Creative Myths About Asia

Debunking the Asian Marketing Stereotype

by Wayne Arnold Global CEO MullenLowe Profero, Chairman of Marketing Society Southeast Asia.

When I moved to Singapore nearly three years ago, I received a number of cautionary tales about what to expect on my arrival into the Asian marketing industry.

Reluctant as I was to initially accept what seemed to be sweeping generalisations, it was unavoidable that some of these statements coloured my first impressions. These preconceptions meant that in many ways I was entering a region that had unfairly been prevented from being taken at face value.

The four most persistent stereotypes I heard went something like this:

The Asian marketing industry at large is not brave, it is very conventional and risk averse
There is almost no creative talent in Asia
The Asian talent that’s available are great at copying but don’t expect any originality
Clients will only buy creative ideas that are backed up with mountains of data and analytics

Well, you can forget the above, it’s rubbish.

I’m pleased to say, far from a creative wasteland, I’ve found Asia to be a region brimming with sharp creative minds, risk-taking clients and a relentless thirst for fresh thinking.

Following on from my Man About Asia series, I’ve taken to Medium and LinkedIn and prepared a series of posts that debunk the myths of the Asian marketing industry. In the coming weeks I’ll highlight the great work, people and ideas that make the Asian marketing industry one of the most vibrant in the world.

You never know, perhaps a few lessons in Eastern wisdom could teach the rest of the world how to be successful in Asia, or at home.

So let’s tackle Stereotype No.1

Stereotype No1. Asia brands are not brave

Lonely are the brave, or so the saying goes. Lonely they may be, but it’s arguable those who challenge tradition and conventional thinking often enjoy more success. I was often told that Asian marketing leaders are one of the most risk-averse in the world, and selling great creative work could be an ‘uphill battle’.

There is an element of truth to this. However, the Asian market, like elsewhere in the world, does produce great work. The upside to this is that if it’s brave enough (and if you can sell it in), a brave piece of work can garner your brand more than its unfair share of attention. To illustrate this, and prove that bravery does exist in Asia, look no further than the latest video from McDonalds ‘More Warmth in Conversations’ campaign.

Not only does this work address a subject that’s more or less taboo in most Asian markets, but it’s brave in its conclusion: acceptance. The ad caused a storm in a coffee cup, unsettling some community groups enough to want to boycott McDonald’s altogether, but isn’t that what great marketing is meant to do — spark conversation and create debate?

What makes this work even more surprising is McDonalds aren’t widely recognised for their creativity in the advertising realm. If I am being honest I think the majority of their work is clipart advertising and misleading trying to making cheap food look like food porn. So it’s invigorating to see them take a chance and trust the power of their message. Overall, it generated a wealth of conversations about the subject, validating the strength of the campaign’s execution and central truth.

As this work shows brave smart work does exist in the region and I am pleased to say it is happening more and more often. It’s a challenge to other brand marketers out there to take more risks with their agency partners, in a region where risk-taking and bucking convention can reap huge rewards.


In partnership with MullenLowe Profero
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