When Mark Voncken moved to Vietnam about three years back as FrieslandCampina’s marketing director, the FMCG major was spending close to 4 percent of its media budget on digital. “In a nation where people were increasingly spending more time online than [watching] television, we had one marketing manager taking all the digital decisions and spending a dismal amount on digital," Voncken recounts. "Our business was struggling and we had to make some drastic changes."
He upped the digital spending to 50 percent within a year, gradually built a digital team with himself at its helm and started working with a mix of big and boutique digital specialists to come up with solutions for all its brands. Sales rose exponentially and brand equity for FrieslandCampina’s core businesses has been going up ever since, he said.
“Vietnam is a two-media market and yet brands are shying away from moving budgets to digital," Voncken observed. "It is the only way forward. In fact for me, digital is a means to data. Collecting, connecting, integrating and leveraging data is what we need to focus on.”
At Campaign's inaugural Media 360—Emerging Asia event held in Ho Chi Minh City, where Voncken was one of the key speakers, most conversations revolved around the pace of social, economic and technological changes sweeping across Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and whether the media industry had the capabilities to leverage the new platforms.
“The people in Cambodia know its their time and they are living life to its fullest; astute marketers are piggybacking on this wave of change,” said Anthony Keck, managing director at Havas Riverorchid, Cambodia. "The playing field has changed drastically and even though it is a predominantly TV market, no advertiser can shy away from investing in digital fast.”
Cambodia’s youth market shares the same aspirations as its neighbours, where the allure of mobile resonates across the entire region. “For most Cambodians, internet means Facebook, and they use it as a search engine and even access Google and YouTube through it," Keck said. "Telecom operators are giving out free SIMs left right and centre and with an influx of cheap Chinese smartphones, it’s a nation about to explode digitally."
Consumers are open to new media, with social and mobile forming the bulk of their digital experience. Coming out of a violent past and an absolute disconnect with the outside world, Cambodians are taking to social engagement with a vengeance and are even open to sharing commercial content on Facebook.
Like Cambodia, Myanmar is already a mobile nation with strong Facebook penetration. “Ninety-nine percent of 30 million active internet users access the web through their phones," said Clint Easthorpe, COO of Mango Media in Yangon. "There are over 13 million Facebook users and the social platform is often confused as being the internet."
Opportunities are huge in Myanmar, wth companies and investors' confidence growing despite some existing domestic issues. Infrastructure is developing all the time and the sanctions have been officially lifted. “Fifty-five percent of the total population of 54 million is under the age of 30 years; it is young and thirsty for success. The nation is ready to leapfrog in order to play catchup,” said Easthorpe.
Uyen Pham, regional marketing manager for Coca-Cola Southeast Asia, said Cambodia and Myanmar are particularly interesting because she sees a system of traditional media measurement already in place in these emerging economies. “As we know how effective our investment is, we can further optimise [it],” she said.
That said, Pham shared her concerns as a client about the effectiveness of digital. “Television still gets 80 to 90 percent of our budgets in this region as we know exactly what we are getting for our money," she said. "We don’t have a clue about how our digital investments are benefiting us.”
Measurement found its way into most discussions at the conference as it came up as one of the key issues facing these markets. Vietnam, which already far ahead of Cambodia and Myanmar, faces a huge challenge of having national reach for TV, but only key urban market measurement. This is critical given almost 70 percent of the population is rural, yet the measurement is still very much just four top cities (of the total 63 provinces).
Further, even though the digital spend has gone up to almost 18 percent of the total spend, Vietnam does not have third-party data for digital, OOH, print, radio and mobile. The role of niche and affinity mediums is being challenged, given the greater focus on reach and frequency, as there is no way to measure the effectiveness of quality buys like sponsorships and sports associations both on traditional and digital media.
Commenting on the lack of measurement of consumer media exposure across platforms, Tran Thi Thanh Mai, general director of Kantar Media Vietnam, said, “We believe that focal meters with audio watermarking technology would be the solution to measure additional viewership of brand-sponsored TV content online and on devices other than TV."
Programmatic spending in Vietnam is expected to reach US$33 million by 2019 and will inevitably lead to an even greater demand for marketing technologies. But concerns such as brand safety, attribution, transparency and measurement are not going away soon.
After a brainstorming session led by Animesh Kumar, head of digital with Mindshare Vietnam, two proposed solutions were to move toward setting up a trusted marketplace for clients to buy safer, high-quality inventory, and starting an education programme to spread awareness about programmatic solutions and clear up any myths that exist.
Consumer adoption of digital in Vietnam has been much faster than the pace of media agencies. They are still grappling with the complexities of the medium, according to Sandip Roy, executive planning director at Dentsu Media Vietnam, which has potentially added to clients' reluctance to wholeheartedly adopt digital.
“While mobile penetration at 124 percent is more than the population of the country, there exists a wide mobile gap," said Tarun Dhawan, managing director, MoBlaze Vietnam & Myanmar. "For it to reduce, marketers will need to break away from putting all their eggs in one basket and be open to leveraging this medium for much more than looking at Facebook and Google.”
As of now, of the US$1.17 billion total media spending, mobile accounts for just 6.2 percent.
A session called “Hard to find, harder to keep”, moderated by Group M’s CEO Ed Thesiger, raised the question of the need for expat talent in these emerging markets.
“While it may be imperative to bring in foreign talent to plug the technology gap in Vietnam, the key to future growth and success is in the development of genuine professional apprenticeships and learning programs for the local workforce,” said Trinh Viet Anh, marketing director with Pepsi Vietnam.