How do you explain a concept so new that it’s hard to articulate?

Take communicating ‘risk’ during the pandemic for example.

As the Global Travel Taskforce sets out framework to safely reopen international travel, their recommendations include the launch of a new ‘traffic light system’ – in ‘green’, ‘amber’ or ‘red’, which will categorise countries based on risk alongside the restrictions.

Ambiguous. But it can still be pretty universally understood.

Early this month, increasing evidence shows that there is a rare risk associated with the Astrazeneca jab . 

Now, this type of risk is harder to articulate. With public health in the heart of the concern, it’s even more challenging to provide clear indication of the risk level.

Experts and scientists up and down the country, and indeed all over the world, have been trying to help the public to understand the risk is ‘low’. The aim is to repair the possible damage to the confidence of the vaccine.

In order to help people to understand and conceptualise it, various experts tap onto the power of analogies to explain the idea that the vaccine is posing a ‘very low risk’. To quote a few here:

Communication can be hindered by conflicting information provided by multiple sources.

The problem also is that in high context societies, analogies are highly nuanced. Especially when one draws an analogy on the basis of superficial similarity.

Using analogies could be ‘risky’.

People ‘struck by lightning’ in one country may be better expressed as ‘hit by a sandstorm’ in another.

Or perhaps in this case, using facts remain the only but unattainable answer? 

Here are some of the stats from a recent research update:

“The clot risk from getting Covid is at least eight times greater than that from Astrazeneca jab, research by Oxford University suggest…”

“The study of half a million Covid patients found that, overall, getting the virus increased the chance of cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) 100-fold, compare with those without coronavirus…”

“In total, 39 in a million Covid patients suffered the clot, compared with rates of five in a million for those given the Astrazeneca jab and four in a million for those who had Pfizer or Moderna…”

Hard facts and stats they are, but are they enough to clear some of the questions?

Does using data to try to get people to stop worrying about their risk always work?

How to be empathetic enough to communicate concerns?

When stats and facts are not readily available, how creative can we be in our communications?

I also begin to wonder, what will the French, Italians, Spanish, Japanese say in order to convince the public?

What do you think?

Reference: One of the research reports capturing the latest facts and evidence

Donnelly, L; Bodkin, H. 2021. Virus poses bigger risk of clots than AstraZeneca jab, says study. The Daily Telegraph. Online. 16 April (Assessed 20 April 2021)

Note: For credible source of information, always refer to official channels. Such as updates from the official website

As the pandemic continues, we seek ‘comfort’. But do we find comfort from the same thing in each culture? Perhaps not.

In the UK, people find comfort in entertainment and the arts. A lifestyle feature from The Guardian suggests “25 great comfort films to watch” if you want to be soothed or cheered up “like a blanket for the soul”.

Google Trends indicated that ‘loungewear’ had overtaken ‘smart casual’ throughout the pandemic so far, that that seems to be pretty universal. But demand shifts over time, the Germans for example, seek comfort in ‘kühlenden Kissen’ (cooling pillows) last summer.

In America, two in three are reverting to childhood food favourites and eating more comfort food during the pandemic. “The Future 100 Trends and change to watch in 2021” by Wunderman Thompson Intelligence predicts that people are turning to nature inspired design to create a sense of comfort and stability.

But ‘comfort’ does not have to be just warm and fuzzy.

In China, consumers take comfort by making up for lost time! When the pandemic hit hard, consumers were shopping-starved during their quarantine and were engaging in ‘revenge spending’ by splurging more than usual. By Golden Week in October, millions started travelling across the country in a bout of ‘revenge tourism’ after almost a year of restrictions on their movement.

One man’s blanket is another man’s punchbag.

‘Comfort’ may be universal, but how you get there could be very different.

#Culture #Comfortfilm #Comfortfood #ComfortColour #ComfortZone

Unilever recently announced that they will ban the expression ‘normal’ from beauty products to avoid people feeling excluded. 

According to Unilever, the decision is one of many steps to “challenge narrow beauty ideals”, and part of the collective effort to “end discrimination and advocating for a more inclusive vision of beauty”. 

The initiative came with a great degree of good intentions. And to give the brand credit, they have done some remarkable things in recent years to communicate this ‘Positive Beauty’ message, often very creatively in each market. 

The ‘Real Beauty’ campaign by Dove, for example, had woken up people’s perception of beauty giving people the confidence to enjoy a positive relationship with the way they look. ‘Real beauty’ is about fundamental cultural change. 

Some dermatologists argue that the idea of ‘normal skin’ is rare. Some even say that it doesn’t technically exist at all. However, banning expressions such as ‘normal’ to describe skin and hair type, in my opinion, is counterproductive. It’s true that ‘normal’ is a subjective word, not a descriptive one like ‘dry’ or ‘oily’. It isn’t a ‘clinical’ term either. The expression is product centric, and not consumer centric. It is not intended to discriminate, it emphasizes diversity. It acknowledges and recognises the possible different types of skin and hair conditions. It’s used as a guideline in the description of skincare products.

The sensitivity of such expressions varies in each market. In Italy, brands have been using expressions such as ‘normale’ to describe both hair and skin types with a balanced quality (or belonging to an average type.) In some countries, the expression had been adapted slightly differently. For example in China, brands normally use ‘中性’ (loosely translated as ‘neutral’) to differentiate among ‘oily’ and ‘dry’ types. It will be interesting to see how brands address this issue universally.

It’s increasingly important for brands to articulate well in all of their communications, from brand storytelling through to consumer activations, and from product packaging through to social/digital interactions. Brands need to be mindful not just on literal meanings of expressions but the attitudes they carry. Achieving positive image of ‘beauty’ needs a highly nuanced approach for each market, it takes more than just words and expressions to get the tone right.

Here’s an example of how ‘Positive Beauty’ is communicated in a specific market. Rather than pinpointing on specific words, it addresses the issue from a cultural point of view.

The past year has made us understand the meaning of ‘constraints.’ It makes us realise that it’s possible to do things in a smarter way if we were given less choices, and limited resources. 

‘Constraints’ are good

It’s true that ‘constraints’ are inherently ‘limiting’. The dictionary definitions of the word often carry a negative connotation. But time and time again it proves that it can be a driving force of great ideas.

The pandemic has set out new boundaries to how we live, work and play. But Creativity thrives best when constrained. Not only that, the results are not just the product of some unbridled, unguided efforts that lead to beautiful effects, but creations with a clear and defined purpose and message. They turned limitations into opportunities:

Apple produced the brand message ‘Creativity Goes On’ over the course of two weeks at the beginning of the lockdown in 2020, capturing how people kept creativity alive under restricted circumstance.

Selfridges turned its London flagship store windows into a gallery. Staging ‘A Return to Nature’ – a joint outdoor show by photographers Marco Kesseler and Cameron Bensley. Concurrently available to view online, the exhibition offers people a chance to embrace the great outdoors while the city remains in lockdown.

Artist Grayson Perry and his wife Philippa created ‘Grayson’s Art Club’, a documentary on Channel 4 that curated artworks and creations from the public, with selected works forming a group show to be exhibited at the Manchester Art Gallery. It has fundamentally redefined how artworks are created, curated and showcased.

Constraints provide focus

A tight brief is a form of ‘constraint’. A brand’s universal message described in 25 words gives more focus and clarity than one written in three paragraphs. Defining and creating boundaries is an important starting point of creativity.

Creative legend John Hegarty famously loves to always start an idea thinking as if it’s designed for the size of a poster. Ideally with just 5 words.

The truth is: a well written tight brief doesn’t hold us back. It can shape and focus problems and provide us clear challenges to overcome.

Decoding, deep diving into the confined space creates opportunities for us to reframe the problem, opening up the mind to change, seeing things from a different angle and building new territories.

Exercise: Confined Creativity

In the following grid of 30 identical squares, try to fill each of the squares in a different way. You could keep within the confinement by using different patterns. You could also transform it into something else by adding elements to it. Move to the next one only when you are satisfied with the result. Set yourself a time limit, say 3 minutes, and see how many squares you can complete.


  • The square represents the defined universal truth of your brand. How you build on it is limitless. 
  • You can be most inventive when you are under certain constrain or pressure
  • There’s no single ‘correct’ answer to a problem
  • Even if the message stays the same, the expressions don’t have to. A shift in context may also shift the way you think.

When I started writing this blog I asked myself what it should focus on. Should it be about branding – adapting the brand identity, developing the Chinese brand name (from the legal entity name to the much more complex consumer- facing naming architecture)? Should it be about product development strategy – adapting the product from the ground up to fit the market, and consumers’ lifestyle and aspirations, as well as reflect the competition? Or should it be about making marketing content fit the unique media landscape with specific local brand messaging and content strategy? And what about the more operational side, like establishing local partnerships, sales channels and even recruiting local talent?

The truth is, when you’re marketing a brand outside its home country, you face all sorts of challenges – and they’re all intertwined with each other. And nowhere is that more true than China.

In all my experience of adapting global brands for Chinese consumers, I can’t think of a single example where it wasn’t necessary to change positioning and marketing mix in a big way. I’ve transformed product positioning of consumer products like Kit Kat from a self-indulgent treat to a sharing sensation among friends. I’ve searched far and wide to find spokespeople for global brands like Lux and American Express who can truly resonate with a local audience and still stay in sync with the essence of those brands.

Of course, none of this precludes the eternal debate about how feasible or desirable it is to be globally consistent. Or the need to remember that ‘consistency’ doesn’t equal a one-size-fits-all literal interpretation of a tagline. How should HSBC speak in the same tone as the rest of the world as ‘The World’s Local Bank 环球金融 地方智慧’ (HSBC had changed its global brand platform to ‘World’s Leading International Bank’ since 2011) but express consumer benefits in a really direct way? How should a fast-moving fashion brand like H&M stand out by toning down its price point and promoting its trend credentials instead? How do British brands like Pret A Manger find their purpose and emotional attachments in the context of the local culture, so they do more than just sell food?

To make brands relevant and trigger loyalty that adds up to a sustainable price premium, global brands have to get in step with local cultural imperatives and operational realities. At the risk of over-simplifying or making sweeping generalisations, here are some thoughts about the differences they can expect to find in China.

Are you talking to me?

Language is perhaps the most tangible. One of the first tasks of the marketing plan is to develop the brand name (an equivalent of the global brand identity). That’s before you even start to develop and adapt the brand proposition, key messaging and overall content. To succeed, you need to understand both global intent and local context. If you blindly follow the conventional idea of consistency and ignore local nuances, you’ll almost certainly fail.

When it comes to Chinese names for global brands, going for the safe option of the phonetic equivalent will end up sounding like everyone else. But over-rationalizing could leave you with a name that reflects the marketing brief rather than sounding like something born natively for the local market. In 2017, Airbnb relaunched in China with a new Chinese brand name 爱彼迎(pronounced ài bi yíng) that means ‘welcoming each other with love’. But reaction has been mixed, with many already comparing the company’s strategy with other brands who have failed in China. According to AdAge, Airbnb spent a year deciding on the Chinese characters that made up the name, with brand consultancy Labbrand consumer testing over 1,000 possibilities. Yet the result has been widely criticized in the press and on social media.

Airbnb’s launch campaign in China

Names can be very subjective. So use clear criteria to help you choose. Once you’re down to a shortlist, research can be useful. Carefully testing names with your target audience will help you gauge appeal and weed out any unanticipated negative reactions. Research can’t tell you everything, and it shouldn’t be the only thing you use . Nor should it stop you taking calculated risks or simply trusting your instinct. But it does help guide decision-making and build consensus among your stakeholders.

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it

Another big difference for brands in China is how to talk about benefits. They need to be prominent, but brands also need to talk about what they mean for the greater good, not just the individual. , The western idea of reinforcing ‘what I want, and how I feel’ irrespective of societal consequences doesn’t work. So the brand communications of Holiday Inn Express, an InterContinental Hotels Group brand, emphasize ‘smart choice’ rather than just ‘efficiency’. Johnnie Walker’s ‘Keep Walking’ proposition that emphasizes endless striving for personal progression has to be ‘shared’ and ‘recognized’ among peers. Mercedes Benz, one of the best-selling brands in China, elegantly fused its global positioning with a Chinese declaration of ambition in a recent campaign, executed as a six-page gatefold ad with the headline ‘For the world, we open a new page’.

Mercedes Benz shows its presence in the Chinese market through heavy advertising spend, including this gatefold spread launched in January 2018.

It’s not just how you say it, but where

Comparisons between Western markets and China often focus on the difference in internet penetration and smartphone adoption. But the popularity of smartphones has increased dramatically in China. And digital platforms are evolving fast to become part of Chinese consumers’ daily lives.

China’s internet economy has now raced ahead of the West’s, making China a truly mobile-first market. Besides the sheer size that goes with a billion-plus population, it’s also ahead on features. Consumers in China can now use the internet, specifically WeChat 微信(Pronounced Weixin in Mandarin), to do an extraordinary number of things. Apart from messaging (the key feature when the brand launched in 2011), it’s evolved to include voice and video calls, integrated news and public service announcements, gifting, ride-hailing, food delivery, doctor/dentist bookings, and even visa applications. It integrates social media, search and e-commerce, all inside one walled garden. A recent official report estimates that, as of September 2017, an average 902 million users log in to WeChat daily, up 17% year-on-year, and send 38 billion messages.

WeChat’s reach is appealing for global brands. But it also makes it easier to do business in China by bypassing stringent licence requirements. On the other hand, its multi-disciplinary nature makes it incredibly challenging to create appropriate content fundamentally different to the fragmented content in the West.

As a start, an official presence on WeChat can help global brands control their marketing message in China, create personalised interactions with their audience and directly manage customer relationships through the app. All of that could have a huge impact on brand loyalty if they handle it with care. Chinese consumers can discover and find out about brands and their products, interact with trusted friends and buy items all through one platform. So content needs to fulfill long-term brand building objectives: bridging online and offline experiences, creating a distinctive tone of voice, acting as a customer service with social listening functions, and creating a seamless buying experience.

WeChat is extending its reach to a version for business communication called Enterprise WeChat. Among other things, it lets employees track their annual leave days and expenses, and clock in and out. To underline the scale of adoption, DiDi ChuXing, the latest brand success in China, has encouraged its 7,000 staff to communicate almost exclusively on Enterprise WeChat.

Don’t just spot differences, celebrate them

Chinese consumers are increasingly sensitive to how global brands behave in the market. Brands that celebrate local culture while skilfully infiltrating their global essence can win their hearts, especially if they bypass one-size-fits-all global consistency to craft a local tone of voice. Global brands need a ‘first follower’ in China to localize and lend authenticity to the brand. In 2017, Burberry chose China’s pop, movie and fashion sensation Kris Wu as their first local Key Opinion Leader (KOL). That opened up China’s millennial market, giving the brand social currency to let its message spread on the many social commerce platforms.

Another powerful tactic is to allow local interpretations of global ideas. In December 2017, Adidas re-imagined its ‘Original is never finished’ creative platform with a new set of creators from all over the world including Kendall Jenner, James Harden, 21 Savage, Young Thug, and Eason Chan. It proved that when you create freely, the outcome will always be original, globally.

The global edit:


The Hong Kong edit:


The Korean edit:


China is complicated. Economically, socially, culturally and demographically, not to mention politically – whichever way you look at China, it bears little resemblance to the West. And it keeps getting more and more complicated. So one blog will never cover all the golden rules on marketing there.

There’s no single route to success when launching your brand in China. But it’s safe to say you need a plan that works for your brand and product category, and your ambition in the market. There are also other issues, like product extension, local legislation, censorship, and product safety (especially for food brands). All these steps are essentials you’ll have to consider before developing any marketing strategy for China.

Note: I have contributed this blog to VengaGlobal and Gala. An edited version of it had appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

Sometimes we hope that cultural differences do not exist. Not only can we share the same values, it makes life so much more peaceful.

The reality, however, is never like that.

We are also living in the culture of sharing. What happens in one country, is all very easy to be shared globally.

It has just been reported that in the Saudi Arabian version of the 2013 Ikea catalogue, all images of women, including the photograph credit of a female designer and depiction of family scenes throughout the catalogue, have been mysteriously retouched.

You can see the comparison of the visuals in the below images which were taken directly from the pages of the catalogues in UAE and UK.

This is not just the case of misinterpretation of images – such as the digitally retouched photos of Julia Roberts and Christie Turlington in an ad campaign for L’Oréal (which was subsequently banned in the UK)

The case with Ikea this time is more than that. It has to do with the representation of the role of female in families and society. I am not surprised that it had created such a stir and debate – and rightly so.

For a brand that had consistently scored well from the innovative urban planning projects ‘Ikea-land’ to the widely published and popular catalogue, Ikea’s globalisation strategy had always been a textbook case study. In April 2012, AdMap published a ‘Meaningful Marketing’ report and praised IKEA “makes numerous meaningful connections with people, at an economic, intellectual, organisational, spiritual and emotional level” and had registered on top of the Meaningful Brands Index across all markets.

So what went wrong?

Localisation of marketing communications is nothing new. In fact it is something I am dealing with on a daily basis. Especially in the lifestyle category, global brands do sometimes need to adjust the ‘product’ when selling in a different country. From formula of food products to the message in marketing campaigns, customisation is what is needed.

It is also not uncommon to ‘localise’ marketing materials to fit local cultural norms, we are not just talking about changing the font or layout, but strategically curate it to bring out the best of what the brand is to the local market. What’s ‘design-led’ in one country could be ‘price-driven’ in another.

The lessons learnt from the Ikea case was that the executional treatment was based on stereotypical depiction of a culture. I am quite convinced that the production team involved at Ikea had done this with no intention to offend. It was likely that in this case, localisation has been boiled down to be just a technical process – just doing, not thinking.

Here are 5 tips when developing content for products on a global scale:

  • Implementation cannot be completed without a phase of proper planning
  • ‘Repurpose’ should not be just about execution (resizing, reformatting or retouching), it should be rethinking of the relevancy of the product and message
  • Avoid cut corner solutions. Plan ahead for the production across all markets involved and discuss requirements of additional production, such as photo shoot, for each market. If planning were done upfront, costs will be easier to manage.
  • Plan certain aspects of the production to be done locally with a flexible global guidance, such as sourcing local talent in-market
  • Involve your local marketing team even when the global strategy is coming from topdown

And one last tip – even though there is no such thing as ‘global consumer’, under the watchful eyes of social media, everything is transparent.

What do you think?

In a video that was produced a couple of years ago about the relationship between advertisers and consumers, there was clearly a huge gap.

Today, in the age of total transparency, brands have no more excuses not to understand how consumer feels about them.

Instead of being at the receiving end of the ‘interruption’ marketing tactics, we eagerly give consent to it by offering our ‘permission’ to connect.

Our tweets are being followed, sometimes without ourselves knowing it. Apparently, in the near future, our tweets can be used by brands in their advertising too.

We become fans of brands from social media platforms sometimes out of ‘the fear of losing out’ mentality. We eagerly give out information about ourselves to brands who are just ‘fan’ of a friend.

e-commerce websites know what we are searching for simply by tracking the pages we view on the website, and periodically send us ‘you might also like this’ messages.

We think we have more control now but sometimes we feel the opposite.

At the same time, however, brands are experiencing the same challenges. They are exposed to all kinds of consumer reactions.

Brands are increasingly being urged to give up the control to consumers. Embrace user-generated contents. Nurture consumers as brand advocates.

Major TV commercials all have ‘making of’ videos produced so everything behind the scene are exposed and maximised as viral content.

Consumers take any issues to the social media platform and voice their opinions. Brands understand the power of the consumers’ voice and sometimes take advantage of that as catalyse of public relation activities.

In a bold move, HTC will plan to gather positive and negative user feedback of its phones from retail sites and social networks and will host the results on the product pages of its website. Feedback will also be used in digital banner advertising and could potentially decide the future content and direction of television campaigns.

This strategy not only reflects the original positioning of the brand’s objectives in putting ‘you’ (the consumers) in the centre, it also reinforces the importance of user-generated content in today’s integrated marketing activities. It also further signifies the changing role of creative teams and agencies as a whole.

In the book ‘The Superpromoter’, Rijn Vogelaar explained how most brands and services spend far too much time listening to people who do not really like them. Instead we should champion the ‘Superpromoter’, people who love your brand, people who will advocate it, people who will defend it, people who will be very keen to work with you to co-create a better future.

The marketing team in the UK is also looking to explore using more creative forms of marketing to encourage consumers to share their own HTC stories. Examples include installing a touchscreen unit in a cinema foyer for consumers to add their recommendations, which could then appear in the trailer of the film they are going to see minutes later.

But how far should we embrace the consumers’ voice?

In the age of social media centric world, it means very far.

The recent “Mass Effect 3”, the third game in the popular alien-war trilogy from Electronic Arts, had caused a global storm of feedbacks on Twitter and Facebook. Fans of the game demanded “happy endings” and had organized a social-media war to voice their opinions. Within just about a month, the “Retake Mass Effect” page has gathered more than 5,600 followers with followers tweet their demand under #RetakeMassEffect hashtag. Consumer action group has never reacted so quickly.

Their declaration on the dedicated website stated:

To Bioware and EA: Video gaming is a flexible medium. We believe this flaw can and should be corrected, so we request that you produce for the Mass Effect series appropriate conclusions of significant and coherent narrative merit which adequately reflect the choices players have made throughout the series.

Mass Effect deserves it. The gamers deserve it.

Bioware cofounder Ray Muzyka has already announced that the Mass Effect 3 team is now working on “a number of game content initiatives” that will help answer the questions so many fans complained about having. From what it seems, the consumers win again.

The shifts of power between brands and consumers have various implications on how we all operate.

The challenge for every brand is how to generate and attract consumers’ feedbacks and no matter positive or negative, turning that into opportunities. Key to success is to orchestrate the most effective consumer engagement roadmap to trigger attention, share, recommendation and influence.

The challenge for every creatives is to have empathy for consumers and the community around them. Creatives are more than just originator of ideas but conversations, stories and movements. It’s about having the ability to create a platform for ideas to flourish. The creative execution needs to be the starting point of consumer engagement and participation; and the job doesn’t stop there, it is just the beginning.

It’s 9 pm and I have just finished skyping some of my creatives in Russia to double-check on a heated debate happening in the world of global marketing. I wanted to be absolutely sure before I add to the rather controversial discussion.

On 21 March, Kraft announced that its new global snacks company will be named Mondelēz International. (Please note there is a crucial macron over the second ‘ē’ – which a lot of journalists did not include, in fact, neither does it appear in the body copy of the press release from the official Kraft Food corporate site.)

The company said the name (pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ) was inspired by the suggestions of two Kraft employees. It is intended to evoke the idea of a “delicious world” as “monde” is derived from the Latin word for “world” and “delez” as an expression of “delicious”.

Jez Frampton, global chief executive officer of Interbrand Ltd., talked about Kraft Foods Inc.’s name change to Mondelēz on Bloomberg Television, referring to the move as a clever idea.

Here’s where the debated started. After the announcement, it was quickly reported that when pronounced as “mohn-dah-LEEZ” the name immediately drew feedbacks from Russians. Apparently, it means something else to Russian speakers, say those fluent in Russian slang (when pronounced, it sounds like the Russian slang for a sex act). After  checking with a few Russian copywriters and they all confirmed that people will certainly make fun of it; they also believe that the male audiences will likely be the ones to be starting the joke.

Back in August last year, Kraft already announced officially that the company would be splitting in two by the end of 2012. And like any creation of a new name, it had gone through a long process. According to Kraft, they have crowdsourced ideas from employees, and more than 1,000 participated, submitting more than 1,700 potential names. The inspiration for Mondelēz came from two employees, one in Europe and another in North America. From what it sounds, it was probably the result of a blend of two ideas.

Kraft also commented that they have properly vetted the new name. According to John Simley, they have done “extensive due diligence in testing the name…that included two rounds of focus groups in 28 languages, including Russian. We determined misinterpretations in any of the languages to be low-risk.”

Many people blamed it on the language issues, and indeed quite a few blunders like this had happened in the world of international marketing and branding. I recall here just a few examples:

  • When Volvo first came to America, the brand also drew controversy because of the similarity between the Swedish car manufacturer’s name and female anatomy
  • General Motors had to change the name of its Buick LaCrosse sedan in Canada after it found that the word LaCrosse is slang for masturbation in Quebec
  • On Bugati‘s website in December 2010, they have advertised a car available in “rape yellow” which was the result of French to English translation error of “rapeseed plant”

Naturally, we question why the problem was not spotted within a big multinational company with multi-cultural staff? What about the creative or brand agency who had provided consultancy service to the client? What about the research company who orchestrated the focus groups in 28 languages? Did they do the research locally?

I believe the reasons are sometimes more complex.

Even if they have conducted naming research, my speculation is that due to the confidential nature of the research, they may not have revealed the full context of the name, so the respondents only were able to respond to a very tightly defined definition, or the questions were set in such ambiguous way that people could not give the feedbacks judged from the whole background.

Another possibility is the reasons behind the name change often could be complex and all the stakeholders contributed in the decision process, which often ends up in a ‘mish-mash’ of messages. A small twist to a name often will end up a disaster. Not every name change could be as lucky as and managed to conquer the challenges like Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) or Altria Group Inc. (formerly Philip Morris).

Let’s just take a look at some of the recent name changes and their rationales behind it, and you’ll know what I meant.

Abbott Laboratories spinoff will be named AbbVie

“The beginning of the name connects the new company to Abbott and its heritage of pioneering science. The ‘vie’ calls attention to the vital work the company will continue to advance to improve the lives of people around the world.” According to Richard Gonzalez, CEO of the drugs business.

Sara Lee Corp.’s beverage spinoff will be dubbed D.E. Master Blenders 1753

“When determining the new name, we thought of things like strong heritage, leadership, dynamic brands, bold growth, operational excellence and a great place to work…D.E Master Blenders 1753 captures all of those elements.” According to Michiel Herkemij, executive vice president and chief executive officer, Sara Lee International Beverage.

Corn Products Inc. will rename as Ingredion

“As the current name would suggest, Corn Products make a number of food ingredients from processed corn, like starches and sweeteners. But the company also makes ingredients from tapioca roots, like starches that add texture to dairy products” According to spokesman Aaron Hoffman. And according to the CEO Ilene Gordon it will reflect a shift in business strategy, but it would better represent the company’s pallet of products.

Relaying on a name to encapsulate a huge ambition may well be one of the main reasons.

Whether the name Mondelēz will be under further scrutiny is unsure and whether the company will evaluate all the feedbacks from the public is yet to be seen. At the time of writing this, we understand that Kraft is also working with the creative firm Attik on a corporate identity for Mondelēz, let’s hope some magic could be done to rectify this situation.

I would like to hear your thoughts.

It has become official that social media has a “meaning”, and it has imbedded very much into our everyday lives.

On 25 August, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has announced that it will add “tweet” and  “social media”, in addition to more than 150 other new words.

According to the Dictionary, Tweet (listed as both a noun and verb) is defined as:

1. a chirp note.

2. a post made on the Twitter online message service.

The definition of “social media”, which the dictionary lists as being used for the first time in 2004, reads:

Forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).

However, this is of course just the beginning, and by large, only a western definition. Although at Merriam-Webster, they now feel that the meaning of the word had ‘stabilized’ enough to include them in the dictionary, we are at a time when we are still not quite sure about what tweeting means to our lives. And just like any cultural phenomenon, its meaning, its usage, its adoption rate by the public and its public image are all different in different culture.

As a communication tool, different culture also has a slightly different point of view and hence perception towards what’s acceptable.

In the Middle East, the dramatic events of the Arab Spring and the recent scandal that brought down Congressman Anthony Weiner, tweet is a word that has been part of the story. And had certainly gained international recognition. Tweeting is becoming a widely acceptable form of personal expression. At a seminar during this year’s Cannes Advertising Festival in June, Ama Salama, the Egyptian filmmaker who took part in the Egyptian protests said: “Some corporations are using the same brainwashing techniques that those government used to sell their bureaucracy and propaganda, social media is going to get them because we shall tweet about it and write about it. That s the power of the people.”

In the UK, after the London riot, Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that the Government was trying to establish how to stop the internet being a tool for troublemakers to organize disruption. Social media, all of a sudden, had been blamed for being a disruptive tool. Although it has been reported that the government already appears to be rowing back on Cameron’s initial suggestion, it did cast a shadow in the medium which should actually can be a very useful intelligence assets.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, remain positive about this. In the lecture he had given at the Edinburgh International Television Festival on 26 August 2011, when asked about his opinion on Cameron’s proposal, he said: “I think it’s a mistake. It is a mistake to look into the mirror and try to break the mirror. Whatever the problem was [that caused the riots] the internet is a reflection of that problem. If you have a problem, use the internet to understand what the problem is.”

Meanwhile in Germany, Facebook was being challenged in August to disable its new photo-tagging software. The German government said that they were concerned that Facebook’s facial recognition feature amounted to the unauthorized collection of data on individuals. Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor in Hamburg, who has been aggressive in investigating the online practices of companies like Google and Apple, also warned that the feature could violate European privacy laws. The case is still under review.

In China, “tweet” remains only the meaning of a tweety bird, and the platform, together with other imported social media platforms like facebook, are still being blocked. Artist Ai Wei Wei started blogging in 2006 (he was among the few ‘celebrity bloggers’ who were actually invited by to promote their new platform), by 2009, the blog was started to be censored and its entire contents deleted from cyberspace. However, if you think that the tight control on social media is limiting its growth as a medium is wrong. In fact it had been reported that social media is more popular in China than UK. China also has a thriving ecosystem based around dozens of networks with home-grown platforms such as QZone, Baidu and 51.

One tweet different reactions – it’s important to know what social media actually means in your culture; no matter whether you are tweeting to express your personal views or as the face of a commercial brand.

In the coming blogs I will be exploring in more depths some of the following topics:

  • How different are the use of social media in different markets?
  • What are the proper “social behavior” in social media, what are widely considered as good manners in tweeting and blogging?
  • If you are tweeting and blogging on behalf of your company, are there any useful guidelines?
  • If you are maintaining a twitter profile for a brand as a marketing tool, what are the most effective approach to remain authentic while meeting the commercial objectives?

I welcome to hear your viewpoints and inputs especially from different cultures. (@louiechow)

Links and reference:

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary Updated for 2011:

Ai Wei Wei’s Blog: writings, interviews, and digital rants, 2006-2009/ Ai Wei Wei: edited and translated by Lee Ambrozy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press 2011.

Google’s Schmidt sees more partners for Google TV (Georgina Prodhan,, 27.08.2011)

Germany Investigating Facebook Tagging Feature (Kevin J. O’Brien,, 03.08.2011)

I went to the exhibition of Gabriel Orozco in Tate Modern last week. Gabriel once described his work as not inventing, just reinterpreting. I thought that is quite a brave statement from an artist especially in a world where originality is king. After seeing the work in the exhibition, I think I share his vision of creativity. His work often involves taking up existing objects and alter or reconfigure them, so that familiar items are transformed or placed in a new context, often with a keen understanding of the wider associations that they carry. It is a skill that requires not only creativity, but insights and sensitivity.

I can’t help but think, as advertising creatives, that’s a skill which has become more and more crucial. With fewer and fewer true inventions these days, products and services are by nature a reinvented version of the existing one. Advertising messages, at the same time, is a new angle looking at an emotion, or pardon my jargon, the selling proposition.

Part of the work I am engaging in my profession is adaptation. It often involves taking an idea which originally was either created for one market and re-engineer it to make it relevant for each local market where the message is communicating. Or sometimes we take an idea that was created within one single media platform in mind (often TV) and extend it 360 degree in all other media creating a truly cohesive message across all platforms.

Just take the classic brand Kit Kat as example, the ‘Have a break Have a Kit Kat’ proposition was successfully reinterpreted forAsia. A market where ‘having a break’ doesn’t necessarily mean a break in the mundane but simply a moment of relaxation in a highly stressful life.

The craft in adaptation also means when reinterpreting messages for different markets, you are avoiding the boring approach of standardization and really customizing it with the local audience in mind.

In fact not only in international advertising, the skill of adaptation runs in other disciplines and other forms of communications too.

In interior design (or shall I say retail communications), when Starbucks announced the opening of a branch in central London’s Conduit Street last year, some of the nearby residents famously object to the idea, fearing that the overtly manufactured mass appealed coffee chain will ruin their neignhourhood. The solution, led by the design director Thom Breslin, is to modify the interior design, taking inspiration from independent coffee houses, and created a branch that is in sync with the neighborhood, something even Rupert Everett will approve. The methodology has then rolled out to other branches in different areas from Knightsbridge to terminal 5. It’s adaptations at its best.

Photo by Louie Chow. Artwork entitled Carambole with pendulum by Gabriel Orozco.