Kate Hyewon Oh
Aug 23, 2016

Being creative in the era of absolute value

xxOnce excited about the glamour on the stage produced and presented by the brand, people now want to go backstage to see what the brand really looks like in its natural state.

Being creative in the era of absolute value

Once excited about the glamour on the stage produced and presented by the brand, people now want to go backstage to see what the brand really looks like in its natural state

“Absolute Value,” a new theory by Itamar Simonson, a professor of marketing in The Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, has created quite a buzz in the marketing industry. With access to nearly all the information thanks to the spread of the internet and mobile, consumers will no longer be fascinated by relative value that is created through branding and marketing. Instead, they pursue absolute value of the product. Where else but Korea is the best place to prove this new theory?

Korea is a well-acknowledged heaven for web and mobile users. According to ‘2015 Survey on the Internet Usage’ by Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, internet usage rate of Korean population reaches 85.1 percent with over 41 million users. In terms of households, 98.8 percent of total have access to internet. Moreover, Korea is fourth among world’s nations in smartphone penetration. 83 percent of Koreans are using smartphones according to study by Digieco, a research center of KT, Korean telecom company.

In Korea, consumers use IT as "a weapon in their daily lives" to share and disseminate the information they have. A flood of product reviews and comments neutralizes marketing messages to become critical standards for purchasing decisions. Consumers are eager to test products for themselves and let others know the truth they found. It is easy to spot these consumer reviews on cosmetics, food & beverages, IT devices and many other product categories in Korea.

While product placement is prevalent in Korean TV shows, excessive brand bombardment can easily trigger criticism and ridicule from consumers. Megahit Korean drama “Descendants of the Sun” either could not avoid such criticism for excessive product placement in that some people nicknamed it “Descendants of the Advertising.” Even few brands had to clarify the fact that their product’s exposure on drama was not a result of product placement but of being naturally used as props.

Now most teaser campaigns fail to maintain its mystery and have its cover blown, like movie spoilers, even sometimes lowering consumers' expectation for the brand. Consumers merely refer to product reviews by powerful bloggers who are sponsored by brands. They are keen to find out whether the reviews are sponsored or not, and would rather find non-sponsored, pure reviews between consumers more trustworthy.

Once excited about the glamour on the stage produced and presented by the brand, people now want to go backstage to see what the brand really looks like in its natural state, and then they will accept the brand. Consequently, brands living in this new era are looking for their "absolute value." They hunt for evidence to be recognized by consumers, go for objective validation, and even disclose their entire manufacturing process to the public.

For example, one dairy products company in Korea operates research center dedicated to studying mother’s milk. Believing that mother’s milk is a perfect food for babies, dozens of professionals in related fields analyze thousands of breast milks and baby’s excrements to do research on ingredients and to develop baby food that is closest to mother’s milk. The brand also shared an online video explaining how the baby food is manufactured so that consumers can easily understand and be emotionally engaged into the product.

Then how should creatives respond to such changes? One thing is for sure. In this new era of absolute value, we need new weapons, new mindsets. Instead of packaging the product to make it conspicuous, we need to think about what its absolute value is. We should face the reality where consumers trust, and engage with the sincere effort to deliver such value to them.

One example would be emphasis on humanity for devices that carries cutting-edge technology. For Virtual Reality devices, we need to go beyond delivering how real and immersive the experience is. This is when creatives come in. The absolute value of VR can be solving challenges in society. With the help of VR devices, people can conquer their common fears such as fear of public speaking or fear of heights. Furthermore, consumers are invited to participate in VR training themselves, and its effectiveness is backed up by research by doctors and professionals. It is more than technology. It is about empowering people and achieving potential.

Indeed, it is time to ponder the relevant mindset of creatives in the era of absolute value.

Kate Hyewon Oh is VP and ECD with Cheil Worldwide


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