By Les Edwards Guest ColumnistGetting it right is doing it the right way – global standards, not local short-cuts.
May 2010(Seoul – Grand Hyatt Hotel. This article was initially presented as a speech to senior multinational company leaders at the McKinney Consulting Workshop on April 27, 2010)Korea, upon my first arrival in 1991, was immensely different than the Korea of today. I am sure anyone who was here then, and any Korean friends, would forgive me for saying Korea was an extremely difficult place for a foreigner to live.Our numbers were few and far between, Korea was fiercely proud of its homogeneousness, and there were enormous differences in working ways and social habits, coupled with the distinct lack of anything western and home comfortsTo provide some perspective, I arrived 3 years after the Seoul Olympics, Koreans had only just been permitted to obtain passports for overseas travel other than business, and the advertising industry had been de-regulated only 2 years previously.So to say that my industry or consumerism was not worldly-wise would be an understatement. There were many inhibiting rules and regulations, and, unfortunately, plagiarism was rife.The craft side of things - photography, commercial direction and post-production - were of a relatively high standard but the inability to create original ideas and concepts was a huge weakness.And that made work and life difficult. It was not just me and my business; it was very hard for any foreigner in any industry.We would gather and share our tough times stories and came to the conclusion that Korea wanted only 3 things from foreigners – they wanted our knowledge, they wanted our investment, and they wanted us out of here.I left in 1996, not ever expecting to return. But return I did in 1999. The “IMF financial crisis” of 1997 / 98 brought about fundamental change in Korea including looking outward to the world for finance and business partnerships. My company had restructured its business in Seoul and advised that there was a change in the attitude of the people and the energy of the country that was clearly apparent.Where before there was an introspective approach to business and life, here now was an openness and acceptance by many of new and different ways of the world.Living in Korea has become so much easier and more enjoyable.The advertising industry has also grown and become much more sophisticated in so many areas. From the traditional four main media approach of the 90’s – television, radio, newspapers and magazines – to the highly connected and interactive on-line world that our consumers live and network in today.So what I have I learned and how can it help you?Getting it right is doing it the right way – global standards, not local short-cuts.Korea has always been a tough market for traditional television advertising in that the majority of ad space sold is of 15 seconds in duration. When you come from markets where 30 seconds and often 45, 60 and 95 seconds are the norm, then 15 seconds requires a great deal of discipline to execute a message or promise well.At DDB Worldwide we are recognized as the world’s most creative ad agency. Our consistent award winning leadership at the Cannes International Advertising Festival is a testament to that.At DDB we believe in the power of the 3 S’s – We believe that advertising works best when it is ~ Simple, when it is Surprising, and when it leaves you with a Smile.By keeping it Simple we mean being Single-Minded, and in a 15 second environment it is even more important that your marketing people are very focused on the single most important message they want the ad agency to communicate. A good example of this is the Tabasco ‘Mosquito’ commercial where the simple thought of “hot” is clearly communicated.By being Surprising we are talking about the Originality of the creative idea – doing something that has not been done before. And of course the Smile can come from the humor of the spot, like the many Bud Light commercials.Or the smile can come from the sheer beauty of the photograph or film, or because the idea taps into an insight into humanity that resonates and connects with you as an individual. One illustration of this is the VW Night Drive commercial from DDB London.Great advertising will make you stop and think, “I could have thought of that!” But of course not everyone can think like that.To paraphrase the great Apple “Think Different” campaign of 1997, truly creative people are the poets of our age, the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the trouble makers, the round pegs in the square holes.So here’s a thought for you. If your ad agency has people who can think and create persuasive ideas that no one in your company can, then why not insist that only your more senior and experienced marketing people, or you yourself as the CEO, can judge their work.In Korea too many companies relegate the judgment of their marketing communications to junior product or brand managers, people with the power only to say “no” and never to say “yes”. People who will second guess what it is that will impress their boss or CEO.Powerful creative ideas are too few and too hard to come by to risk not having your best and your brightest decision makers involved.I have talked about the 3 ‘S’s’ at DDB.Here they commonly refer to Korean advertising as being built on the 3 ‘B’s’ –Beauties, Beasts and Babies.Take a look at Korean advertising tonight and invariably you will find the drop dead gorgeous female or handsome male super star. At last count the female ice skater Yu Na Kim had endorsed in over 40 television commercials for Korean companies.That would never happen where we come from where we want exclusivity. But it doesn’t faze the Korean CEO who wants his company, his product and most importantly himself to be associated with the famous star of the day.Celebrity endorsement is one of Korea’s biggest weaknesses in marketing communications.Last year nearly 70% of major marketing campaigns were centered on celebrity. It is a borrowed interest that has had a positive effect on sales in many cases, but builds no lasting brand personality, bond or value.When the ads run, sales lift, but without the celebrity sales plummet. This is because the brand is only an extension of the celebrity’s cultural value; it has established no brand relationship because the connection is with the celebrity. The brand is not loved, the celebrity is.Or there will be the cute puppy or other animal. Or there will be an oh-so-cute baby to tug at your heart-strings. Or a combination of all 3!Then there is the just plain weird stuff. Who cannot help but watch keenly the local Rush & Cash and Won Cashing money lending ads.In a strange way this fits the ‘3 S’s’. Certainly simple – just remember the phone number; most definitely surprisingly odd and my family always get a big smile out of them and ask me if I made them. They wish I had!The 3 B’s may well work, but it is an expensive and inefficient way to advertise. And it is decidedly unoriginal and lacking in any creativity around a relevant and compelling idea.A good creative friend of mine at Cheil Communications, James Scanlon, has developed a set of rules that he calls the 5 B’s: be knowledgeable, be clever, be brave, be flexible and be wise.1. Be knowledgeable. Understand the business problem.Too often, we use instinct or past experience to guide advertising solutions. We rely too much on the three Bs. There’s only one efficient way to really get it right. And that involves research, research, research.Start with a quantitative research round to establish the total brand communication awareness of your brand. If you don’t know where you are in your marketing journey, you won’t know where to go.Then understand segmentation—what groups of customers are in the marketplace? How are they evolving? How is my brand perceived by different customers? And most importantly, how can I motivate my customers? The answers to these questions change every year.Thirdly, find a strong positioning. What should my brand stand for (that is realistic and deliverable)? Naturally, this should not be what any of my competitors stand for. It should be built from something inherent in the brand. And it should be extremely motivational.Lastly, find the data on demand and activation. Investigate how people engage with the brand, the media and the buying environment. Quantify how customers build durable brand associations via different touch points. Quantify how POS touch points leverage customers brand choices. Media is now in a constant state of change. Stay up to date.2. Be clever. Develop an original insight.An insight is a powerful new way to understand your marketing problem. It can be a penetrating understanding of motivational factors or an underlying truth. Developing a strong one is easier said than done. Once you have the research, interrogate it ruthlessly until you discover an insight. It could be something a customer said in a focus group. It might be a numerical fact gleaned from data. It could be an insight into human behavior.Nevertheless, it should be an insight that leads to a powerful new strategy to sell your brand. Original insights lead to the most powerful and cost-efficient strategies to sell. Or you could not bother and just spend a lot more money for a lesser result.3. Be brave. Create a powerful idea.Big ideas can change the world. Big ideas will take your brand to number one. Big ideas are the most cost-efficient. But big ideas are hard to create, hard to sell and almost impossible to quantify.Ideas that are similar to competitors do not stand out. They require a lot more media muscle to penetrate the customer’s consciousness. Big ideas stand out and require a fraction of the media spend. But too often, we are scared of big ideas because we might fail. At least with a boring idea, we can’t be accused of going out on a limb. Successful marketers have one thing in common. They are all brave enough to push for big ideas. The braver you are, the bigger your reward.4. Be flexible. Choose the most effective media.In the past, media was a static choice (TV, print, outdoor etc.). Now, the media landscape changes monthly. Are you communicating via the iPhone yet? If not, then when? Choosing the right media mix is based on three factors. 1. Which media is best suited to communicate my big idea? 2. Which media actually reaches my target market? 3. Which media offers the most efficient ROI?5. Be wise. Learn from the results.Once the campaign is over, there’s still more work to be done. Do more research with continuous tracking research to gather quantitative post analysis of positioning and communication. Match it with accurate, measured sales figures. If the campaign is working well, that’s great and time to re-invest. If not, start again from scratch.For the last decade it has been my pleasure to work with Johnson & Johnson and their skincare brands, Neutrogena, Clean & Clear and Aveeno. They are an excellent marketing company, and together we have been able to produce advertising using the disciplines just discussed, that have created excellent sales and market position results to the point where Korea is now Neutrogena’s second largest market after the US and Clean & Clear is the 3rd largest market after the US and Canada.The Korean Neutrogena “Ultra Sheer” commercials for J&J are beautiful TVC’s befitting the category and is very focused within the 15 second construct. With skincare there is no escaping one of the ‘B’s’ and our talent is most definitely a beauty.To now I have focused on television and traditional media. But the media and marketing communications landscape has changed dramatically with the advent of digital communications and the resultant social networking.Where before advertising was very much one-way communication, us telling consumers what we wanted them to hear, today it is very much more interactive and the consumers can control the message about your company and your products.And of course Korea is at the forefront of providing consumers with the digital broadband infrastructure and smart technology that allows them to engage with brands on a much more intimate level.Digital is not just another communications channel anymore that can serve as a message carrier. Digital finally is an environment where people - your customers - experience, consume, create, play with, re-purpose, re-format and share content.Who likes football?Here’s an American football analogy about how your ad agency has to adapt in this new world order.With traditional advertising, the quarterback (the agency planner) has to throw the ball (the key insight) down the playing field in a way that any of his receivers (the creative guys) can catch it and get past the defenders (made up of consumer skeptics) to score a great touchdown (sales or market share or a Cannes Lion creative award).Now in the new on-line agency, the digital media quarterback throws the ball to the wide receiver (the digital creative guy) who sidesteps the defense in a well-trained move (thanks to a brilliant on-line user behavior insight).The receiver then doesn't just score the touch down (sales conversion or a Cannes Cyber Lion creative award) .. he spiral throws the ball up to the fans in the stadium who then (going viral) start a Mexican wave that goes around the stadium and then is shared with anyone around the world who likes American football (thanks to YouTube and Facebook and Cyworld).One of the most recent and widely publicized success cases was last year’s on-line campaign by Queensland Tourism seeking a care-taker for some islands in the Great Barrier Reef.The idea was simple – apply on-line with your own user generated video application for the chance to earn an AUD 150,000, 6 month contract to take care of "a few minor tasks", to stroll the white sands, snorkel the reef, and report to a global audience via weekly blogs, photo diaries and video updates to promote the region.More than 34,000 people applied for the now globally celebrated job. The final 16 candidates came from 15 countries around the world, including a journalist from South Korea.Tourism Queensland reaped an estimated $150 million in global publicity from the campaign, and because tourism numbers were dwindling in Australia because of the global economic downturn, the "dream job" competition provided an important boost to the overall economy.You never know what may go viral and be a big hit for your company or your brand. The commercial, Swear Jar for Bud Light never went to air on TV but was produced solely for on-line sharing. It has been viewed by millions and won Anheuser Busch an Emmy, and despite its lack of PC-ness, has done the brand no harm whatsoever. But, hey, it’s for beer. And I just love it.But it is not always this obviously clever or easy.Developing digital marketing correctly in Korea will require that your on-line marketing communications partner knows all about Korean user interests, needs and most importantly behaviors in a variety of online and mobile media, as well as understanding the technical potential of the medium in order to be able to move from an advertising thought process to enabling consumer engagement and a conversation with them that will lead to their discovery and experience of your brands.Although Korea has the infrastructure and the technology – the hardware – in place, the marketing communications industry has been slow to develop the core competencies and skills – the software – to provide client companies like your own with best-in-class digital marketing communications.At DDB we have recently introduced a new digital consultancy within the company called Tribal DDB. Their focus is to develop world-class digital campaigns for our existing and new clients.Before introducing this company this year, I engaged Steve at McKinney Consulting in late 2008 to undertake some market research into what so-called digital agencies were delivering to clients and what clients really wanted.What Steve found was that there is surprisingly little innovation in the digital marketing space; there is still very much a focus on just websites and banners despite the sophisticated consumer usage of the on-line infrastructure.Key findings include the Digital Market in Korea is crying out for leadership. With determined leadership, a company can increase the size of the market and potentially make itself the market share leader. No one person seems to be the dominant leader in Korea. Such an expert could inspire confidence for clients who don’t really understand the space.Creativity, price and ROI are the most important matters for clients.The market lacks innovation and courage. It is therefore repeating past projects without reason or success. Clients are fed up with the same tired proposals.Everyone seems to be copying each other and using only the basic tools that everyone knows about. There is a lack of knowledge in the industry on the tools and how efficient digital marketing programs really work in most companies.Finally let me touch on social network marketing.The past few years have seen the launch of many popular social networks that have literally changed the internet. As of September last year (2009), Facebook’s user base was almost equal to that of the entire US population. That’s more than 300 million users and double what it had in 2008.Launched in 1999, Cyworld is used by 90% of Koreans aged in their teens, 20’s and 30’s. It is an absolutely massive social network.Using online social networks like Cyworld for marketing is different from traditional marketing tactics. It’s not just a matter of getting your message out to as many people as possible. This is akin to spamming.The main distinction between traditional online marketing and marketing on online social networks is that effective online network marketing involves relationships. It is not just a matter of pushing your message; it’s a matter of having a conversation that develops into a relationship with your audience.Having said that, you may wonder who is your audience. Is it anybody and everybody who will listen? Not exactly. Although you should strive to increase the size of your network, you need to keep in mind that you must target influencers within your market.Those people who blog or write – the content producers - are more likely to generate buzz about your company or brand than those who are content consumers. The content producers are the leaders of online networks. If you have a system that targets influencers, then you will have used an online network to its fullest potential...It is vital that your interactions with your online community are genuine. As soon as you come across as fake or not genuine, whatever goodwill you may have generated will flip into an equal amount of ill-will. The key with social network marketing is to keep it personal and keep it real.Word of mouth and buzz marketing is also a growing trend among marketing companies. Here in Seoul there is one company I have done business with called Bridge Lab who are outstanding and innovative in their field.Essentially they employ star bloggers with expertise in a given category, say culinary experts or beauty experts, to write reviews and spread the news about your new product or service. They great think about Bridge Lab is they also have a measurement tool that allows them to advise you on how your key word messages are spreading throughout the net.To wrap up, Korea has changed a lot over the last 19 years and so has the marketing communications industry. I for one will be somewhat sorry to say goodbye to both.Mr. Les Edwards has spent sixteen of the last 19 years working for DDB Worldwide in Seoul. His second posting commenced in July 1999 as Vice President, Managing Partner at Lee & DDB Inc. He was born in New Zealand and spent his early working years in Sydney, Australia’s advertising industry. Les has written many articles for Korean advertising industry journals and appeared as a guest speaker at a number of conventions and seminars. Les was a foundation member of the Australian New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Korea (ANZCCK) in 2001 and served as its Chairman for three years, 2003 ~2005. In May 2006 the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) made Les an Honorary Citizen of Seoul for service to the international business community and the city of Seoul. In November 2008 Les became Chairman of the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Korea, also known as The Kiwi Chamber. In April 2009 Les was appointed Chairman of the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Foreign Investment Advisory Council, on which he has served since 2003. Les can be reached at
DDB is widely acknowledged as the world’s most creatively awarded network agency and has recently been re-branded as DDB Korea. The agency is one of Korea’s most reputable advertising agencies with a strong strategic and creative reputation. Its client partners are leading Korean and multinational businesses.About McKinney Consulting: McKinney Consulting is an executive search firm (sometimes simplified as executive recruiters or headhunters) which has placed hundreds of bi-lingual middle-senior level executives for multinational companies in Korea & Asia and was established in 2001. McKinney Consulting is a member of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC). In addition, McKinney Consulting provides behavioral-based coaching services with scientifically developed tools in coaching executives and businesses to excellence and success. McKinney Consulting coaches are members of the International Coaching Council. Also, McKinney offers Talent Management services such as the outsourcing of candidates and payroll services etc.
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is an executive search firm (sometimes simplified as executive recruiters, or headhunters) which places bi-lingual middle-senior level executives for multinational companies in Korea & Asia.McKinney Consulting also provides coaching services which are behavioral-based with scientifically developed tools in coaching executives and businesses to excellence and success.