Opinion

Lenovo marketer Sridhar Ramaswamy on judging the APPIES, Asia’s strongest brands and why agencies should turn their backs on scam

Sridhar RamaswamySridhar Ramaswamy is the Asia Pacific advertising and brand director for Lenovo. He is also this year’s chief judge for the APPIES, an awards show run by the Institute of Advertising, Singapore to find the best marketing campaigns in Asia.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks, the former Tata Communications, Dell and Intel marketer talks about what he’s looking for in a winning entry for the APPIES, his favourite campaigns from around the region, and what he’d do if he caught his agencies doing scam – work created purely to win awards.

What would you say is your biggest challenge right now in your role for Lenovo?

I head up retail and marketing for APAC for Lenovo’s mobile products. One of the big challenges is that it’s a intensely competitive field. We have a wide range of markets across APAC, and 40 different brands competing in the space, both large and small. Plus, it’s a market that is constantly evolving. Every 12 months we see a step change in the category, as the technology develops. That requires a lot of investment to hold and grow your position in the market.

Which campaign for Lenovo are you most proud of for what it achieved for the brand in Asia?

Several stand out, but one last year for our Yoga Tablet in particular. It’s a new product we launched last year. The product is unique, because it has a stand, and can be used it three different ways. First, as a tablet, which you can hold. It can be slightly raised, so it’s easier to type. Or it can be stood upright, so you can watch videos on it.

We did a 360 degree activation around the launch. First, we got people to tell us about their frustrations with their existing tablets, which we did through crowdsourcing in social media. We also did a celebrity tie-up with Ashton Kutcher, but it wasn’t a regular endorsement. He joined us as a product engineer, as he’s a smart tech entrepreneur. And we obviously ran the usual TV and print ads too. It was all about the design story behind the Yoga Tablet, and it proved to be very effective.

Watch the ad featuring Ashton Kutcher, created by Saatchi & Saatchi.

What are you looking for in a winner of the APPIES? How much is about creativity and how much is about effectiveness?

The APPIES are about identifying and recognising great work around Asia, and we gauge the work broadly on creativity, innovation and effectiveness.

So yes, we look for creative work that stands out, but we are also looking for work that is well integrated; not just looking for a pretty press or TV ad.

We are also looking for work that is grounded in a strong insight, and provides a solution to a specific marketing problem. We’re looking at the complete process and a clear identification of the target audience.

Finally, we’re looking at the results – tangible results. The work has to have achieved something; it has to have changed people’s perception of a brand and changed behaviour – not just be about how much engagement the brand achieved in social media. We’ll be looking at metrics such as sales volume, revenue uplift and increase in marketshare.

Which brands in Asia do you admire for what they’ve achieved through marketing recently?

Tencent, the owner of WeChat, is certainly one. If you look at the work, very little has been spent on media, but they’re doing an exceptional job of integrating social media and activating the brand, and taking on Whatsapp.

Another is Alibaba. What they’ve done to build the image of their payment products has been exceptional, but again they haven’t behaved like a big consumer brand. They’ve clearly identified the market, and gone about their marketing in a smart way, taking a counterintuitive approach to media buying and approached the brand as a solution to end users’ problems.

My third is Motorola. The brand was strong, then fell away, but in the last year they’ve done some amazing work, particularly in India. They haven’t gone for big-hitting campaigns, but they’ve tied up social media and online well.

There’s been a lot written about advertising scam recently. What’s your view on agencies that use a client’s brand to win awards but not to build a brand in the real world?

It’s agency PR at its worst if you’re caught. As a company you definitely do not want to be involved in it. We, as marketers, look to do work that has a clear business purpose, not to win awards. Scam is obviously a trend that is affecting how people perceive industry awards. Now, people look at work that has won and wonder whether it is real or scam. It’s doing no-one any favours. Work for work’s sake is wrong, and it’s a good thing that scam work is being called out.

What would you do if you caught one of your agency doing scam?

It would be a very quick and short conversation. It would automatically change my perception of, and relationship with, the agency. Agencies are custodians of our brand, and we expect them to play that role well. They’re supposed to be protecting our brands, not using it for their own purposes.

What are your marketing priorities for Lenovo over next 12 months?

We have the acquisition of Motorola in the works [Lenovo acquired the mobile side of Motorola’s business from Google for $2.91 billion in January this year], and the next 12 months will be about integrating the Motorola brand. As I mentioned, this business is intensely competitive, and it’s tough to stand out. On the PC side, we’re number one, so we’re now looking at how to ramp up the smartphone side of the business. We’re a tech brand that is going places, so what this space.

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