Matthew Carlton
Sep 4, 2015

The state of play of content marketing in Asia

Much more than just a marketing buzzword, content-marketing is proving essential to brands’ business. Matthew Carlton examines what’s changing

Sugar rush: Red Bull’s adrenaline-pumping initiatives set a high bar
Sugar rush: Red Bull’s adrenaline-pumping initiatives set a high bar

Brands today compete in an era where ‘every company is a media company’, and with so many aiming to become publishers in their right, structured content-marketing strategies are becoming as essential as above-the-line advertising plans. 

The content-marketing landscape in Asia is still in its early stages, particularly compared to the US and Europe, but it is maturing at a steady pace. According to industry estimates, it is growing at 5 to 10 per cent annually. 

As a result, brands and agencies have recently been making moves to ramp up content-marketing capabilities — companies launching dedicated content-marketing hubs and teams, and hiring expert strategists; agency networks setting up specialist divisions to satisfy client need. 

In June, JWT and Group SJR, a division of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, announced the launch of Australian content-marketing agency, Colloquial. Colloquial already has staff and projects based in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and the agency will build publishing hubs and editorial teams to produce high-quality, engaging content that gets read and shared. 

“Over the next 12 to 24 months, many brands will start investing heavily in content-strategy. Brands will start to see there is more value in owning your media property and developing an audience you have control over rather than building content on someone else’s land,” says Zeina Khodr, Colloquial’s general manager.

Just a few months earlier, Carat Asia-Pacific appointed Adam Bow as regional director of content and digital in March, based on the agency’s belief that an increasing number of marketers are looking for strong content to support their media strategies. Bow believes there’s a “larger opportunity here for success” in Asia than in the more mature content-marketing countries of the US and Europe. He warns Asian brands to avoid “copying the US and Europe models”.

There’s little doubt that brands are serious about this form of marketing and it is now commanding a greater slice of the marketing mix and therefore a larger slice of marketing budgets. Phil Townend, managing director, Asia-Pacific at Unruly, believes that branded video content — a major component of content-marketing for many brands — has almost doubled from around 20,000 branded videos to over 35,000 branded videos over the past year across Southeast Asia in particular. “It is quite difficult to surmise exactly how much brands are investing, but we would assume for 100 per-cent-plus growth in content-marketing with the data we are privy to,” he says. 

According to Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, the average business spends about “25 per cent of their marketing budget on content-marketing creation and distribution”. Pulizzi believes that within the next decade, half the average marketing spend will be channelled into content-marketing.

In Asia, the big challenge, however, is keeping up with global companies. Content marketing’s poster child, Red Bull has created an entire business unit around it. Hot tech company Hubspot has grown its whole model off the back of building an audience first, and the same goes for Copyblogger Media and Goop. 

Figures show FMCG brands are leading the way in terms of investment in content-marketing, with consumer tech and automotive clients getting more involved as well. There’s also interest from travel and government messaging— understandable as content is “a great way to impact perceptions and behaviours”, according to Unruly’s Townend. 

This growth stems from brands’ realisation that there is great value in developing original and authentic content, and in behaving like media companies.

This was confirmed at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where the region picked up two Golds for Branded Content & Entertainment — including one for NTT DoCoMo’s ‘Three-second cooking’ online videos. 

Tetsushi Kawachi, creative director at Tokyu Agency, said the concept had been to create a high-speed Rube Goldberg machine, to draw attention to the two fastest ‘lanes’ in DoCoMo’s LTE service. “One of the things we should do more of is collaborating with clients to create products, or things that are not advertising. Of course, advertising will still be around but this is the direction I would like things to go in.”

In Vietnam, Comfort has also been experimenting with a content-driven, interactive campaign using live-streaming, commenting and user involvement. Featuring parents and babies, it brings to life the fact that babies prefer soft things — a noticeable shift from the traditional hard-sell of “buy Comfort, it makes your clothes soft”.

“[Don’t expect] all brands will become media powerhouses,” says Khodr. “However, authentic and original content will be used in ways to develop bigger, longer and more nuanced experiences.”

For content to work, brands need to take a back seat

Adam Bow, regional director, content and digital, Carat

A big question with today’s marketers is how content fits within their overarching communications and current marketing processes. For the sake of this article and to differentiate content types, let’s define content as the entertainment and advertising as the disruption to entertainment.

The biggest mistake marketers make is relating content to their ads whether it be the development, measurement, strategy and so forth. Ads function in a way that misses many key moments of interest, passion and needs from consumers.

This is not about content replacing ads because they serve a real purpose, especially around awareness. However, content can be the connective tissue between your paid placements and various other marketing communications.

At its core, content should be something that people search for, engage with and share. And let’s face it, nobody is searching for your advertising and sharing it with their friends.

Great content is developed to meet a specific interest, need or passion point. It is specifically designed so that people can relate to and even see themselves within the narrative. Unfortunately, with most ads, product functionality leads the narrative. Brands can play a catalyst within the story, but it’s not the main narrative. For instance, a passionate chef may not particularly care about paper towel absorbency, but if a video talks in-depth about the history of cast iron pans, how they only get better with use and the beauty of maintenance of them, there would be a high interest.

If you are not set up to, or don’t have agencies scoped to connect with people on their cultural passion points then stick with the ads. However, if you are, then you can begin to complement your paid advertising with connected experiences that engage consumers in relevant context. You can meet consumers at the point of inspiration and convert them easier.

To be successful at content we need to build and amplify it differently than our ads.

Our View: While paid media still rules, it’s clear that it doesn’t work as well and innovative companies are looking for a better way. 


Campaign Asia

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