Robert Heldt
Oct 27, 2023

Asia-Pacific: Where fortune favours the careful

Asia remains one of the most diverse, nuanced and vibrant global regions, brimming with the potential for business success. So, why are so many brands still struggling to treat localisation as more than a quick lift-and-shift strategy job? Robert Heldt explores.

Asia-Pacific: Where fortune favours the careful

At the recent Advertising & Marketing Independent Network (AMIN Worldwide) annual global conference—held for the first time in its 91-year history in the Asia-Pacific region in Bangkok, Thailand—more than 50 independent agency owners from four continents gathered to discuss the latest industry trends, share global best practices, and recognise award-winning work within the network.

High on the agenda were trending topics.From artificial intelligence and neuroscience in advertising, to the future of Web3 in marketing, and countless others.

However, a dominant theme of the network’s first conference outside the Americas and Europe, was the rapid growth of the Asia-Pacific region. Specifically, its significance in today’s worldwide economy, and what global brands should do to reap the fortunes of these lucrative markets—or risk perishing if they fail to understand the nuances of doing business in this vibrant region.

To arm attendees with the latest insights and facts of the region, AMIN’s APAC board commissioned an independent study and white paper authored by former Mercer and KPMG Marketing head Manisha Chawla, and former Accenture partner and DPR&Co director Neville Jones. The document, entitled “Asia-Pacific: Where Fortune Favors the Careful,” provides a thorough overview of the critical diversity in the APAC region, the cultural and structural features in its markets, and a playbook on how best to orientate toward the market.

According to the IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook, Asia will contribute about 70% of global growth this year. These emerging markets could grow twice as fast as advanced economies with China, India and Indonesia leading the way. By 2050, it is estimated that Asia’s emerging markets will dominate the top 10 economies in terms of GDP at purchasing power parity. China, Japan and India are already in the top five, but it is crucial to note that each market has its own challenges and opportunities.

Drawing on extensive research and industry insights, the white paper delves into critical areas and strategies that brands should consider when navigating the complexities and nuances of the Asia-Pacific. The paper explores the multicultural and complex structural features of the region, supported by tangible case studies across a multitude of categories to demonstrate how brands have thrived or floundered when targeting Asia-Pacific as their next growth corridor. The importance of market research, willingness to adapt to unfamiliar business models, cultural understanding, localisation and strategic partnerships will ultimately guide brands towards sustainable growth and a competitive position in this lucrative market.

During a lively panel discussion, moderated by AMIN Global Board President and DPR&Co Agency principal, Phil Huzzard, agency leaders representing China, Japan and India warned that they often deal with established global brands. A lot of them assume that because they have successfully implemented an entry strategy in one of these markets, it would automatically work in another.

The Indian agency panellist Jignesh Maniar, from OnAds Communications, quickly pointed out that for example, what works for Mumbai in western India won’t necessarily work in the southern city of Chennai. That’s how complicated, diverse and multicultural the nation is. He further elaborated on McDonald’s epic market entry failure in India due to its ban on beef products, given the majority Hindu population who worships cows, and followers of the country’s second-dominant religion, Muslims, who do not eat pork.  

Intellectual Property (IP) was another big area of concern among delegates who were worried about China’s notoriety of IP theft. The white paper notes China’s emphasis on speed-to-market over recognition of IP. Mike Golden is a long-time resident there and head of Brandigo China. He explained that a domestic registration and filing is required in China to effectively protect an IP. China primarily follows a "first-to-file" rule, meaning that the first entity or individual to register IP rights will hold those rights exclusively, regardless of the original user, with limited exceptions. Therefore, the recommended strategy is to register and file intellectual property rights as soon as possible in China.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s latest data, China, Japan and South Korea dominate IP activity globally. In 2021, China’s IP office received around 1.59 million patent applications, which was followed by the US (591,473), Japan (289,200) and South Korea (237,998).

Hailing from India, but having lived and worked in Japan for 20 years, I explained to the group the important role culture plays in this dynamic region. Asian nations have a rich cultural history with strong traditions. A factor made clear during a night of Muay Thai entertainment arranged by the host agency, Asia Works, at Rajadamnern Stadium. Many of the delegates queried Asia Works' co-founding partner, Marc Laban, about the length of time fighters take to complete their pre-fight wai khru ram muay ritual. Marc drew the parallel to brands taking the time to understand such cultural nuances and consumer behavior in APAC markets by carefully researching their targeted audiences, and making informed decisions based on facts and data. After all, localisation is not a mere Google translation job. It's the art of meticulously transcreating content by adapting it to follow cultural norms and beliefs while interpreting consumer behavior.

By the end of the conference, it was quite apparent to the attendees that APAC was not a region to ignore, and that success was truly possible—in part, thanks to their allies in the region who are there to guide clients. To me, the sentiment that summed up the conference was the AMIN leadership’s commitment to not wait another 90-plus years to hold an upcoming annual global gathering in this vibrant, lucrative and diverse region.

Robert Heldt is the CEO and co-founder of Tokyo-based Custom Media.

Campaign Asia

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