The session focused on the creative challenges in the market and was presented by Bob Hekkelman, CEO of JWT Bangkok and Southeast Asia, and Mango Marketing Services’ co-managing directors Lynn Lynn Tin Htun and Aye Hnin Swe.
Hekkelman said the biggest challenge is the transfer of knowledge with regard to marketing. Motivation to learn is high, he said, and multinational marketers have an opportunity and an obligation to help the industry advance.
All the same, Swe noted that while adspend reached nearly US$120 million in the country last year, people are not yet ready to accept a full-blown consumer society. She noted that the environment is changing in terms of working habits (longer working days are becoming part of life) and media (private companies are now able to operate TV channels as well as print media). But she added that lifestyles remain very simple for the average person in Myanmar.
In light of this, Htun pointed to five key lessons for marketers looking to operate in the country. “A lot of brands are moving faster than expected and faster than [that rate at which] society has improved,” she observed. Many Western brands promise to make people’s lives better, she said—but added that people are likely to reject brands that are too heavy-handed in announcing themselves as “advanced”.
Secondly, she advised marketers not to put too much stock in insights from focus groups, due to the cultural trait of ‘ana’—the avoidance of causing loss of face. “The answers from focus groups will always be positive,” she said. “Brands need to read between [the lines].”
The third lesson, she said, is that branding is not widely understood as a concept. Demonstrative advertising is still likely to be the most effective. She illustrated this with an example from Unilever’s Clear anti-dandruff shampoo. After two false starts that took used glamorous imagery and celebrity endorsement to position the brand, if finally gained a footing with a TV spot that presented the product’s benefits in a straightforward manner.
Nonetheless, she said certain “legacy” brands such as Coca-Cola are “frozen in time” and need updating. Coke is still widely seen as a premium drink based on its price point from its previous presence in the market, even though it is now available more cheaply and therefore accessible to a broader group of consumers.
Finally, Htun said that brands need to take into account the importance of spirituality when communicating with people. An example, she said, is that men’s and women’s sarongs are kept separate when washed due to the belief that mixing them can reduce men’s virility.