As the American author Robert Byrne famously wrote, “everything is in a state of flux, including the status quo.”
Many marketers, agencies and brands in Asia-Pacific know exactly what he means as social change, technological revolutions and economic uncertainty relentlessly sweep the region and redefine the marketing landscape.
But maybe 2015 was the year where the forces of change more firmly collided and had a more tangible impact on business fortunes.
Take the 21 major global and North American media pitches that played out this year as the likes of Coca-Cola, P&G, Sony and Unilever put their accounts on review.
The 10 per cent of global billings up for grabs — equating to nine per cent in Asia-Pacific — created a level of volatility not seen since 2008 economic crash. Numerous reasons were given for the surge in big pitches — not least the perpetual desire for brands to get more bang for their buck — but one factor everyone agreed on was that advances in digital and programmatic played a pivotal role.
This was not only because marketers could forecast increased online investment in 2016, but also because agencies have more scope for differentiation around online rates, offers and services than they do offline.
Away from the immediate impact of digital demands and trading desks, there has also been plenty of buzz around the future marketing potential of virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
For the latter, a Gartner survey found that more than 40 per cent of organisations expect IoT to have a significant impact over the next three years. The same report concluded there were 4.9 billion connected ‘things’ by the end of 2015 — and predicted 25 billion connected ‘things’ by 2020. For marketers and brands, this huge expansion in connected devices represents a vast opportunity to get better understanding of consumers.
VR, meanwhile, has been beset by countless false-starts over the years, but 2015 saw it gather some serious momentum as the likes of Lenovo, HTC, Samsung, Google, Microsoft and Sony joined the party from a development perspective, with Volvo, Virgin Holidays, Mountain Dew and Nissan among the early brand adopters.
Programmatic, VR and IoT will continue to feature heavily in 2016 — for good or ill — and will inevitably lead to an even greater demand for marketing technologists.
Programmatic growth in Asia will gather steam in 2016, but problems around transparency, measurement for marketers, privacy and old-fashioned irritation for consumers are not going away. Nor are some pretty substantial stock-value slides for some of major players.
As for VR, some of the bleeding-edge developments will increasingly appeal to marketers keen to ride the wave of the perceived next big thing, but there is still more talk than action.
Advocates of IoT can point to more concrete advancements in 2015 from wearables to smarter apps. But privacy and data management concerns persist, as the nagging doubt whether consumers actually want such developments on a mass-market scale.
Jerry Smith, regional president of OgilvyOne, summed this up perfectly when he said: “What we’ve got at the moment is some very smart people coming up with the next thing and then trying to find some consumers who might want it.”
And here’s the rub. Maybe, just maybe, the technological possibilities are at risk of outpacing consumer trends, tastes and patience, not to mention the ability to effectively utilise the new platforms. After all, if a hotel brand cannot master its YouTube marketing strategy, it should probably shelve its ambitions to develop a VR tour of its honeymoon suite.
This isn’t a neo-Luddite argument — the digital growth stats speak for themselves — but at times there appears to be a disproportionate amount of talk about where consumers will be in the future, compared with where they are right now.
For the 12 months ahead, digital is forecast to account for 36.4 per cent of media investment across Asia-Pacific, according to GroupM’s latest This Year Next Year report. A quick look at the digital share of ad spend in individual markets reveals that Indonesia (11.8 per cent), Thailand (9.1 per cent), Hong Kong (20.9 per cent) and South Korea (22.8 per cent) have vast growth potential.
But on the flipside, it means traditional platforms are far from being a lost cause as they maintain their slice of the media pie.
TV alone, for example, is still projected to account for over 61.8 per cent of media investment in ASEAN this year, a drop of just 0.1 per cent. There is clearly plenty of life in the old goggle-box yet.
All of this means, to go back to Byrne’s quote, perhaps a state of flux is putting it mildly. As technology rapidly advances, so does its trials and tribulations; as platforms continually proliferate, so do the tough decisions.
Add into the mix the perennial problem in Asia of uneven growth and adoption, ongoing challenges around redefining agency roles, talent acquisition and retention, and an increasingly uncertain economic landscape, and it is clear that 2016 will not be a year for the fainthearted.
However, there will be plenty of rewards to be reaped for those who can best navigate the choppy waters ahead. That’s why we’ve called on some of the region’s leading thinkers to share their expert insights and predictions for a successful 2016.
Flamingo Singapore CEO Emma Gage is one of our contributors and provides a sharp critique of the Southeast Asia marketing minefield, asserting post-millennial generation demands loud, brave and unconventional brands.
Meanwhile media is taken to task by Accenture MD George Patten who argues the industry needs to step up to the plate and prove it is providing true value. And to muddy the waters further, Edelman APACMEA CEO David Brain claims the smartest PR agencies will also enter the media-buying fray this year as they increasingly encroach on the advertising battlefield.
Data guru Lars Hamberg reveals why smarter machines are about to turbocharge big data and what it means for brands and businesses, while Grant Hunter, regional ECD at iris Asia, tears into creativity, claiming the industry needs better storytelling and that it needs to stop touting ‘content’ as the ultimate solution.
We also drill down on tech that is likely to take off in 2016, and reflect on the big deals of 2015 and what they mean for the year ahead. As R3 founder Greg Paull points out about the latter, who would have thought that a farm machinery firm, LEO Group, would have been the biggest investor in agencies in 2015?
We trust that our industry experts’ assessments here will provide plenty more food for thought.