Olivia Parker
Aug 5, 2019

How AIS used influencers to become Thailand's top local brand

Partnerships with the pop stars and cut-through social campaigns have helped the mobile phone operator rise up the charts of Thais' favourite brands to hand out with the big internationals in the top 10.

A recent AIS ad featuring Thai celebrity Lisa, a singer in the band Blackpink
A recent AIS ad featuring Thai celebrity Lisa, a singer in the band Blackpink


AIS Thailand is the highest positioned local company in Thailand’s list of its favourite brands in 2019. The firm is Thailand’s largest mobile phone operator, founded in 1986 and ranked ‘the world’s strongest telecoms brand’ this year by BrandFinance.

It moved up two places in the list of Thailand’s favourite brands overall (domestic and international) from 11th in 2018 to 9th in 2019, the only Thai brand to make the top 10, which is otherwise dominated by global goliaths such as Samsung, Apple and Panasonic.

According to Prachawan Ketavan, senior strategy director, Superunion Thailand, three key factors play into AIS’s rise up the ranking this year: a consumer-centric approach, a commitment to “acting with purpose”, and the use of digital marketing. The latter is a crucial component of the brand’s attempts to position itself as a “modern and innovative brand for everyone, especially the younger generation,” says Ketavan.

AIS therefore puts much effort into curating content for specific social platforms, using Thailand’s favourite celebrities—one ad, featuring ‘Lisa’ (Lalisa Manoban), a Thai rapper and singer from the girl-group Blackpink, has scored over 19 million views on YouTube since its release on May 23—and creating what Ketavan describes as “bold” and “unexpected” campaigns. ‘Think Before Social’, in which influencers were shown cycling, walking or driving on their mobiles before having an 'accident', as below, was an example of this, generating “excellent cut-through” for the brand, according to Ketavan, who says consumers rewarded it for standing out in “a typically conservative category”.

Although AIS’s closest rival, DTAC, suffered a drastic fall down the list of Thailand’s favourite brands, from 12th to 109th position in 2019, AIS is not without competitors. “The brand should never underestimate the power of synergy, especially as local competitors are offering the full spectrum of products and services within its mobile ecosystem,” says Ketavan. “They can gain more salience not only from mobile networks, but also from other products and services like mobile wallets, digital products and fiber net.”

Beyond AIS, another local brand holding its own in this year’s list was Thai Airways, which rose 10 places to 18 and also gained popularity outside Thailand, jumping up from 238th position to 178th position in the overall Asia’s Top 1000 Brands list. It wasn’t the highest placed airline in the list, however: Thai consumers nominated the perennial favourite Air Asia, which is headquartered in Malaysia, five spots higher than Thai Airways in 13th position, and at 36 on the overall Asia’s Top 1000 Brands list it is much more highly ranked in the region as a whole.

Also facing a challenge from bigger outsiders is noodle brand Mama, which rose two places in Thailand’s list to 33 this year. In Thailand, says Ketavan, Mama is practically synonymous with the category of instant noodles itself and locals love its range of flavours, innovative new formats such as ‘Spicy Spare Rib Rice Soup’ made of jasmine rice, and the noodles’ accessible price. It’s also recently found a new role as a “creative meal platform”, used by many to share recipes and inspiration.

This technique of using consumer insights to develop content is one that’s shared by the grocery store and hypermarket operator Big C, which rose up 14 places to 39 in Thailand’s top brands chart. Dew Intapunya, chief content officer at Ensemble Thailand, calls the company “highly customer-centric”, and describes how it developed “Shopping 101”, an online branded content series that taps into shoppers’ love of deals and comparing prices by featuring celebrities teaching money-saving techniques. The first episode, released in March, has had almost 4 million views on YouTube.

But just as Big C needs to continue work hard to catch its competitor Tesco, which operates its Lotus brand in Thailand and comes in 13 points higher than Big C in 26th position, Mama, too, has stiff competition. Sales of Mama noodles proved resilient even during the financial crisis, says Ketavan, but it is now under threat from both ‘premium’ instant noodle brands from Korea and Japan, especially popular with young consumers, and from healthier alternatives; instant noodles are still perceived as “convenience-based products and less healthy”, she explains. “As a long-term heritage brand, Mama will need to work hard to remind consumers of its emotional benefit and give consumers a reason to continue to feel brand love for Mama,” says Ketavan.

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