Faaez Samadi
Sep 21, 2018

Crazy rich Asia (or at least richer)

Perhaps the biggest change to happen globally over the past 50 years has been the colossal growth in the economic prosperity of Asia.

Power moves: Asian GDP growth is outstripping that of Western nations, a development played on by the recent hit film Crazy Rich Asians
Power moves: Asian GDP growth is outstripping that of Western nations, a development played on by the recent hit film Crazy Rich Asians

The most significant story for Asia over the past 50 years goes well beyond just the marketing communications industry. 

Speak to marketers, agency folk, brands, consultants or just about anyone connected to adland and they’ll all expound the importance of Asia. Countless times we have discussions about how brands are tuning in to the pulse of the eastern hemisphere, how seriously they are taking the consumers and their preferences.

It’s a flattering amount of attention to be sure, and there are myriad explanations for why. Well, at least there are at face value. But no matter what the phrasing of the explanation is – ‘they’re future-forward’, ‘they’re the next billion consumers’, ‘it’s a hotbed of innovation’ – all roads lead back to one simple truth at the heart of it all. 

Asia’s got money. Lots of it. 

Perhaps the biggest change to happen globally over the past 50 years has been the colossal growth in the economic prosperity of Asia. The progress made by even the smallest nations in the most populous part of the world has seen a seismic shift in the economies of every Asian country, though some have obviously made more progress than others. 

The most obvious example is, clearly, China. From making the transition to a market economy in the late 1970s, China has blossomed into the world’s second-largest economy in record time, with 1.4 billion people. According to the World Bank, gross domestic product (GDP) has grown at an average of 10% a year since market reforms in 1978, with more than 800 million people lifted out of poverty. China’s economy has slowed in the past few years, but ‘slow’ is relative. It’s still averaging 6%. 

With the riches on offer for those that get it right, brands are only too keen to ensure their most lucrative growth prospects are well satisfied.

So it’s clear why businesses, including those within the marketing and communications industry, are so keen for a slice of the ever-growing pie. The maths adds up, more so than it did 20 years ago. “It is natural that corporations are focused on Asia for growth,” says Ben Poole, APAC managing director at Reprise. “Brands are looking for growth globally, and Asian economies are growing faster than in Western Europe and North America.” 

China is just one example, albeit the most significant, for now. A similar story is emerging in India – which is now growing faster than China – where a whole generation of new potential customers are coming online with a well of spending power that currently seems bottomless. 

More to come?

These two economies get most of the ink, but the next decade will also see the rise of ASEAN. Ten countries, 630 million people, situated between China and India, ASEAN member nations will see GDP growth of between 3% and 8% from 2017 to 2021, according to EY. 

In terms of population, the numbers have always been there. In 1980, there were 2.6 billion people in Asia, according to World Population Review. Today there are close to 4.5 billion, 60% of the global population, but more importantly, a lot of them now have money to spend. Perhaps even more significantly, a lot of them still don’t. 

“The volume opportunity is in markets like China, India and Indonesia, due to their sheer population size and increased purchasing power,” says Poole. 

What’s more, not only is Asia exceedingly wealthy but, with a couple of notable exceptions, it is young and getting more connected. 

EY estimates annual infrastructure investment in ASEAN will reach US$110 billion annually until 2025, including “multimodal transport connectivity to improve logistics efficiency, utilities infrastructure and infocomm and technology projects”. This will bring ever more Asian consumers into a digital economy rife with choice, convenience and growing buyer power. 

With all this cash comes influence, and influence breeds confidence. Over the past decade or so Asian consumers have come to realise their significance to brands and have begun asserting their authority to get what they want. With the riches on offer for those that get it right, brands are only too keen to ensure their most lucrative growth prospects are well satisfied. 

The upshot of which has been (other than money) a wealth of new ideas, cultures, learnings and creativity entering the wider marketing and advertising industry, and being exchanged between Asia and the rest of the world. By Campaign’s 60th birthday, the nature of Asia’s role in adland could be a sight to see. And the money will surely keep rolling in. 

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