Netflix House: Media Launch Event
In 2017, Vero was tasked with officially introducing Netflix to Thailand and engaging with both local and international media to spread awareness about the brand entering the country.
To ensure that Netflix created a memorable and impactful introduction to the Thai market and media, Vero booked out ‘The House of Sathorn’ venue with the idea of introducing key aspects, features and Netflix Original series in separate ‘themed’ rooms. Journalists and influencers were then able to rotate through different rooms where they would hear from Netflix executives about the brand, Netflix’s key functionalities and their strategy in the market.
At this launch, journalists were able to ask questions, inquire with executives and experience Netflix in a more intimate and immersive manner. Props, photo-booths, swag bags and a customized Netflix TukTuk added to the lively, bold and energetic atmosphere at this Netflix House Media Launch event.
When the world throws obstacle after obstacle in your way, how do you stay motivated and keep pushing forward?
We can learn a lot from Diah Andrini Dewi, an account director at Vero’s office in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is a passionate learner who finds satisfaction in challenging herself and improving her skills, and she has had an eventful career journey delivering communication campaigns for various industries, both B2B and B2C, including consumer goods, beauty, technology, pharmaceuticals, and property. Her strengths as a PR professional include corporate communications, account management, marketing communications, crisis communications, and internal communications. As we shall soon see, her experience in human resources has also proven invaluable during the trials of recent months.
Hi Diah. Can you tell us what it’s like to be in the communications industry in Jakarta right now?
Since the pandemic started, everything has changed, including activities and media. There are no more offline events or publications. It’s an environment that demands creativity and efficiency to maintain positive momentum.
It’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced, but it’s also an opportunity to build bonds. To succeed, I have to approach everything with positivity and a desire to make the best out of the situation. COVID-19 cases are increasing day by day, so I expect we will be working from home for a while, but I hope that eventually the team I’ve helped build can meet in person and have an office to gather in.
2020 was a hard year for PR in which many companies tightened their budgets, but I believe that communication is worth sustaining for each brand. They can’t give up if they want to reach their target audiences. Agencies that can convince brands of this necessity will continue to have opportunities to build them up with a long-term outlook.
I hope and expect that Vero’s presence here in Indonesia will keep growing, and I plan to nurture it. We think this is the moment to invest in sustainable growth, as Indonesia is an emerging market with potential for many brands from outside to expand here.
How has Vero Indonesia managed to grow in recent months?
Vero has a lot of experience serving companies in the technology, gaming, and software industries, and at a time when technology is more important than ever, expertise in these high potential sectors is very helpful to maintain a steady stream of client opportunities.
We are also really focused on building our team and investing in people.
Ultimately, an agency is a people-focused business. The agency with the most talented, hardest-working, creative and fun team will perform the best. Luckily, I have a background in HR, so I’ve used those skills to find people, along with the help and support of my regional colleagues at Vero. I use local communities on Facebook to find agency people, talk to colleagues, spread advertisements, and directly approach people on LinkedIn. For each new hire, I give them a sample study case and they create a proposal. There has been no shortage of candidates and tests.
In December, I brought on a new account executive and an HR person. I recruited another PR executive in January, and three new people will join in February. I worked at my previous agency for eight years, so I’m quite loyal and committed. I feel like there is a lot I can do to contribute at Vero, and operating in the regional market for the first time has been a healthy challenge for me.
We fill positions based on the needs of the clients we handle. I discuss with Brian (Griffin, Vero CEO) and Pattanee (Jeeriphab, CCO) and propose which positions would be the best fit for our current needs. Most have not been hard to fill because so many talented people in Indonesia are seeking good, sustainable work in the current environment. I’ve been lucky to find team members with extensive agency and corporate experience on campaigns for a variety of industries.
I see a marketing team as like the organs of a body, each of which is essential so the body can thrive. With that mindset, I want to create teams that have great bonds with each other and support each other. So besides experience and expertise, I look at personality. I want someone who likes challenge, has a can-do spirit, is willing to be a team player, and is eager to be a part of the agency’s growth journey.
Our status as a regional agency means that we get to interact with people all over the region, and our USP is that we understand local perspectives everywhere in ASEAN via branches, partnerships, and networks. Since we’ve worked on regional campaigns, we’re already a prominent choice for the regional business community.
How has the pandemic impacted the campaigns you run and the work environment there?
We have worked from home for the entire eight months I’ve been at Vero. Thankfully, we’ve been able to manage it, especially since our clients are mostly from abroad so we’re not expected to physically meet them. I’ve only met representatives of each new client once in person, when we had a group meeting in January.
We’ve been working with several big tech clients on activities and press release dissemination in Indonesia, where we’ve seen continued enthusiasm from media due to the fact that tech is one of the few sectors that is still growing here. People are using technology to help them adapt and support their daily needs, so tech companies have some of the most potential right now, but other industries still have opportunities to reach customers. The biggest focus is on industries that produce things that people need in daily life – more necessities, rather than non-essential consumer goods.
Brands doing social good are also really valued right now. We recently had a campaign with the Australian social enterprise Thankyou that was one of the biggest we’ve ever had, with the involvement of agencies all around the world. We introduced them here. They have a good objective and values based on minimizing poverty, which would resonate here any time, but especially so in the current climate. We’re raising awareness from zero using influencers, which has gone well based on impressions and reach. The campaign has gotten lots of positive coverage despite people’s lack of previous knowledge about the brand.
As for the office environment, we mostly handle things through company chats and video calls. We have frequent group meetings and morning briefings to get clarification and brainstorm about new briefs to more easily express our ideas and insights. There are some people who have joined whom I’ve never met face-to-face, but I feel I know them well since we’re always in touch and collaborating.
We also believe in bringing creative people together and community spirit. So once it’s safe, we will definitely invest in making our office a great place for collaboration.
What do you like about working at Vero?
It’s a positive environment, which is a quality I try to cultivate in myself. I choose to see things in a positive light and focus on solutions rather than problems, as I feel that an affirmative attitude creates more value for myself and others. I see that same attitude reflected in Vero from the top down.
It’s also nice to have a chance to work with people from all around ASEAN, which provides me with unique insights and new experiences due to our different backgrounds. I’m constantly learning more about the process of dealing with multinational brands and colleagues and developing international competency, which broadens and enriches my insight as a marketer and expands the range of ideas I can consider to provide the best service for our clients.
Of all the ASEAN countries where Vero is active, people in Myanmar are facing perhaps the greatest economic hardship as a result of Covid-19, which surged in mid-August and has led to new lockdown restrictions.
Even before the second wave, over three-quarters of people in Yangon and surrounding villages had lost jobs or income, median incomes had declined by one-third, and income-based poverty had risen by around 27 percent between January and June 2020. The country’s GDP growth is projected to drop from 6.8 percent in the previous Fiscal Year to just 0.5 percent in Fiscal Year 2019/20, according to the World Bank’s Myanmar Economic Monitor. Consequently, some Myanmar families are struggling to meet their basic needs, including getting enough food.
To help take care of those less fortunate, Vero is working with the NGO We Love Yangon to distribute food to families in need under a campaign called “Let’s Share a Meal”. Each family will receive a food package every month containing two packs of rice, a bottle of cooking oil, five cans of fish, and 30 packs of noodles.
All employees at our Myanmar office have chosen to contribute portions of their annual bonuses – and however much they donate, Vero will double it. These initial donations have added up to 10,140,000 kyats, enough to feed 600 families, and we hope that with the participation of others that number will rise to 1,000 families by February 2021.
Vero and We Love Yangon’s ambition is to create a massive solidarity movement composed of brands in Myanmar, influencers, and media who will make similar donations and inspire others to support Myanmar families and help the country recover. We are using the hashtag #LetsShareaMeal to call on individuals and brands that are active in Myanmar to redirect funds to support the food donations. As We Love Yangon is run by experienced volunteers, they can promise that people’s donations support Myanmar households that need it most.
Vero employees are calling on others to join the movement by emphasizing how even small efforts can make a big difference in the lives of many, using the phrase “By donating 5 lakhs, your company can feed 25 Myanmar families for a month; 100 lakhs will reach 500 households.” Those who wish to participate can contact Vero at email@example.com. While we are assisting those who are interested, donations will not go through us – they are sent directly to We Love Yangon.
“I was so impressed by all of our employees who came together and made this decision, without one objection,” said Mra Than, Vero’s Strategic Director in Myanmar. “I’m proud to be part of a movement to help the people of my country who are struggling to get by in this very challenging time. Without energy from food, it’s impossible for people to work towards a recovery, which is why we feel that the foundation of all recovery efforts should center around making sure people have enough to eat.”
We Love Yangon is a charity based in Yangon that was established 5 March 2020, whose mission is to strive to improve the lives of local communities and bring about meaningful changes in society. It is chaired by Daw Than Myint Aung, also a member of YCDC and co-founder of the Free Funeral Service Society – Yangon. During the Covid-19 pandemic, We Love Yangon has been donating food to over 40,000 families in Yangon as well as making donations to monasteries and hospitals around the city.
It’s clear the campaign is catching on. The press release this blog was based on has received 38 pieces of coverage, including a half page in a top-tier government media, equaling a PR value of more than USD 19,500.
Some well-known local figures have already voiced their support for the movement by donating and distributing food packages in their townships – while respecting lockdown regulations, of course. Aye Myat Thu, a renowned actress and an active volunteer with We Love Yangon, is among them.
“Ever since the city’s lockdown began, We Love Yangon has worked with food suppliers to provide groceries to those who need them and to help control the food prices in Yangon,” said Aye Myat Thu. “It is an honor to be a volunteer at We Love Yangon for over half a year, and the Let’s Share a Meal campaign is a great addition to their work. I want to keep volunteering for services and campaigns like this that provide assistance with food and healthcare during this difficult time.”
Most Myanmar consumers have a positive view of technology products and services, which augurs well for the growth of tech companies in the country, according to a survey.
Over 70 percent of people surveyed, ranging in age from 15 to 45, indicated they have a positive view of technology. The poll was conducted by Vero, a public relations and digital marketing agency, and InsightAsia, a research firm based in Singapore.
Scott Galloway, the NYU Stern School of business professor who goes by Prof G, recently shared a lecture called “Visionary Storytelling” in his digital Strategy Sprint course, the main points of which are so insightful that they deserve to be common knowledge among both businesspersons and communications professionals.
In the lecture, Galloway makes the argument that corporate storytelling is an increasingly important competency – which he supports with a series of points on how visionary storytelling can lead to greater access to capital and ultimately higher EBITDA for companies that get it right.
Galloway asserts that the way companies approach storytelling has changed. Where once the standard practice was to under-promise and over-deliver, he says that today’s trillion-dollar companies – Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft – do just the opposite. It sounds counterintuitive, but it can work if the vision is conveyed in a way that’s simple, appealing, and believable as something the company could conceivably deliver – if not right away, then at least one day in the future.
Galloway cites Google (“organizing the world’s information”) and Facebook (“connecting the world”) as examples of companies whose success is based on getting visionary storytelling right. Both companies presented themselves as capable of delivering on the revolutionary potential of the internet long before the technology or capital was available to do so.
Meanwhile, failed attempts at visionary storytelling often veer into what Galloway calls “yogababble”: spiritual-sounding language used to make brands seem more compelling and aspirational. According to Galloway, indoor exercise bike maker Peloton, which claimed to sell “happiness,” failed at storytelling because their claim was vague, unbelievable, and disconnected from what the company actually offered. Peloton’s IPO was one of the biggest failures of 2019 because its reputation was built on hype but lacked a correspondingly ambitious growth model.
Today, public-facing companies often find a direct correlation between their investment in corporate communications and their market performance. In many of the most successful companies, corporate communications teams are growing because they make the company more effective at sharing with the world both what they are doing now and what they plan to do in the future. Rather than simply trot out incremental growth projections, a company can bank on how their vision excites people, which can open them up to borrow capital based on its promise.
Amazon is a prime example of what Galloway sees as a company with visionary storytelling chops. From January 2018 to March 2019, Amazon issued an average of 16 corporate press releases per month detailing virtually every significant move they made. They also led the big four tech companies in corporate communications hiring, with 978 corporate comms employees compared to 859 at Google, 715 at Facebook, and 684 at Apple. In fact, Amazon employs more corporate communications staff than there are journalists at major news organizations like the Washington Post (which has 797).
The Prof G Digital Sprint packs a lot of insight into a two week course, with most of it focused on what makes today’s trillion-dollar companies succeed. Much of that is directly focused on business practices, but a full third of the course centers around communications. It’s a testament to the value of the communications industry that one of the world’s most popular business professors sees press releases and investment in corporate communication strategy as directly correlated with growth in stock prices.
Of course, Galloway’s concepts don’t explain how individual PR and marketing campaigns contribute to growth, but the big-picture impact is clear: In general, companies that invest more in high-quality communication and visionary storytelling simply generate better earnings.
Surely you’ve heard the news by now: more than 400 companies, ranging from multinational giants like Unilever and Coca-Cola to early adopter apparel companies like Patagonia and The North Face, have vowed to halt advertising on Facebook over how it handles hate speech and other harmful content. While the boycott sprung from the US-based campaign Stop Hate for Profit, this is not just an issue in the West. Some companies have limited their boycott to the US market, but others – including some of Vero’s clients – have changed their policies worldwide.
For digital marketers, this begs a few questions. Namely, where will these brands shift their media spending? And how can we in Southeast Asia move away from Facebook, when it’s still culturally ubiquitous?
For over a decade, Facebook’s vast and diverse audience has made it the most essential digital advertising platform for businesses of all sizes around the world. Under the guise of a social network, it created the greatest digital advertising platform the world has ever seen, with an unparalleled ability to hyper-focus on specific audiences, which, as the graph below shows, attracts major ad spend.
However, there is a negative, anti-social side to Facebook that is baked into its DNA. Its emphasis on free speech and lax moderation has provided a platform for malicious actors — from everyday trolls to national governments — to spread disinformation, bigotry, and scams. Users see these posts alongside legitimate stories and photos of their distant cousin’s new baby, and Facebook treats them with a similarly light hand in terms of ensuring the veracity of their claims. As social media has overtaken mainstream media in importance, the barrier between news and opinion has blurred and the impetus to conduct editorial oversight and contribute to a shared perception of reality has fallen by the wayside. Enter the current boycott, which could be a game-changer for Facebook – and digital advertising as a whole.
Boycott participation is a net benefit – at least in the short term
As the brand response to the Black Lives Matter movement has shown, social media has created a new paradigm in which businesses are expected to take official stances on social issues and respond to societal crises. Somewhat counter-intuitively and in contrast to traditional PR wisdom, inaction has become riskier than making a response.
It’s under this paradigm that brands that joined the Facebook boycott early – and made a public announcement, naturally – have reaped the benefits of free PR thanks to social media shares and an overall boost in their brand reputations. Expert analysts have called it a ‘low-risk statement that results in positive publicity and marketing’ which is more cost-effective than paying for ads. This is undoubtedly the single biggest driver behind the virality of the boycott and the reason why brands across the world have banded together for it.
The boycott should also serve as a wake-up call to marketers that they can’t always rely on putting all their efforts into the ‘Facebook Basket,’ even if it seems to offer the best ROI. Rather, they would be wise to diversify their media spend across multiple lower-risk platforms. Decreased dependence on Facebook to distribute content could benefit both business and broader society – and in the long run, it may even help brands reach untapped audiences.
All that said, it’s possible that the Facebook boycott will be short-lived if Facebook enacts sufficient reforms to satisfy those who called for it. We can all hope that this crisis will push Facebook to be more accountable for its content, after which advertising can return to normal, only with fewer distractions and greater trust. However, Facebook has been stubbornly resistant in the past, refusing to make substantive policy changes until it was faced the threat of government regulations, so we shouldn’t count on them to make the fundamental changes that this would require. This could also be just the beginning of Facebook’s troubles, as it’s possible that the Facebook experience for advertisers has already peaked, with future ad spend delivering lesser results at higher prices.
Facebook alternatives for brands and marketers in Southeast Asia
While joining the Facebook boycott may be for good short-term PR, it’s nonetheless true that as it continues the participating brands will have to restrategize to continue to effectively reach their audiences. This is the time for those brands and marketers to explore the potential of platforms that have been previously overshadowed by Facebook (and its owned platforms Instagram and Whatsapp). Here are some other options:
Leverage Organic Search and SEO
The boycott presents a great opportunity for business to look inward and invest in owned media. Hire an SEO expert, conduct an SEO audit, and use tools to identify improvements and amendments that you can implement to make your website and brand appeal to search algorithms.
Coordinate with your paid media team to ensure you have the proper tracking codes in place to reap the benefits of retargeting campaigns, and optimize landing pages to build an audience list that lets you amplify your email marketing campaigns. Speaking of which…
Re-engage Audiences with Email Marketing Campaigns
Email marketing campaigns remain powerful for their ability to reach out to audiences and appeal to them directly as individuals. The power of email marketing is in how it lets you create audience segments and tailor your messaging and content specific to each segment, so taking the time to get to know your audience and craft engaging emails can result in killer conversion rates.
Use Locally-popular Social Messaging Apps like LINE
Originally created (and still massively popular) in Japan, LINE is an ever-growing platform in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand and Indonesia. Advertising on LINE is a great way to reach audiences directly using notifications. In 2019, LINE had a total of 44 million users in Thailand, where the total population is 69.2 million. When it comes to the power of LINE ads in the Thai market, the numbers don’t lie.
Creating a presence on LINE is a fairly simple procedure. Marketers can simply register for a LINE account, pay the $12 annual fee to create a unique handle, and start attracting audiences to join the brand’s LINE account. When your audience base grows, you can broadcast messages in fun creative formats such as cards, videos, and rich messages. You can even create stickers related to your brand for people to use. You can also deploy ads on the LINE platform using LINE Timeline and LINE Today, for which you can find a company that provides LINE Ad services in your market.
In Vietnam, LINE has given way to the local app Zalo, which plays a similar role.
With over 800 million monthly active users, TikTok is climbing up the ranks of social apps and shows no signs of slowing as an engaging social platform. If you’re looking for ways to reach a younger audience, you should definitely be thinking about advertising on TikTok, especially if you are selling consumer products.
TikTok’s ad platform is available in key regions in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore. For marketers that are already familiar with the Facebook Business Manager, the TikTok ad platform is fairly similar and will be a breeze to come to grips with.
For more information about TikTok, check out our article here.
Programmatic & Display Advertising
Running programmatic and display advertising retargets audiences that have previously engaged with your brand or website. Using the Google Display Network, or even experimenting with programmatic ad tech firms such as Taboola, you can maximize engagement by targeting those who have already taken an interest in you.
Google Search Ads
The Google Ads platform isn’t new to brands and marketers. If you have run Facebook ads, it is safe to assume you have also run Google Ads. Channeling media spend from Facebook to Google Ads is a great way to appear on the top of search results and target audiences who are actively searching for a product or service. Marketers should take the time to amplify and optimize their Google Search ad campaigns with updated features such as responsive ads, which use Google’s artificial intelligence to display variations of your ads based on the combination of keywords typed by a user.
For B2B, LinkedIn is the obvious choice to shift media buy spend, especially as the platform improves their ad tech and targeting functionalities. Even though LinkedIn ads are often more expensive than those on Facebook or other social media platforms, they can be a shortcut to targeting other businesses or highly sought-after urban professionals.
Direct Media Buys on Key Websites
Direct buying with relevant websites is a great way to establish a strong brand image and gain the attention of potential audiences. Direct media buys can guarantee premium ad placement and allow creativity in terms of content formats. Another advantage is that you are able to directly barter on price points, ad visibility, and timeline, unlike automated ad platforms.
With over 2 billion users, Youtube is an excellent channel to drive awareness. Advertising on Youtube can already be done easily through the Google Ads platform, and there are numerous targeting methods that can be implemented such as affinity targeting, in-market targeting, video remarketing, and similar audiences (lookalike) targeting.
Another way that Youtube is especially useful is influencer sponsorship, as having your promotion come in the voice of someone with trusting fans can grant you instant credibility. Take a look at Vero’s whitepapers on influencer marketing for a guide to doing it in each of our target countries.
Spotify and Podcast Ads
Major advertisers are purchasing fewer and fewer broadcast radio ads, but that doesn’t mean audio programming is fading. Podcast advertising is a growing marketing channel, with demonstrable returns for brands that know how to use it. Podcasts are swiftly gaining popularity in Southeast Asia with many of the demographics that marketers desire most i.e. more engaged and relevant audiences. These days, there is a podcast out there for almost any topic in the world, so most brands can find a relevant podcast to reach out to.
The average podcast has three slots for ads – a pre-roll, mid-roll and a post-roll, and hosts often improvise unique advertising messages or relate products to the theme of a show, making them seem like another segment instead of paid endorsements. And now that a growing number of podcasts have migrated to Spotify, the music streaming platform has an online ad platform called ‘Ad Studio’ that enables marketers and brands to create both audio and visual ads.
Black Lives Matter was primarily an American movement until recently, but momentum from the protests has spread its impact around the world, including places where Black people are a much smaller minority than the US.
In part this is due to the global nature of social media and the increasingly interconnected world, which allow individuals, organizations, and brands to spread messages of support far beyond their countries of origin. Most of these responses have not been sufficiently large to inspire shows of support from local companies, but that could change – just as it did for the LGBT rights movement – as supporters raise awareness of the realities of discrimination in their own countries.
A recent survey by GlobalWebIndex found that, across 18 markets, 4 in 5 people say that brands should take action to support Black Lives Matter. Of the four Asian countries surveyed, China, India, and the Philippines all had higher than average support for brands taking action, with only Japan below average. Those three also had the highest percentages across all 18 markets who said that “tackling racism has become a more important issue to them following the Black Lives Matter movement,” which could indicate that the movement has awakened a new level of racial consciousness in Asia.
Black Lives Matter Ripples Around the World
In our previous blog we talked about how US-based companies, many of which operate globally, have publicly responded to the current situation. Now we’ll broaden the focus to the rest of the world, with a particular spotlight on Southeast Asia.
But first, it’s worth noting that Europeans were first to respond, due to both closer cultural ties and history of anti-Black racism. For just a couple examples: In Belgium, statues of King Leopold II, who brutally ruled the Congo as his territory, were covered in red paint and burned before officials took them down. Protesters in the UK city of Bristol toppled the bronze statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the harbor.
Protests in direct support of Black Lives Matter have also been staged in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In Japan, they were connected to a video of police beating a Turkish man in May, while in Australia and New Zealand they centered around the oppression of Indigenous people that was central to each country’s founding.
Malaysians got online and began discussing police violence against ethnic Indians, the country’s second-largest minority. Many also criticized the country’s 2017 Miss Universe nominee for comments that downplayed the severity of Black people’s situation, including the statement that they “chose to be born as ‘coloured’”. Singaporeans on social media mocked those who claimed to support Black Lives Matter while practicing or being complicit in racism in their own country.
In Vietnam, before local events supporting the movement sprang up, American expat Jwyanza Hobson contributed an opinion article translated from English to Vietnamese to Tuoi Tre, Vietnam’s largest newspaper, explaining the movement from both personal and societal perspectives.
Fans of Korean pop group BTS, dubbed the BTS Army, matched the group’s $1 million donation to pro-BLM foundations. While originating in the often insular world of K-pop, BTS has become a global group and a powerful entertainment brand, which helps their message of inclusion and support of various social justice causes resonate deeper.
In Indonesia’s West Papua region, a “Papuan Lives Matter” movement has caught on in response to violence and imprisonment against Papuan independence advocates. Social media activists have adapted the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter into #PapuanLivesMatter, and many Indonesians outside the region are using social media to speak up against longstanding racial discrimination and violence against Papuans.
Similar tensions exist elsewhere in the region.
In Myanmar, hate speech and fake news posted on Facebook have led to sectarian violence, riots, and murder, forcing the company to change its policies to better respond to “material that could incite violence”.
Vietnam has plastic pollution that gets more severe every year while businesses take baby steps, inciting a social media movement to name, shame, and campaign against companies that continue to use disposable plastics. Domestic violence reports rise year-on-year despite supposedly improved gender equality. Illegal sand mining in the Mekong Delta is causing loss of land and income, resulting in violence. And the role of emissions in the poor urban air quality – which kills thousands every year – was made clear during a dramatic improvement under social distancing. Companies operating in Vietnam may eventually be forced to take a stance on issues such as these as people push for change. Or better yet, they can proactively examine their practices and align their values with those of their customers.
These efforts do not necessarily mean adjusting messaging and products to progressive causes. For international companies operating in Southeast Asian markets, they can mean understanding local religious and cultural attitudes in order to effectively communicate and avoid accidental offense. Either way, one of the worst things a brand can do these days is appear egregiously tone-deaf, which is an invitation to online mockery.
Lessons for Brands Worldwide
A recent piece for ABC News featured some choice quotes from experts that sum up the current mood. Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution whose work focuses on economic inclusion, describes brands venturing into social activist messaging as both “a sign of defensiveness” and “a sign that they understand that consumer mindsets have changed, that all it takes is a few tweets to significantly put a dent in a company’s sales.” While Perry is cynical about the practice, Cait Lamberton, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, offers some advice to companies trying to navigate the issues: “Consumers don’t react to things that are seen as inauthentic. I think that brands have to take a position but they have to take a position that is backed up by some sort of action. Signals that are most believable are cost signals.”
So as a brand or organization, what can you do? First, understand that you will be held accountable for what you say – and what you don’t say – for years to come. People now follow brands like they follow people, so they expect to be able to identify with the brand in terms of both products and ideals. Those brands, in turn, have a responsibility to carefully consider both their messaging and practices to ensure they align with the values they claim to hold. In the words of Tribe Dynamics co-creator Conor Begley, strive for “an authentic expression of values.”
These days people are giving away a lot to brands. More than just money, they give their time, attention, personal data, and aspects of their online personas. They’re going to expect something in return, and they have legitimate basis for criticism, so take it to heart. Ask yourself how your organization has responded to recent crises (Covid-19 is an obvious example). Do you feel more prepared for a future crisis of that kind? Are you doing what you can to uncover problems in your organization – whether those involve discrimination (ethnic, gender, sexual preference), dishonesty, or externalities like environmental harm?
In practical terms, effective PR in the social media age demands that brands focus their attention on three avenues of communication:
1. Consumer and employee sentiment monitoring. There is a good chance that the opinions and worldview of your employees and customers diverge in some respects, and intuition isn’t enough to handle both. A more effective method involves adapting digital research and HR tools to understand both internal and external perceptions of brand messaging. AI-based sentiment analysis, for instance, can show how different groups are talking about current social issues on a larger scale than was possible in the past, so you can identify communication opportunities and potential pitfalls well in advance.
2. Ongoing assessment of the brand’s positioning and messaging on current social issues. Audience and employee values and expectations are dynamic; brand positioning should behave likewise. Insights gathered via monitoring should inform and guide communication teams as they re-assess the brand’s voice. It’s better to be proactive about this than reactive: build a reputation and have established positions before you think you need to, lest you arrive late to the party and face accusations of crass opportunism.
3. A combination of corporate, consumer, and internal communication strategies. More than ever, the three communication verticals should match the language they use and the ideas they put forth. Consumers now follow and respond to internal communication messaging, employees react to the tone of consumer campaigns, and all of society is alarmed by insensitive leadership and corporate direction. For all of these reasons, communication strategies should stem from a common effort for a consistent and mutually understood purpose. A brand taking a stand on its consumer channels also needs an adapted strategy at the employee level and a plan for communicating both at the corporate level.
For several years now, global market research has shown that companies can benefit from staking out positions on social and political issues. Consider, for instance, the widespread corporate support of the LGBTQ rights movement, or the spate of brands targeting “green” and “sustainable” consumers. As the social media age has made conventional advertising less effective, marketers have turned to advocating for causes in hopes that consumers view them as having opinions worth re-sharing.
Now, the recent and ongoing protests in the US sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody, captured in a graphic video that went viral, have forced a response – and in some cases a reckoning – for many global companies. They may serve as a lesson and a sign of the changing market realities for brands around the world – including here in Southeast Asia. Since many US-based brands operate globally, people around the world are affected directly and indirectly by their messaging and policies. Changing social attitudes in the West are also relevant for export-based Asian companies; imagine if the racist Chinese laundry ad from 2016 came out now from an international brand – massive backlash and boycotts would result. Of course this is an extreme scenario, but any cross-cultural exchange will make faux pas increasingly likely.
In the past, US government regulations and mandates have been required to push companies to meet diversity quotas. But now, the government isn’t the one pushing companies to do the right thing – the people are. Millennials and Gen Z desire to work for companies that are authentic – not just in talk, but in behavior – and the business community is responding to the turning tides.
A recent survey by the data company Morning Consult found that, for majorities of both Black and white consumers, making a statement on the US protests is less controversial than remaining silent in an effort to stay neutral. The most universally appreciated messages were those in support of small businesses, but on other topics there was a significant age gap. Gen X and Boomers preferred statements about the protection of private property and safety of police, while younger demographics preferred those that mention the death of George Floyd and racial inequality in the US. In other words, brands are expected to say something, but the statements that most benefit them depend highly on their target audiences.
That said, Morning Consult also found that shows of support on social media are far less appreciated than concrete actions like helping communities recover and combatting racism in their workplaces.
As Black Lives Matter demonstrations have extended into Pride Month, some have made comparisons to the June 28th, 1969 Stonewall Riots against police brutality towards the gay community in New York’s Greenwich Village. The first Gay Pride parades were held in various US cities a year later in commemoration of the riots, which effectively kicked off the modern LGBTQ rights movement that would come to span the globe and enshrine June as Pride Month.
On June 20th, the Associated Press, the New York-based news agency that reports from around the world and seeds international articles to local and international papers, changed its widely-followed style guide to capitalize the words “Black” and “Indigenous” when referring to persons or cultures, which has international implications considering how often AP articles are translated and re-published – and it’s inspired us to do the same.
Nike sets an example
US-based sportswear company Nike was among the first major companies to respond in support of the protests. In the white text on a black background that has become characteristic of the Black Lives Matter movement, they played on the brand’s tagline, saying “For once, Don’t Do It” – with “it” being pretending “there’s not a problem in America”. The ad rapidly gained traction on social media and was even shared by Nike’s rival Adidas.
Nike’s response was somewhat predictable, given its recent support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was not always this way. In the 80s and 90s, Nike was heavily associated with Michael Jordan and the massively popular Air Jordan sneakers. In 1990, when Jordan was asked to support Black candidate Harvey Gantt for mayor of Charlottesville (Jordan’s home city) against the blatant racist Jesse Helms, Jordan declined and quietly donated to the Gantt campaign. As an explanation, he famously joked that “Republicans buy sneakers too,” a quote that has followed him and defined the Jordan brand. That attitude also exemplified Nike’s branding at the time, which focused solely on sports and athleticism sans social context.
But in 2016, Jordan spoke out in favor of Black Lives Matter, and he has since made large donations to related foundations. Nike’s 2017 “Equality” campaign featuring Black athletes followed in 2017, setting the stage for their 2018 campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who lost his position after kneeling during the national anthem in protest against police violence.
When the ads were launched, #NikeBoycott began trending on Twitter and people threatened to burn their shoes. Nike shares fell 3 percent. But sales increased after the campaign, and investment followed, rising over 30 percent. Its brand favorability followed a similar pattern of dive and recovery, largely driven by the approval of younger and non-white consumers.
However, both Nike and Adidas have been criticized in both social and traditional media for having largely white leadership, in contrast to their statements in favor of Black Lives Matter and dependence on Black consumers and athletes. So have other large companies with Black management below the national average of 8% – which in itself is low relative to the 13% of US workers who are Black. Nike, in fact, is a rarity with its nearly 10% Black vice presidents in 2019, which it claims was a 2% increase from the previous year.
This backlash shows that there are risks in taking a stand, not only in losing “law and order” consumers, but also disappointing those who see brands as hypocritical bandwagon jumpers without policy to back up their statements. These failures can do serious damage. We all know the case of Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner ad, but recent criticism has focused as much on policy as messaging. In one remarkable instance, when the sustainable fashion label Reformation spoke out in support of the protests, its own uncomfortable history was put on display. In a series of Instagram posts, former assistant store manager Elle Santiago – who is Black – detailed the discrimination she faced at the company, being “overlooked and undervalued as a woman of color,” and called out founder Yael Aflalo for permitting a “racist and unsafe” culture. In response, Aflalo issued an apology titled “I’ve failed.” She has since resigned.
Global Brands get on board
Despite the risks, brands that operate in the US have clearly decided that it’s to their benefit to respond to the social crisis. Increasingly, companies are coming to understand that effective policy can be the best PR – and make real changes accordingly. Here are some high-profile examples:
- Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, which has a history of supporting progressive causes, came out stronger than most, with the statement “We must dismantle white supremacy.” It followed that up with a blog detailing its position, including policy recommendations. It was widely lauded in both social and mainstream media.
- Starbucks first prohibited employees from wearing items supporting BLM because it violated the dress code policy against promoting political movements, then faced backlash and reversed their stance. They previously exempted clothing supporting LGBTQ rights. Now they have designed and will distribute 250,000+ shirts featuring protest signs, including one that says “Black Lives Matter”.
- Lego instructed advertisers to remove ads for police-focused sets.
- Music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, both Black women, started the Blackout Tuesday movement, which prompted responses in their industry that then spread across social media.
- Apple Music blocked its For You, Browse, and Radio functions, replacing them with a Beats 1 stream playing music from Black artists.
- Tiktok removed all playlists and campaigns from its sound page on Tuesday and donated $4 million to related foundations and causes.
- Spotify blacked out images of many of its popular playlists, included 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence in them, and matched user donations toward organizations fighting racism.
- In the big tech realm, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Reddit, Airbnb, Nextdoor, and IBM all made gestures of support for the movement. IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon also discontinued sales of their facial recognition software to police, which has often been called biased in terms of race and gender. In the case of Amazon, this policy is in effect until a law has been passed to regulate it, while for Microsoft it’s indefinite, and IBM will stop investing in facial recognition entirely.
- Led by outdoor apparel companies Patagonia, the North Face, and REI, a Facebook ad boycott is growing among companies both large and small in response to the social media giant’s failure to remove dangerous and misleading posts related to the protests, including posts by US President Donald Trump which are widely perceived (including by Zuckerberg himself) as incitements to violence.
- Citigroup Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason wrote a raw and personal blog detailing his experience as a Black man and the “reminders of the dangers Black Americans like me face in our daily lives . . . I’m talking about something as mundane as going for a jog.”
However, many of these companies have been criticized for making only token responses that are not relative to their power. Youtube’s $1 million donation, for instance, pales in comparison to its $15.1 billion in annual revenue last year.
In the next blog, we’ll consider the ripple effects of the Black Lives Matter movement on Asian societies – and businesses.
Pre-COVID-19 survey indicates positive sentiment towards tech companies in Thailand and high expectations for tech to improve healthcare, creativity, and business opportunities.
BANGKOK, April 14, 2020 – Technology companies are finding growth opportunities and revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are poised to gain reputational strength from their performance as more people depend on technology while in social isolation.
A consumer survey of people in Bangkok conducted prior to the outbreak indicates overall positive sentiment towards the technology sector and high expectations among the Thai public for technology companies to improve many facets of life.
The survey, conducted by research firm InsightAsia and public relations and digital marketing agency Vero, reports that 76 percent of Thais expect technology to improve their quality of life, 80 percent expect technology to improve healthcare, and 76 percent expect technology to improve education.
Today, with tech companies stepping up in droves to help society deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these predictions are coming true, and there is a clear opportunity for tech companies to enhance their reputations by serving society.
“This crisis offers a chance for technology companies to live up to their potential by showing how their products and services uniquely enable them to provide tangible benefits to society,” said Brian Griffin, Managing Director of Vero. “Every day now, we are experiencing the tremendous benefits technology can offer in terms of helping us connect to each other, acquire the things we need, and understand the world around us – and tech companies are stepping up to deliver innovative solutions as only they can.”
However, risks such as cyber security threats and fake news remain obstacles for the reputations of big technology firms, as reflected in the fact that 80 percent of Thais surveyed expressed concern for how technology can be used for nefarious purposes. Among those surveyed, 62 percent listed cyber-crime as a concern and 72 percent reported concerns about fake news. In exchange for the support that consumers are giving them, tech companies have a responsibility to keep a close watch on customer satisfaction and data security issues.
“While people seem to appreciate technology now more than ever, fears about harm caused by technology persist, and people want to know that technology companies are doing their best to address some of the potential negative consequences of technology,” said Pattanee Jeeriphab, Chief Operating Officer of Vero, ASEAN. “For technology companies it is important to communicate to all stakeholders their efforts to address issues like cybercrime, data privacy, and false information. If the public perceives that technology companies are not sufficiently addressing the issues on their own, then policy makers will take action, which may be more severe than usual. We are confident that most technology companies recognize the need to continue to address the perceived threats, because they know that eventually this crisis will pass and tech companies will again face greater scrutiny over negative social impacts, despite all the prosocial benefits they are delivering today.”
A desire for authenticity
For technology companies in Thailand, the survey reveals that real-life stories and case studies are the most convincing narratives during the consumer journey. Approximately 40 percent of those surveyed in Thailand said they want to see brands share stories about real people who use tech products and services. Slightly fewer survey respondents said they want brands to provide content that is educational (35 percent), inspirational (22 percent), ethics-based (16 percent), or culture-based (12 percent).
Real-life stories include those told by trusted journalists, bloggers, influencers, key opinion leaders, and other third parties who use a product and report about it in an unbiased manner. Even if the influencer is clearly sponsored to endorse the product, consumers still prefer this type of content because they trust that influencers only endorse products for which they have genuine affinity. Business-to-business marketers, meanwhile, can cater to the desire among Thais for real-life stories with case studies featuring trusted clients and third-party endorsers.
“The research tells us that Thai consumers want genuine content based on how technology is used in the real world,” Griffin said. “The survey tells us there is a powerful need for authentic stories from real people and third parties. The way forward for brands is to amplify case studies, reviews and stories told through trusted third parties to the greatest extent possible.”
Negatives to positives
Among respondents to the InsightAsia/Vero survey, 62 percent reported having overall positive feelings about the impact of tech products on their lives, while only 5 percent reported overall negative feelings.
Common concerns about big technology companies included the usual topics such as cyber-crime, fake news, and job losses due to the advancement of technology. But there were also prominent social concerns, such as technology’s impacts on in-person socializing (49 percent), sense of community (48 percent), and human health (42 percent).
Prior to COVID-19, as many as 83 percent of the respondents already felt that technology helped them perform better at work. But now it has become the essential tool that makes work possible, and people are more likely to re-evaluate any negative perceptions they have towards technology – at least for a while. In addition, technology also helps with stress management with 81 percent stating that it helps them relax and 71 percent claiming that it helps them escape from work stress.
“A lot remains to be seen regarding the role technology companies will play in this crisis, and the coming months are crucial. But we expect that many people are reconsidering the value of technology in our lives,” said Jeeriphab. “Some aspects of technology that once seemed like downsides, such as our growing reliance on digital communication at the expense of physical presence, are now proving to be the very things that allow us to stay safe and connected. For those tech companies that can continue to offer what people need in a healthy manner, it could be their best chance at getting through this with minimal damage – and perhaps even finding themselves in a stronger position when it’s over.”
“From scheduling meetings to delivering meals to hungry millennials, technology companies have always had the power to connect people. With COVID-19, everyone realizes that better now because it is our new reality,” said Barkha Narula, Research Manager of InsightAsia Thailand. “This research, conducted prior to the pandemic, shows how pro-technology many people are despite their persisting concerns. After the pandemic, we expect to see tech industry getting more competitive – fueled by advanced innovations like IoT. Effective market communication and a flexible customer support service may become the new paradigms to promising customer engagement for many tech companies.”
InsightAsia and Vero’s full Tech Consumer Reports for Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar are available here: https://vero-asean.com/vero-insightasia-tech-consumer-report/