In this interview with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks, Crowe – who has reported on the media business for two decades – talks about the biggest concerns for marketers in Asia right now, which brands take the best approach to media in Asia, and the region’s trends to watch in 2014.
In your conversations with global and regional advertisers in Asia, what in your view are the things that are worrying them the most?
There are concerns over growth in China. What seems to becoming clearer by the day is that China has a major asset bubble, similar to what the US experienced five years go when Lehman Brothers went under. There is concern over the stability of the economy and the prospects for long term, sustainable growth.
There is also the sense that India has turned out to be a disappointment. As a market, India promises so much and, yes, while there is still a lot of economic growth driven by the middle classes, it has proved difficult for brand owners to get their products to market.
Thirdly – and this is a challenge that confronts marketers all around the world – is how to cope with digital change. This is the one single overarching theme that runs through the Festival of Media Asia here in Singapore. How to cut costs out of marketing departments, and how to understand the new ways of running digital marketing programmes in real time? How to link the digital environment with your sales function and e-commerce? This will require a big re-education exercise as well as restructure. And some Asian brands, such as Samsung and Lenovo, are showing how to get these structures right.
How does Asia compare to other regions around the world in terms of the level of innovation in media right now?
Well, we’re almost at the end of two days of judging for the Festival of Media Asia Awards, and we’ll be doing some trend analysis at the end of the awards to look at the state of innovation in media in Asia. It’s fair to say that, having seen the best use of technology and social media categories, both were disappointing in terms of the levels of innovation.
We’re starting to see interesting uses of new platforms, such as KFC’s use of Waze [a geo-location mapping platform] in Malaysia. But while internet and device penetration in Southeast Asia is a lot higher than it is in Latin America, marketers and agencies in Latin America tend to show a lot more flair in how they get around business problems. We hope to quantify the differences in approach to media globally in a report that looks at the many thousands of entries to the Festival of Media Awards at the end of the year.
Asia is becoming increasingly local as clients, media owners and agencies scale back regional operations in favour of the local approach. Don’t you think this trend goes against the Festival of Media model of championing regional and global marketing and media?
That may be true, but it is global companies that are adopting a localisation strategy. What we are trying to do with Festival of Media, Cream and M&M Global is to cater for people with an international mindset. Take Sina Weibo as an example. They’re trying to raise $500m by listing on the US stock market and are increasingly embracing opportunities beyond their borders.
It is true that content is going more local, and the best media ideas are coming from local markets. But these ideas are being developed by global entities. So we have twin trends. Yes, ideas are still local, and media consumption habits are still locally driven. But the marketing world is being consolidated into a smaller number of massive players. They’re a contradictory forces at work.
Which brands do you admire the most Asia media and marketing and why?
I would say Unilever, Yum Brands and Mondelez are three companies with interesting Asia strategies. They see media as a way to enhance their brands rather than purely as a cost, and they know how to intelligently use local cultural moments to build their brands.
What do you see as the biggest trends to watch in 2014?
E-commerce on mobile phones. And how advertisers evaluate their advertising. The Asian market has always been pretty good regards media measurement, particularly in India, and I expect to see more companies specialising in attribution coming into Asia, to help marketers understand the pure ROI of advertising.