'If you can understand it, then it’s not Thai enough'

What brands can learn from low cost Cosplay, Khao Chae, and the quirky Thai spirit

'If you can understand it, then it’s not Thai enough'

What brands can learn from low-cost cosplay, Khao Chae, and the quirky Thai spirit.

Thailand is a land of smiles. It is not only home to some of the happiest, funniest, and most creative people but also to the quirkiest things in the world. There’s an expression that goes, “if you can understand it, then it’s not Thai enough.”

Here are few lessons in marketing from this beautiful country.

Wacky is wonderful. One of the most entertaining guys to check out online is the low-cost cosplay Thai guy. He imitates popular anime characters by turning ordinary household items into props. He uses mops, rolls of tissue, even packs of uncooked spaghetti to create hilarious scenes. That’s very Thai. They love silly. They love quirky. And that’s something that brands should pick up on. Embrace silliness. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And when all else fails, place a hotdog bun over your eyes and pretend to be Cyclops.

Thais are incredibly mobile social. They post everything. Share everything.

Of the 65 million Thais living in the kingdom, 150 percent are mobile connected. That means half the population has two or more mobile devices. They spend about 3.8 hours a day on social, second only to their Filipino neighbors, who clock in at four hours.

Unsurprisingly, Thailand has the ninth largest Facebook population in the world. There are over 30 million active users and of these, 28 million access Facebook through their mobile phones. They upload 500 million photos, post 16.5 billion comments, and share about 265 million status updates.

Then there’s Instagram. It is also becoming massively popular in Thailand. In the past year, Instagram users shot up to over 2 million users. Collectively, they’ve posted an astounding 99 million pieces of content, which is 173 percent more than the previous year. Incredibly, Siam Paragon Mall is consistently in the top instagrammed places in the world, and even took the number one spot in 2013.

With nearly a third of all Thais on social media, brands need to actively take part in the social conversation. They need to engage people in honest, meaningful, two-way communication. Sure, they might say some good things and some bad things about your brand, but that’s how relationships work. When brands listen, they build stronger, more enduring connections with their audience.

They’re also huge foodies. Thais love to eat. They love mixing and matching different flavors to create new tastes. One popular local dish is called khao chae.

What is khao chae, you ask? It’s steamed rice soaked in cold water and served with six to eight side dishes ranging from fried to sweet. It’s like a half dessert, half main course meal. It sounds kinda weird, but it’s also kinda awesome. Brands can learn a lot from that humble bowl of khao chae. It’s unusual, it teases your palate, and it basically lets you make up your own unique dish as you go along. When coming up with social strategies, remember that people crave new and exciting brand experiences. They don’t want to be 'served' ads. No one wants the same, bland, one-size-fits-all-communication that’s simply blasted on all channels. They don’t want to hear brands talking about RTBs and product claims. When it comes to doing great social campaigns, consider mixing a little bit of spicy to go with the sweet. Just like a bowl of khao chae.

Thais love to be loved. Belongingness is important to Thais. They want to feel emotionally connected with other people. They yearn to feel accepted, give and receive attention, and really feel like they’re part of something. Naturally, they gravitate towards brands that can give them that feeling of community. When brands put their fans first, they are able to focus on what their customers truly need and want. They are able to give them the kind of personalized and stellar brand experience that they are looking for. They succeed in making their customers feel like the most important people in the world. They feel loved. In turn, fans love them back, by becoming loyalists and advocates of the brand.

Some of the best innovations are wrapped in cuteness. Thais are cute-obsessed. It’s one of the reasons why the Japanese instant messaging app Line is hugely popular in Thailand. Sure, it lets you call and chat for free, but so do WhatsApp, Viber and Skype. So what makes Line so irresistible? Stickers. Yup, those oh-so-adorable stickers of Cony the rabbit, Brown bear and Moon have won the hearts and phones of Thais. In fact, you’d often see entire conversations being exchanged in stickers instead of words.

Line is also shaping e-commerce and m-commerce in unexpected ways. For small entrepreneurs, Line has become an indispensible tool in doing business. Customers take snapshots of bank transfers and send it over the app to show proof of payment. For big brands, having a presence on Line allows you to quickly respond to your customers’ needs and wants. You can swiftly respond to questions on product availability, offer promotions, and many more. In this new age, speed and immediacy is everything. Beyond the app, we are also seeing the emergence of physical Line stores. These sell exclusive merchandise ranging from pillows to e-coins that people can use to buy, yup, more stickers.

So there you have it, lessons from the land of smiles. Never underestimate the power of cuteness. Give love, get love. Be adventurous, both in your food choices and the campaigns you create. And lastly, always leave room to be silly.


  • Syndacast - Online Marketing Thailand: The State of Social Media
  • We are Social
  • Zocial

Sarah Ko-General is regional creative director with Havas Worldwide Bangkok. Ferdinand Gutierrez is CEO at Havas Media Group.

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