Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Age-old cultural traits can give rise to fresh ideas

Aug 27. 2014
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I WAS IN Japan last month. Though on holiday, the compulsion to observe cultural differences and nuances got the better of me. Japan never ceases to amaze me with its discipline, humility, work ethic and advanced social infrastructure.

Despite these stark differences between the Thai and Japanese cultures, there was one thing we share in common – aimai, Japanese for ambiguity. Sounds a little bit ambiguous, right?

The essence of aimai is to avoid directness and confrontation, which is a common trait or a “cultural orthodoxy” shared throughout both nations. We beat around the bush to arrive at an appropriate answer, and saying “no” is never encouraged in this society.

So when brands face marketing issues that go way beyond consumer behavioural truths and beliefs, you have to dig below the skin to reveal cultural insights to generate new ideas.

This month, Listerine, in association with IPG Mediabrands, was awarded a bronze prize for the “Best Use of Social” category at the Loyalty and Engagement Awards in Singapore for its use of a music video composed by Stamp Apiwat to drive category penetration.

It was a user-customisable music video, implemented through YouTube and promoted via Facebook, where the receiver’s name can be left.

As the mouthwash market leader, Listerine’s growth strategy was to penetrate to “non-believers” who think that brushing is more than sufficient. As Thais, we are never going to tell our peers that their breath stinks, so why not do it in a friendly, culturally orthodox manner that is also fun and engaging and, of course, with a bit of help from a certain superstar, with Stamp as the campaign magnet?

YouTube engagements exceeded 3 million and penetration went up by 2 points (Nielsen Retail Index 2013). The argument here is that digital will continue to be the force for engagement between consumers and brands, but unbelievably, it is still heavily under-utilised.

Another demonstration of exploiting cultural orthodoxy and inducing engagement on digital is the global phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge in creating awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Though its origins are unclear, pouring buckets of ice water after a victory in sporting matches has been around for decades in the United States. And as Thais, we are all too familiar with the ritual during Songkran.

Global leaders and common citizens alike don’t want to lose face by saying no to a challenge made by their peers. So naturally, there is an inclination to take on the task, and everyone who participates ends up looking like a hero.

After all, the challenge was created for charity, and in an age where everyday heroes are heralded, everyone wants to be hero.

It is simply amazing what cultural hindsight can do for an idea and that implementing social channels can induce participation in creating a global phenomenon. One insight, a simple but powerful idea concocted with the fun factor, was all it took to generate this kind of momentum. Let’s wait and see how much money will be raised by year’s end.

Pradon Sirakovit, head of |strategy and innovation at IPG Mediabrands, can be reached at Pradonn.sirakovit@mbww.com.

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