The Bark Side, 2012 Volkswagen Game Day Commercial Teaser
  • ‪OK Go‪ – Needing/Getting – Music Video
  • Metro Trains – Dumb Ways to Die
  • 2 year old William Stokkebroe dancing the jive
  • P&G – Thank You Mama – Best Job 2012
  • DC SHOES: Ken Block present Gymkhana FIVE: Ultimate Urban Playground
  • Abercrombie & Fitch – “Call Me Maybe”
  • TNT Belgium – A Dramatic Surprise
  • KONY 2012

I would like to hear from you the most talked about video content in your local market. Please comment here, send me a link or send a tweet @louiechow. I will include your suggestions in the next update for everyone to compare.

Not sure if it is the weather, or because it’s just that time of the year.

A few major ‘changes’ had made the headlines in the industry press. Here are the news from some of the global brands…

Global Brand-Building Officer of P&G Marc Pritchard said the company wants “fewer, bigger creative ideas that can travel around the world”, the impact will be lower agency and production fees by eliminating some that “don’t add value”. The major cuts will be on the non-advertising portion of P&G’s annual marketing spending, including production of promotion and in-store marketing programs, coupon distribution and eliminating things such as giveaways of stuffed animals. The spending on such promotions that “don’t build brand equity” amounted to around $2.1 billion in 2011.

Unilever is moving its 150-strong London-based European brand development team to Rotterdam while centralising its global brand development team in London – the whole shift will be completed by 2014.

These might sound like just everyday news, but if these are in any way an indication of a trend, and when we think deep into the impact, these changes potentially will shake up the entire agency support ecosystem. It influences how, and where, brand ideas and campaigns/ platforms are planned, created, implemented and fulfilled.

Further down the chain, it will impact every agency of any discipline, and every talent working within.

It will also fundamentally change how we, as creatives, producers and implementation specialists, approach any brief; and how and in what way we collaborate with each other, globally.

I find this exciting.

Could this be the starting point of a revolution? Is it a major trend in the making?

One thing is for certain. I am convinced that we cannot go after quantity, but need to invest in quality thinking and insights.

We all need to be as agile and flexible as possible to take advantage of the fast-changing conditions in the marketplace.

Rain or shine? How would you turn this into opportunity? What will we expect in 2013?