Share A Coke campaign

Great global ideas do not come about easily. There is always the challenge when an idea works really well in one market, but does not resonate with the consumers in another. There is also the misconception of consistency and the danger of adapting global ideas for the local market without taking into consideration of the context, focusing more on the similarities and not the differences.

Traditionally, the narrow definition of a great global idea means the ability to adopt the same message and adapt it for the local market, maintaining ‘brand consistency’ and maximise cost savings. While this is still true in the broad sense, it is no longer enough. Not only the guiding message needs to be adapted, or transformed, to connect with local audiences, in a connected world, the way that the message is ignited is also likely to be different.

A recent campaign of Coca Cola was a good example.

The ‘Share a Coke’ campaign was first started in Australia (originated by Ogilvy). Overnight, the much loved, but often overlooked, Coca Cola changed the logo on the bottles to 150 of Australia’s most popular names. It took the entire country by surprised.

The strategic thinking behind the campaign was that for a big global iconic brand like Coca Cola, people don’t find it ‘personal’ enough. The campaign was so successful that it was subsequently launched in markets including Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and the UK. This year, the China team (working with Leo Burnett Shanghai) adapted the campaign by applying local creativity. Instead of showing people’s names on the bottle, they put the very local and colloquial ‘nicknames’ that are fondly used by Chinese among friends.


A quick recap on how the idea has been transformed in different countries:

Australia – the original:

UK: (similar execution for the Netherlands and Belgium)



The result is an authentic execution building on local culture and nuances. Not only did the idea travel, but they also managed to adapt it creatively for each local market, so that the consumers felt that the idea was created natively for them.

Each market also had their own way to connect with the people. In Australia, the campaign was activated by an interactive billboard at Kings Cross in Sydney, taking advantage of the digital technology and transfer people’s names instantly through SMS messaging. In China, widely recognised as a mobile-first market, an app was designed to facilitate sharing of the chosen ‘nickname’ to people’s friends via social networking platforms.

Interactive outdoors billboard in Australia:

An app created for the China market:


Such creativity blurred the boundaries between origination and adaptation. I call it creative solutions.

This is the kind of creativity that every successful global campaign requires. Miles Young of Ogilvy Group commented recently that with budgets under pressure, clients aren’t prepared any more to have advertising developed in every one of those markets by local agencies. I also think that a shared brand vision globally can deepen the cohesiveness of the corporate culture internally and maximize the power of collaboration.

I stumbled upon an image on facebook recently and it had stuck in my mind for a long time. It’s a facebook page of InterContinental Hotels where guests post snapshots of the hotel from all over the world. It’s a fantastic collection not because it is completely from the eyes of the consumers; it also illustrates one interesting thing – the hotel looks and feels so differently in each market.

This got me thinking…how does brand consistency apply in this context? Is consistency really relevant after all? Or perhaps we need to redefine the conventional definition of consistency?

What about global brand guidelines? We often hear branding specialists emphasize that in order to maintain global brand consistency, local markets need to be provided with over-arching guidelines about presentation, logo use, images and tone of brand messages, often in a manifesto or marketing book. However, many of these brand guidelines are over simplifications or generalizations that often have not allowed the breath of thinking.

I think consistency is an attitude. It’s more about the ‘how’ than ‘what’.

Intelligently local

As brands become more national, multinational or global, they realize that not all the consumers in each market have the same needs.  The need for global brands to be transformed and make sure they are locally relevant is increasingly important. In the travel industry, for example, hotel brands have been increasingly adapted to the local needs.

Accor has revamped its Grand Mercure brand in China, offering products and services tailored for local clientele, in a move aimed at taking advantage of the booming upscale domestic travel market.

Grégoire Champetier, chief marketing officer of Accor said “Our clients are now expecting brands capable of understanding the diversity and the complexity of their identity.”

The re-engineered branding for Grand Mercure, referred to in Mandarin as Mei Jue (美爵), was unveiled at the inauguration of Grand Mercure Shanghai Zhongya, the first hotel adapted to the new positioning. The group’s nine other similarly branded properties in China are due to adopt the new identity.

In Shanghai, employees will be conversant in the local Shanghainese language (a dialect that is class-defining in mainland China), and guests will be welcomed by staff wearing Qipao, a traditional evening dress (Think Maggi Cheung in the Mood for Love).

All local staff will be identified with name badges bearing firstly Chinese characters, followed by a pinyin equivalent enabling them to use their given names rather than adopting foreign equivalents.

Other signature services include daily Tai chi lessons, and complimentary head and shoulder massages (Chinese style presumably) for guests staying on premium floors.

The Grand Mercure brand provides Accor with a fresh platform for organic upscale expansion throughout the country. The opportunity for organic growth in the upscale hotel segment in China is one of the largest in the world. Accor’s tailor-made Grand Mercure product has already garnered great support from hotel owners. Accor currently operates 10 Grand Mercure hotels in the country. Accor has confirmed commitments for 10 additional hotels, and announced that it will expand its network to around 65 hotels in tier 1 to tier 3 cities throughout China by 2015.

Authentic global

The concept of globalization often carries a dose of negativity. By definition, globalization means the ‘process by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society’, which indicates the process of standardisation. However, in an increasingly interconnected global economy, many of us cherish our local roots. Some global brands understand that and promote ‘now localism’ in their brand strategy.

Hotel Indigo is what IHG considered to be their nearest to a non-hard brand.

As their CFO of EMEA and head of development for Europe for IHG, Paul Edgecliffe-Johnson, once said “A good brand is one that does a lot of research into what consumers want and designs something around that”. In fact they have put this in practice and bring in the feeling of the locale wherever they go. For example in Liverpool, the hotel focus on the music scene, in Shanghai it captures a strong Chinese-feeling.

Bart Carnahan, senior VP for acquisitions and development of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide once commented on the pros and cons of hard branding versus soft branding: “St. Regis for us is hard-branded—you know what you’re getting”. Luxury Collection is getting close to these white brands, it has some core consistencies throughout those brands, but it gives more breadth to owner developers, so it’s not so rigid. Carnahan said Starwood’s upscale brands have to have local designs to get that eclectic local feeling and the company wants some of the luxury brands to be.

Not just local, it’s your neighbourhood

Going one step further, the notion of ‘place’ is such a core of the proposition that certain brands has gone all out to adapt to local market needs. Statbucks is one such brand. In Seattle, 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea looks nothing like a Starbucks. But, this new café, named after the street where it is situated, is a Starbucks. Starbucks has decided to un-brand it’s newest location in Washington DC. By featuring local entertainment, sourcing from local bakeries and donating leftover food to the local parish, these new un-branded cafés aim to integrate themselves into the fabric of the neighbourhood.

Consumers are turning away from the allure of globalization and massive brands for the comfort of localization. In the US, we stand poised to see the resurgence of neighbourhood. How can your brand capture local character and appeal to consumers’ by providing them with a greater sense of identity and belonging?

Here, I am leaving with you some food for thoughts:

What consistency means in global brand management nowadays? Does it need to be redefined?

If brands need to be localized, what are the impact in the process of creating and implementation of global campaign?

If one-size-fits-all marketing tactic does not work for certain product categories, what are the implications of adapting global ideas for local markets?

What do you think?

Apart from a few obvious global giants, few brands establish dominant positions in multiple markets. Often this has become one of the main challenges for brands to create one single global creative platform.

There are a number of reasons behind it. Different perception and taste of the product is one, what I call the ‘marmite effect’. Or the product could simply be reaching a totally different product life cycle in each local market. Orangina is one such example.

When Miss O meets Tora-san

In France, the brand began its production in 1963 and has been so established that, arguably, it has become a lifestyle brand. In its popular advertising featuring the classic Orangina Rouge to the controversial ‘furry animals’ campaign back in 2008 through to the most recent ‘Miss O’ creative platform, it’s all about creating buzz and keeping the brand fresh and current in the mind of consumers. It’s what’s outside that counts!

In the new series of spots by Fred & Farid Paris directed by Joseph Kahn, the lady wolf is portrayed as a heartbreaker, in “Working late” she lies to her wimpy boyfriend and then in “Dump”, she breaks up with him in a very public way. The work, centred around the wolf, who is Miss O, asks you who really is the boss when it comes to relationships.

The local culture also provides a perfect playground for such creative platform to flourish, share and engage. The tagline “C’est qui le sexe fort?” (creatively adapted as “Who is the boss” or literally means “Which is the strong sex?”). Interestingly, the French consumers with GSOH are not steered to take the message literally, and the creative idea was instantly recognised, accepted and embraced.

On the other side of the globe in Japan, Suntory acquired the Orangina brand in 2009 and the new-look Orangina replacing the classic pear-shaped bottle was just launched in March. As a relatively new brand in the market, being French has its advantage. The recent ‘Toro-san’ campaign featuring Richard Gere rides on that ‘foreignness’ and was distinctively designed for that market.

In the launch commercial, Richard Gere appears as Tora-san, the lovable ‘loser’ in Shochiku’s very popular 48-film series of Japanese comedy movies entitled 『男はつらいよ』(It’s Tough Being a Man). Not only is he a contemporary adaptation of the original character played by Kiyoshi Atsumi, the commercials also use the same iconic music “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo” from the series.

The original Tora-san in 『男はつらいよ』:

The underlying message is that the brand is a western idea adapting within the framework of the Japanese culture. By riding on the character of Tora-san who is famous for being a bumbling Mr. Everyman, gives the brand personality a distinctive western dimension.

George Field wrote in his book “From Bonsai to Levis” (1983), and commented that in Japan culture, contrary to the stereotype, the woman is the boss (in the context that Japanese women control the purse strings in the family and are well positioned to occupy the seat of power).

There is an intriguing irony between the dominating ‘Miss O’ and humble ‘Tora-san’ here. Though I have a feeling that it is just a happy co-incidence, I cannot help but imagine what if ‘Tora-san’ meets ‘Miss O’, could that be a marriage made in heaven?

Could that be a cross-border joint production and creative adaptation?

One might argue that going for a completely localised approach, it means that it will be a long way when Orangina can create a truly global brand that captures a common language as in the case of some other globally aligned beverage brands.

For the time being, the brand may not be able to take advantage of the costs efficiency enjoyed by creating a centralized global idea that many marketers aim for, but they certainly give the brand an opportunity to grow with the local market at the right time, in the right place. This also reinforces the belief that there is no single, optimal answer to the question of how to manage a global brand.

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.

Mother’s Day is celebrated on different days and dates around the world. But in almost every culture, mothers play an important role in the family. Brands understand that, and will take every good opportunity to win over their hearts.

In the Chinese culture, women often are the ultimate decision maker in anything related to the household. Here’s a brilliant analyses of this insight from Tom Doctoroff:

Despite Mao’s famous saying that women hold up half the sky, even “liberated” female consider their role inside the home paramount. In the West, working mothers struggle with balancing career and family satisfaction. In China, the battle is much less fierce; the kid wins, hands down…So, to bond with your female “head of the household” target, tell her she is really really needed. Without her, there would be no family harmony.

In America, mothers don’t really want to see the “perfect mom” in advertising. They consider that the image of perfection is frustrating to watch, rather than aspirational. Kate Reddy, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, in the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It only exists in fairy-tales. On the other hand, if brands portray the “real mom” image, it is too close to home – a reminder of the frustrations, rather than a positive view. However, one thing they have in common – they all want to see a positive image that shows the brand delivering a realistic improvement in their life.

In the Thai culture, where people in urban families rarely show their love to each other publicly, a commercial by DATC (see below) made it even more inspiring, and in a way, started a ‘movement’ in the local market.

From food, financial services, retail, communication products to public service; and from China, Thailand, Singapore, Brazil to the UK, this emotion works unfailingly. When executed well and honestly, the effect could be very powerful.

At the time when we celebrate Mother’s Day, I would like to share with you some of the commercials from different countries that capture this sentiment.

I also love to hear from you if there are any great campaigns describing the love of mothers that reflect the unique culture of your country.

John Lewis, United Kingdom

LamSoon, Hong Kong

DTAC, Thailand

Thai Life Insurance (Mae Toi), Thailand

TE AMO (I LOVE YOU), Brazil, Singapore

Note: This public service spot was directed by the award winning film director, Yasmin Ahmad.

▼Bud Light “Wedding Dress”

▼Oxo Cubes: Remember Preston

▼Calbee Cappa Chips: That’s Life

Heinz Baked Beans: Margaret

Tesco: Cheerful Sole

*Special thanks to Helena Rosario from Portugal and Nattavut Leekulpitak from Thailand who sent me their favourite commercials.

Happy Mother’s Day. Wherever you are.

A few thoughts on adapting global marketing campaign had been brewing in my mind for a while.

It all started with the ‘T’ word

In the past 10 to 15 years, when brands started to go truly global, one of the key steps they had taken was to align their brand advertising to achieve synergy in every market they advertised. At the same time, they started to realise that translating the marketing message in foreign markets was no longer enough, that’s when ‘transcreation’ (in global campaign) came about.

That was the time when I was recruited by a London agency specialised in this revolutionary approach. I moved from Asia and joined the original visionary team that determined to make it happen. I started to leverage my creative agency background to build a network of creative writers around the world, expanding the company’s talent pool from just key European markets to pan European, Asia Pacific and beyond.

Nowadays, the creatives that I have handpicked, have collaborated with global brands across the whole industry and had become the early adopters of this discipline.

At that time I didn’t really refer the service as ‘transcreation’. I defined the approach the same way as any local copywriter creating brand stories for the local market – the only difference being the global idea formed the backbone of any creation.

In many ways, my philosophy has never changed.

What does ‘transcreation’ really mean?

It reached the point when more and more people talked about ‘transcreation’, and marketing agencies (even translation companies) started to reposition their services to match the growing trend, the true essence of the meaning had become blurred.

In previous blog posts I have already expressed my view on the many misguided definition of ‘transcreation’.

Many people over the years had attempted to define it, with little clarity.

In the world of global marketing, the term has been loosely adopted to describe the kind of adaptation work that adjusts to the culture of local markets.

Within the marketing implementation industry, the term had been used just because this is, up till now, how most marketers understand it.

In fact, I have always had a concern about how people actually understand it.

It gets a bit ‘cloudy’, and does not help in showing the true value of the work when it is being done properly.

If you think all it involves are avoiding all the cultural pitfalls in foreign markets – expressions that does not mean anything in a foreign market, colors that create negative connotation or customs that is frowned upon in a different culture, then think again.

Let’s take a step back and consider the brief origin of this term:

Transcreation was originally used to express a literary tradition of India especially after the emergence of modern Indian languages. It was used to describe the people oriented and the time oriented creative translations of the ancient Sanskrit spiritual texts. This term originally used by contemporary writers like P. Lal for his English translation of the Shakuntala and Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1974), is applicable for the whole tradition of creative translation of great classics like Ramayana, Bhagarata and Mahabharata in the regional languages from Sanskrit.

The methodology of ‘transcreation’ all makes perfect sense until companies start using it as a fancy term without fundamentally understanding the true impact of the output.

Part of the arguments in the past on ‘transcreation’ was on cost savings – one ‘master asset’ to be used for multiple markets. This argument is also gradually breaking down with the introduction of smart production process and technique, and the costs of recreating asset could be substantially reduced.

And that’s the reason why I like to challenge it and rethink what’s relevant in the current global marketing landscape.

Is ‘transcreation’ the only answer?

I developed the ‘creative adaptation’ service for some of our clients just because of this. By approaching it pretty much the same way as in approaching a brief from fresh, but taking the global brand and platform as part of the backbone of the local execution. By thinking 360° and activate the ideas in all touchpoints relevant to each local market.

The only challenge is, the line is so fine that only when you involve in the creative process, you often find it difficult to distinguish the differences.

I believe it is also intensified by the growing popularity and importance of digital and social media, where local executions are often the more preferred way to execute the idea. Locally developed executions are beginning to challenge the integrity of the global platform.

I think it’s time we approach it from a fresh angle.

Enter Trans-origination

Rather than approaching it in the contrived and often tightly framed manner – i.e. based on a master source and ‘transcreate’ it by applying necessary adjustments and changes to make it suit the local market – we approach it the same way like the thinking process of ‘origination’.

Origination: The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new.

Only when we stop just trying to ‘shadow’ the master source materials, will we be able to think out of the box like a local.

Part of the arguments in the past on ‘transcreation’ was on cost savings – one ‘master asset’ to be used for multiple markets. This argument is also gradually breaking down with the introduction of smart production process and technique, and the costs of recreating asset could be substantially reduced.

How to be a ‘trans-originator’

How should we approach ‘trans-origination’? Here are some tips:

  • Don’t get boxed in the literal context. Spend more time to identify the true universal truth and more importantly, what each market actually needs. The universal truth is more likely to be deeper than the copy message itself or just the ‘campaign tagline’
  • Understand the local market beyond just the confinement of the ad campaign in question. Consider every expression holistically – from naming through to corporate culture, from marketing communications to even model of after sales service – because these are increasingly important in creating total consumer experience.
  • Apply T-shaped thinking: if transcreation goes for the depth, trans-origination goes for the breath. Think about extending the campaign to media apart from the pre-determined channel of the ‘master asset materials’ – sometimes spending the resources to re-interpret it in a totally different media that works better for the local market will prove to be more effective and guaranteed better return of investment.

In a nutshell, don’t just do it, start asking why.

Some signs of the growing trend of ‘trans-origination’

  • Coca-cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ positioning was trans-originated as a social campaign in Philippines, a good-will ‘Make Tomorrow Better’ campaign in Egypt or as a fun-filled marketing stunt in America – all are designed to be the manifestation of the ‘happiness’ platform in a local context
  • Johnnie Walker ‘Keep Walking’ platform is trans-originated in the ‘Jonnie Walker House’ experience in China
  • Levis was trans-originated as a local brand dENiZEN primarily for China and will be marketed across Asia, transferring knowledge of the mother brand to a newly developed local brand
  • French fashion label Hermès trans-originated as a luxury brand Shang Xia for China in 2010
  • InterContinental hotel is going to trans-originated a new luxury hotel brand in China riding on the operation support of the master-brand but in a totally local brand identity

Less theory. More practice.

All the ‘T’ words that I have mentioned are not attempting to replace each other. They should be considered as different tools in a tool box – use the right one in the right time.

Trans-origination is not just a fancy term or an upgrade of the same service but a fundamental shift of thinking and approach in developing and adapting global marketing campaigns in the digital age.

For this reason, I think trans-origination™, is the future.

I like to hear your thoughts.

(No need to Google the term yet, cause you read it here first!)

Stop press: Just when I am writing this on my holiday I read that Starbucks will open its first coffee shops in India in August or September in 2012, and aims to have 50 outlets by year-end through a tie-up with the Tata group. With India’s strong tea drinking culture, I can see a perfect case for trans-origination in the brewing.

How our lives changed with social network.

If you don’t believe this, just look at this screen shot I just took from a magazine page where they provide a handy way to share the article with your friends by using addthis.

It’s absolutely, and literally, the A to Z of social sharing platforms that are available. Many of these I have not even had time to explore.

Meanwhile, I am watching a replay of the drama ‘Black Mirror’ on 4OD. The drama is ‘a twisted parable for the Twitter age’ and taps into the collective unease about our modern world. In fact, the story is woven together tightly with a plot enriched with everything from youtube, twitter and the lots. It feels like it’s a bit too deliberate, but just reflecting our own lives, we are indeed living the ‘social network’ driven life.

I have to admit that I enjoy the culture of social networking, it has never failed to amaze me when ideas and information from different spaces converge into one and all of a sudden new insight comes alive.

Daniel Gulati wrote in his recent blog on Harvard Business Review argued that Facebook is making us miserable. His research found that among young businesspeople he had interviewed, behind all the liking, commenting, sharing, and posting, there were strong hints of jealousy, anxiety, and, in one case, depression.

I think otherwise.

I think the more transparent information is, the less anxiety there is among us. @pepsico is following @CocaCola on twitter, I think that is brilliant. When media mogul @rupertmurdoch started tweeting on New Year’s eve, we know there is no way anyone can neglect this form of communications anymore.

The truth is, When everyone is watching over everyone, barriers are broken down and true innovation happens.

Stop press: Today (4 Jan 2012) Instagram revealed in a blog post that Barack Obama had registered to use the photo sharing platform, apparently as part of the channels to communicate to all his supporters as the 2012 US Presidential Election nears.

With 2011 coming to a close, we begin to see top trends prediction from the point of view of various different sources. Here I would like to draw on my own observations, and mostly derived from instincts (using the power of ‘blink’) to predict on the trends that I see will emerge or continue to thrive in the new year.

The trends that I am listing here do not happen in isolation, and like any cultural movement, they are heavily intertwined and highly dependent on the development of one another.

Information is cheap. Meaning is expansive.

2011 was a year when information flow had become intensified. We heard about Mubarak’s resignation in Egypt almost instantly regardless of which timezone we were in. Web portals such as Huffington Post advocates democratisation of new content, while emerging ones such as Worldcrunch takes it one step further by selecting, translating and editing content from top foreign-language outlets. The flow of information will further enhanced with mobile phone device – by 2016, 80% of the world population will own a mobile device.

When information can be so easily acquired and accessed and beyond geographic boundaries, what’s important is on the depth and quality of the information and how it is being put into context and in relation with each other. I predict in 2012, sharp analysis, unique point of view and foresights are going to make the real difference. We also have to reconnect with human intelligence rather than simply relying solely on technology. After all, media can only take a message so far: success comes when that message is enhanced by humans.

Open innovation

Transparency of information is becoming a reality. People will no longer keep knowledge as secret and will openly embraced exchange of information. Discussion forum will flourish and it will not only be happening just among the amateurs.

The desire and openness to embrace exchange of ideas takes us to the development of ways to discover innovative ideas.

Dell IdeaStorm: Dell adopted the open innovation model by using social media for product development. Dell’s ‘IdeaStorm’ platform, launched in 2007, according to the website ( had accumulated 16,000 active users, and has generated over 500 ideas the company has implemented to date.

Unilever VIP: The app was set up on Facebook in August this year inviting consumers to develop the product they love, changing the traditional model of incentives in consumer promotions. It currently has 30,000 monthly active VIP (users).

OpenInnovation Sara Lee: Sara Lee Innovation portal ( was set up to ‘commercialize innovative ideas, technologies and solutions’ that best support their strategic direction. On the website it says:

Today, innovation is about much more than new products. It is about reinventing business processes and developing new markets and networks that meet untapped customer and consumer needs. We do this by making connections beyond the boundaries of our organization and reaching out to our customers, consumers, partners, knowledge institutions, adjacent industries and global markets.

Our vision is to create open networks that link broad bases of knowledge to better serve consumer and customer needs.

Maildives renewable energy initiatives: Nation brands are also catching up with open innovation. The island nation of Maldives has become the first country in the world to crowdsource its overall countrywide renewable energy strategy, by seeking advice from targeted experts.

Open innovation will become an alternative form of consumer research combined with the drive to cultivate new inventions. All these initiatives, when properly implemented and monitored, will become one of the most valuable sources of consumer insights that any company can tap into.

From personalised message to personalised products

Although mass media like TV and print will never lose its value, there is an increasing urgency for brands to develop communications that not only will talk to people in a more personalised manner, but also even develop products that reflect their ability to connect.

Burger King “Have it Your Way” promotion-stunt: Ogilvy Brazil took the Burger King “Have it Your Way” tagline to new heights and presented diners with a “customized” surprise when they ordered a Whopper. They have installed a secret camera at Burger King restaurants and took customers’ pictures. Their photos were then printed instantly onto the wrappers of their freshly made burgers, giving a super personal meaning to “having it their way”.

Updated WHOPPER FACE stunt by Ogilvy Brazil:

Coca-Cola Freestyle: The specially designed vending machine is popping up everywhere in the US this year, whereby consumers can create their own sodas right at the vending machines equipped with dozens of different syrups – currently offers 100+ drink choices to mix and mash up. It also facilitates consumers to give feedback to the company. The project also has an environmental and financial upside: the concentrated syrups reduce shipping. (

Social media strategy going global

On social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter every local market is currently developing their own space, with little connections between different markets. While this is logical since what makes social networking work is that it has to be customised for each market rather than a uniform ‘standardised’ approach, however, this approach will result in fragmentation of brand message and tone of voice, and also miss the opportunity of leveraging appropriate initiatives to a global scale and create a truly global sensational brand message.

I predict that the personalisation of communication will continue to flourish in social media, however, global brands will develop social media strategy to interacting with consumers in each market – with specific content and in their local language, but riding on the universal global platform. The existing decentralised approach will no longer be considered as effective. Creative agencies will need to develop new thinking in curating social media content globally – combining their global vision and local resources to help global brands communicate in one voice all over the world.

Gamification of brands

‘Gamification’ started off as a term to describe the trend to inject ‘play’ elements – by adding badges, leaderboards, competition device or simple turn-based gaming elements – to websites and social media platforms. But what we see increasingly happening is that the ‘play’ elements have started to infiltrate into the DNA of global brands. It could well be because of the consumers who have been raised in the ‘game culture’ were starting to demand such personalities from brands, and those who spotted the trend quickly had jumped on the bandwagon.

This year, Novotel and Microsoft teamed up to launch the ‘hotel room of the future’. The room, named Room 3120 at Novotel Paris Vaugirard Montparnasse, showcases the latest in cutting-edge technology and innovative design, with Novotel and Microsoft working closely together to create the revolutionary room that allows guests to sample the ultimate in hi-tech hotel rooms. The visionary room takes guests on a technological journey with features including a Kinect interface, Sensorit mirror based on Kinect technology, a fitness interface and a Surface multimedia table. (

‘Gamification’ of brands will further influence the product and service design of brands in enhancing engagement with the consumers – this ‘playful’ element will become more important in the coming year.

Brand for good

Companies need to go beyond just making a profit; they need to find a way to balance profits and principles. In this age of transparency, a brand’s reputation needs to be carefully nurtured and developed, and building ‘trust’ with the consumers is proved to be a powerful emotional connection.

These are some examples of brands, big and small, have put meaning in their brands over just making money:

Coca Cola’s ‘Happiness’: As part of Coca Cola’s 125th global anniversary, Coca-Cola celebrated happiness around the world. In Philippines, the OFW project tells the true stories of ‘happiness’ when families and loved ones reunite, as more than 11 million Filipinos have left their families to find better opportunities abroad. The video went viral quickly, attracting more than 700,000 views within 5 days of launch on YouTube.

The OFW project:

Pepsi ‘Litre of Light’: Pepsi Philippines partnered with My Shelter Foundation to install solar bottle lights this Christmas, via a campaign devised by BBDO Guerrero. Designed to spread support for the grassroots solar lighting campaign in the Philippines and beyond, this seasonal initiative is one of the first under a new global identity for the project – called a ‘Litre of Light.’

‘A Litre of Light’ official version:

The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen: In October, Jon Bon Jovi has opened a new “pay-what-you-can” restaurant, hoping to give low-income families an alternative to unhealthy fast food. The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen is located in Red Bank, New Jersey, near the singer’s hometown of Sayreville.  (

The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen:

Levi’s Water<Less Jeans: Levi’s wanted to reduce the impact they were having on water usage; after all, it takes 45 liters of water to make a single pair of jeans. They are planning to turn their production process upside down, and successfully come up with a process that reduced water usage 28%-98%, ultimately saving 172 liters of water.  Furthermore, they released a small amount (1.6 million units) of these jeans in the spring of 2011, in an effort to balance both profitability and broad appeal.

Levi’s Water<Less Jeans:

In 2012, brands will continue to invest in initiatives that will further enhance their reputation as a good corporate citizen, hopefully not only will it benefit the consumers but to the world as a whole.

To be continued:

These are just some of this year’s observations. I like to hear your thoughts and especially trends that are relevant to your country. Please drop me a line to suggest links and check back for updates.

Further inspirations:

Check my tweets @louiechow under #trend2012 for further inspirations and additional insights.

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)

Just read an article in the Evening Standard about how brands will take over London during the Olympics next year (Mihir Bose, Evening Standard, 22.08.2011).

As everyone in the industry know, sponsoring the Olympics represents one of the biggest investment yet most attractive opportunities for global brands, therefore it does make sense that they protect their investment and make sure their branding is well represented and ‘protected’ from being diluted. However, if you consider some of the tactics being planned to ensure the best return of their investment, we cannot help but think, will there be any negative connotation out of what it seems to be a ‘spoon fed’ branding exercise.

The article highlighted some examples how brands will be doing whatever they can to protect their investment and how the Olympic committee actually openly supporting, encouraging and facilitating that. I quote some of the highlights here:

  • Volunteers for Olympics will carry some masking tape in their hands and actively looking out for groups of people wearing T-shirts advertising rival products to the official sponsors. If they are found being of ’promotional purpose’ (according to Clause 19.2.3 from the London Organising Committee website) they can get them to wear the T-shirts inside out. And if that doesn’t work, they will use masking tape to cover up the advertisement so it’s not visible on television.
  • At hotels that are recognized as “Olympic family” (e.g. London’s Hiltons and InterContinentals and the Dorchester) where the top officials will be staying, Perrier, a rival product of official sponsor Coca-Cola, will not be served. Instead, customers will get Coke’s bottled water, Schweppes Abbey Well, instead.
  • The only credit card people could use at all Olympics venues will be Visa, a major Olympic sponsor.
  • As a main Olympic sponsor, McDonalds is the only food that will be served at London 2012 venues (except Wimbledon as McDonalds has not taken up the rights).
  • Wimbledon will have to cover up its Rolex advertising despite the long time loyalty of the brand to the sport.
  • O2 will be temporarily renamed the North Greenwich Arena, as BT is an Olympic sponsor.
  • An exception – at Heathrow you can still see advertisements for HSBC, a rival of Lloyds TSB, which is a major 2012 sponsor.
  • The organisers are already working with BAA to make sure there are advertisements for Olympic sponsors at London airports – to make sure that you will come face to face with the sponsors once visitors arrive at the capital.

Commercial sponsorship is vital in contributing to the sustainability of arts and cultural events. When Sebastian Coe revealed a sponsorship agreement with Lloyds TSB in 2008, believed to be in the region of £80m, he said:

“…We are delighted. We have to raise a lot of money to stage an Olympic Games, from a number of revenue streams, and bringing in business partners who share our vision for the Games is very important for a privately-financed organisation…It is very important that we hit our targets and that we do it with partners who really understand what this whole project is about and we couldn’t want for a better partner on the road to 2012.”

I advice brands on making the most in sponsorships, at the same time, I am also a cultural advocate. I cannot help but think on both sides of the fence: 

Is brand domination the best tactic in maximising exposure? Is sponsoring the Olympics simply about share of voice? Apart from what it seems to be commercialisation of culture, how can sponsors contribute to the community in return for their fight for attention? How can brands make sure their sponsorships open up dialogues with people rather than alienating them?

Is there a better sponsorship model for global events like the Olympics that we should consider in the future?

One thing is for certain. The time when brands ‘talk at consumers’ has long gone. Sponsorship is not just about brand association and awareness but bring to life what the brand want consumers to feel about them.

Watch some of the good examples from a major sponsor:

Coca-Cola’s Future Flames TVC:

Coca-Cola’s LIve Positively initiative: