Content marketing

Is the West best?

I’ve been fascinated by technology in Asia, and the creative marketing it enables, since an impromptu relocation to Seoul almost a decade ago. In the almost two years I spent in South Korea, as well as stints in Hong Kong and Taiwan, I saw a society racing ahead of the West in terms of technical adoption and literacy.

When I arrived in Seoul I found a country where cashless payments were the norm, where every smartphone could stream live TV (even in the subway – something London still hasn’t figured out), and I could pay for the bus with a tap of my phone or key fob.

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This technology enabled some fantastic new opportunities for marketers. A few of my favourite examples from my time there are shoppable subway ads (oddly enough part of a campaign for Tesco’s ill-fated Asian expansion), and EMart’s mind-boggling sundial QR Code which is only scannable between 12-1pm when the right shadows are cast, unlocking offers designed to boost lunchtime custom.

I would of course be remiss to not mention the often-horrific impact that technological advancement can have in societies around the world when used to the detriment of vulnerable people – from fabricated scaremongering in India to dystopian social credit scoring systems in China – but there are commentators much more qualified than I to speak about those issues.

Since my time living there, I’ve been of the opinion that the hot technology in Asian cities like Seoul, Tokyo and Taipei are precursors to what we can expect in the West in 5-10 years. Cashless payments and mobile video streaming are finally reaching widespread adoption in the UK ten years after they were already the norm on the other side of the globe.

If that’s the case, then looking at how technology is shaping marketing in Asia today could well provide a crystal ball for those of us in the West. But keeping up with these regions is hard – we don’t share a language or a timezone, putting up two natural barriers which make consuming the trending campaigns of the day that much more difficult.

Our trade press is also, quite naturally, focused on markets closer to home. Only when a piece of work is so noteworthy that it can break free from its geographic constraints are we likely to hear about it in the West (like this excellent ad for spicy ramen).

Keeping up with the latest and greatest on the other side of the world is difficult to do passively – you have to go out and find it. The best way I’ve found so far is through expats living and working in these territories, and consultants whose raison d’être is to help companies understand and achieve success in these markets.

Of course, what works in Shenzen won’t work in Sheffield, and it’s beholden on all marketers to use their knowledge of the local market to craft campaigns which will deliver. The proliferation of messaging apps in Asia (WeChat, Line, KakaoTalk, to name but a few – see my colleague Joe’s talk on Dark Social for a nice intro to these channels) means they often form a much larger slice of the marketing pie than in the West, and it would be a risky endeavour for a UK business to shape their strategy around WhatsApp.

In my Forefront talk, I’ve tried to sum up how companies I admire in this part of the world differ from their western counterparts, and I arrived at three key differentiators:

  • Scale
  • Innovation
  • Problem Solving

I discuss a few examples of each in my talk and give, in what I’m already considering a career-defining moment, a live demo of a Zozo bodysuit, which I see as one of the most left-field consumer innovations of the last decade.

I hope once you’ve taken the time to watch this talk you’re bought into my theory, and devote a little bit of time each week to keeping up with all the fascinating developments in Asia. Even better, if you’re able, go visit. Soak up the culture, see how things work differently, sing some karaoke, and please bring me back some Pepero.