“I’m headed to South Africa soon, and I have permission to hire ahead of revenue,” he told Campaign Asia-Pacific last month, just after the DDB-owned shopper-marketing unit launched its operations in Asia. “You know Omnicom, we don’t hire people unless we’ve got the money to pay for them. This is a first for me!”
If there’s a tinge of smugness mixed in with Boyle’s excitement, put it down to a long-time practitioner finally seeing the tables turning in his favour.
“Going about six years back, shopper marketing was regarded as advertising’s ‘poor relation’,” he said. “Over the last two years, thanks to changes in market conditions, technology and consumer behaviour, the business has really accelerated [shopper marketing] and put it in the centre of marketing considerations. It now has a place at the table.”
That the ‘poor relation’ has matured into something important is no surprise to Boyle, as shopper marketing tactics enable brands to deliver experiences at retail that are more compelling than traditional advertising in a physical environment.
“The rise of shopper marketing gives us huge pleasure, having lost many an argument about how important it is in the past,” he added.
According to a 2015 Industry Shopper Study by Cadent Consulting Group, shopper-marketing spending has doubled since 2012, from 6 percent to 13.5 percent of total marketing spend. This translates to an increase of US$17 billion.
It is no secret that TracyLocke's accelerated expansion into Asia was driven in large part by the demands of global clients.
“We have global brand clients looking at the theatre of retail worldwide and seeing that it’s disconnected, with no brand harmony,” Boyle said, highlighting one tech client that has 31 retail agencies globally.
“Now how can we imagine that the work country by country is in any way similar?” he asked. “Brands work so hard to reaffirm values and positioning, but when it cascades down to retail, it all but disappears.”
TracyLocke has clients, especially in the FMCG sector, such as SC Johnson and Pepsi, now looking at implementing global marketing solutions.
“We now have global clients asking us to represent them worldwide, regardless of the diversity of the markets,” Boyle added.
With Singapore as its regional hub, the launch of TracyLocke was marked by the appointment of DDB Singapore MD Rowena Bhagchandani, who added the role of MD of the shopper marketing unit to her portfolio of responsibilities.
The unit will be leading shopper-marketing efforts for key clients in the Asia region, in tandem with work being done for Pepsi and Hewlett Packard in the United States.
“To kick things off, we have dedicated people doing work for global clients for Asia,” she said. “But it is also a dual focus over time. Our agency itself has strong credentials in the retail category. We see what TracyLocke can offer as being a fantastic fit for clients such as McDonald’s, StarHub and DBS, and will certainly be speaking to them about it.”
Bhagchandani shared the team was already in the process of signing up new clients from the region, and that the Singapore operations boasts 10 staff in addition to the collective resources of DDB Group.
“We’re also extending out to every market, with an existing footprint in India, and are hiring in China and Japan,” she added. “Indonesia is also in our sights, be it setting up shop or establishing a partnership in the market.”
Boyle noted that staffing and finding expertise isn’t too much of an issue for the network.
“We didn’t spend as much as you think, all we did was go a ‘shake the tree’ in our own agency for talent,” he added. “If you have a creative department of over 100 people, and half of them are 27 years or younger, chances are you’re going to find web developers or kids that can use After Effects.”
In addition, Bhagchandani said the Asian operations can more than hold its own.
“We have about 42 tech people, and we develop a whole lot of stuff for the region right here,” she added.
The reality is that the Asian operations will be increasingly important to the global picture, as expertise and knowledge goes both ways, Boyle said.
“I can’t go win the business of a global brand like HP without someone from Asia coming in to give me those smarts about how teenagers buy gaming laptops in Singapore or China,” he added.
Creativity and retailer relationships
The change in stakes has also extended to the creative portion of shopper-marketing campaigns, according to Michael Lovegrove, TracyLocke’s chief creative officer.
“Often shopper-marketing creative is seen as the ‘blind, albino, banjo-playing cousin’,” he said. “But it’s increasingly being seen as a new canvas for creativity to bring ideas to life in new and imaginative ways. Just three years ago, the concept of pop-up retail was alien.”
And in many cases, Lovegrove said that it is the retailers leading the way in creativity. “They’re doing things that put us to shame.”
Understanding retailers and their priorities is another strength the team lays claim to. While as an agency, the team collectively can be expected to understand the mission, priorities and values of brands they represent, the same notion cannot be extended to retailers.
“Those brands that think that they can come up with a marketing programme and knock on the door of the retailer, and expect them to run it,” Boyle said. “They’re wrong. The retailer won’t run the programmes if it doesn’t align with their business priorities and their strategy view of the product category.”
For example, take a product like an air freshener. Some retailers might ignore it completely while others see it as a part of their home furnishings or interior design offerings.
“What we need to be an expert in, is having relationships with these retailers so we make the right decisions and know who to partner with,” Boyle added. “Retailers have marketing budgets, they have strategic plans for the next five years.”
“If your job is bottled water, the retailer won’t care about how you want to grow that, but if you have an idea to grow the whole category, that’s enables a level of unity and alignment of purpose between brand and retailer,” he said.
The TracyLocke team’s confidence in being able to make its mark in Asia might partially stem from the benefit of legacy, more than 100 year’s worth in fact.
Boyle shared a fun factoid about a piece of work bearing the agency’s mark. The chain formerly known as Tote’m rebranded to 7-Eleven, a reference to the store’s then-expanded hours of operation.
“TracyLocke named 7-Eleven back in 1946,” he said. “It was such a game changer at the time because no one had really done convenience before."
The new identity helped propel 7-Eleven to success, now with over 55,000 locations worldwide.