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Chris Jaques: Engaging the Asian Consumer

August 11, 2013

Most marketers are familiar with the apocryphal tale of Coke’s foray into Asia:  the Chinese characters initially used to represent Coca Cola literally translated to “Bite the wax tadpole.”  While many iconic brands have been humiliated by such hapless translations of their product names, marketing campaigns are more likely to fail because of their misconceptions of their target audience as opposed to dodgy linguistics.  Chris Jaques, Asia CEO for M&C Saatchi, shares his perspective on what it takes to reach and engage the Asian consumer.

Chris Jaques

Chris Jaques – CEO, M&C Saatchi, Asia

Chris Jaques has led some of Asia’s most successful networks, including Y&R and Wunderman, Bates, M&C Saatchi and BBDO. Since 2007, he has served as CEO of M&C Saatchi, Asia.

An expert in the Asia Pacific Region, Jaques has earned numerous accolades, including ‘Asian Advertising Network Of The Year’ on two occasions, and being twice named ‘Asia’s Advertising Person Of The Year’.

A pioneer in New Media, Jaques was behind the launch of XM Digital Marketing in the mid-1990’s and also led the Wunderman network across Asia Pacific in the 2000’s.  He was educated at the University of Cambridge and currently resides in Hong Kong.  

What is the biggest misconception western companies have of their Asian consumers?

There are many but three of the most common – and most profound – are these: 

The importance of the group over the individual. Western companies find it very difficult to adapt to Asia’s communal cultures, where the primary imperative is to blend in, not to stand out. There are no successful niche brands in any Asian market outside of Japan. Companies and brands will only succeed if they achieve genuine, broad-based group acceptance, and successful brand strategies must help consumers blend in, not stand out. This is hard for western companies to fully understand:  they understand the concept rationally, but since this principle is so alien to their own cultures, they find it hard to embrace the concept emotionally.

The irresistible force of the family. Even though traditional family units are eroding, traditional family values are not. Parental approval remains critical throughout education, career choice, marriage and child-rearing. Lifestyle and brand choices must always be acceptable to their family’s values. And there is an irrefutable responsibility for parental maintenance in their old age. Three generations still frequently share the same home. This shapes every part of business – from corporate image to recruitment strategies to employee policies to brand promotion. Western companies find it difficult to grasp the fact that they are not simply marketing to individual consumers – they are marketing to their families.

Asian consumers do not want to be Western.  Japan and Korea are clear and confident cultures, and China’s consumers genuinely believe that their country is returning to its historic position at ‘The Centre of the World’. India genuinely believes that she no longer follows the west but shapes it. As a result, Western products may still be strongly associated with quality and style, but Asian values ignite the new aspirations. Whereas Western culture has assumed for the last century or more that the world wanted to live the western dream, it comes as a perpetual shock for western companies to accept that this is no longer the case.

With the explosion of mobile, what role should TV and print play in building brand awareness? 

Mobile is changing everything, connecting media to media, consumer to consumer – and it’s connecting everything to location & action. As a result, it’s transforming the role that traditional media are playing in  people’s lives and in the media mix.

Traditional Television remains the world’s most powerful medium. While Social Media and Mobile communication are both growing at dramatic rates, good old-fashioned TV is holding firm. In the US, for example, consumers claim to spend a massive 4 hours 31 minutes a day watching TV. This beats the 2 hours 20 minutes that they claim to spend on either the internet, or on mobile. Even more amazing, however, is this: over the last 3 years, while SoLoMo has been exploding, TV viewing has actually increased. 

So TV remains the core of most consumer media consumption, and it is also the core of the communications ecosystem. A recent announcement by Twitter, for example, claimed that – during prime time television – 40% of tweets are related to… time television. And Facebook and Twitter are currently selling their respective services to advertisers as TV’s ‘second screen’. Because Traditional television is being viewed in new ways. Multi-Tasking is transforming the TV experience, increasing its engagement, the power of its entertainment, and the social nature of the experience. Now, TV is going through dramatic changes of its own, and the collective visions of Intel, Google, Apple and Netflix will recreate the whole medium. But the medium will remain the primary force behind most mass-market brand building in the foreseeable future.

Traditional Print is being reborn as a new and unique digital medium that combines visual, verbal and video content, engaging and connecting in completely new ways. It is becoming a medium that will blend the best of the digital world to provide brand marketers with exciting, targeted, immersive content.

What are the most critical competencies advertising agencies seek in their new hires?

Over the last five years, the advertising industry has transformed in ways that no one could ever have imagined. The skills that were fundamental for success ten years ago are increasingly irrelevant today. Among all the capabilities that we need, none are more important than these three core competencies:

Connected Thinking – In the old days, we could survive as specialists: we would produce a TV commercial, or a Digital campaign, or a Retail Promotion, or a Social Media campaign. But, since Mobile really began to take off, everything is connecting in ways that we could never have imagined. 77% of the time we’re watching TV, we’re using another device at the same time. 79% of Smartphone users use their Smartphones in-store. Every consumer connection is connected. The people who will succeed in advertising’s future will be able to think organically, connecting touch points with customers; touch points with touch points; and consumers with consumers in new, lateral, creative ways.

Collaboration – connected thinking demands connected working. Hierarchy is crumbling throughout the industry. Corporate culture and management styles are having to adapt to a new world where great ideas come from collaboration between fluid partnerships to generate true organic thinking – no longer through a briefing and management process that is built on command and control. If you can’t collaborate in loose groups, you won’t survive.

Accountability – the “Big Data” beast grows bigger by the month, and it is rapidly becoming the core of everything we do.  All output is measurable in real time, and anyone who doesn’t embrace data and the heat of perpetual measurability needs to get out of the kitchen. In some agencies, in some parts of the world, people are still taking a year to develop a new advertising campaign that they plan to run for two years. But by the time they’re finished, they’ll be out of a job. The new generation has to be results-obsessed and fleet of foot.


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