The Asian market is at the forefront of creativity, says Tencent’s Steven Chang


By Charlotte McEleny | Asia Editor

June 17, 2016 | 11 min read

Last year Cannes was not exactly a standout for the APAC market, with an average number of awards being sent back east at the end of the week. Despite this, creativity is thriving in the region and it is thriving alongside cutting edge technology and world-leading behavioral changes.

At the forefront of that is the China market, and with that Tencent, as users live their lives online and put their trust and money into brands via their mobile phones.

The Drum caught Tencent’s corporate VP Steven Chang, a former agency head, before he boarded the plane for the South of France. He told us what he thought about the future of creativity and where APAC sat within the global creative community.


Wechat L'Oreal campaign

What topics do you expect or want to hear from at Cannes?

For me, Cannes is about possibility. Whether it’s based on the creative behind a campaign that just works, the unexpected leap that surprises and delights, or an integrated campaign that just pushes the boundaries between channels, there are always huge amounts of potential for marketers to do things that are different and that will help brands meet their goals.

I think this year we’ll see lots of discussion around virtual reality, around the potential for wearable tech, and how digital marketing continues to grow in importance. Alongside this, I think we’ll see more discussion of how online to offline (O2O) strategies can work. We see this as critical in China, and it’s spreading elsewhere.

Data and creativity is becoming a Cannes regular as a topic… what’s your view on where that’s going?

Data is essential for targeting. In China, the younger generations live through their mobile phones and spend more than 26 hours a week online. This influences their expectations around the services they use, the content they consume and share, and how they feel about marketing.

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Online activities can create more data that can be used for better targeting of audiences, but that doesn’t mean that data should just be used to support existing ideas. Instead, it’s important to use data throughout campaigns. Often, the data can lead to surprising results that lead to greater creativity.

You’ve made some big deals with the likes of WPP, Omnicom and Dentsu around sharing data – is this important?

Collaboration is a lot easier when everyone understands the full picture. Making use of data across teams makes it possible to target campaigns more accurately, and agencies can use this approach to refine their strategies. The result from this is more integrated and O2O marketing.

For example, a campaign with Nike last year moved from cinema adverts through to social channels, and to 500 specific locations at bus stops within Shanghai, Guagzhou and Beijing. Women in the target age group were encouraged to find their nearest shop by shaking their phone when they were logged into WeChat. This automatically directed them to their nearest store, and provided the opportunity to book a free fitness session. This campaign combined wider awareness, social and location-based marketing in support of a wider brand value. It’s only possible to do this through creative, collaboration and sharing of data.

A lot is being said around ‘walled gardens’ by the agencies… in the US and Europe it’s aimed at Google and Facebook etc, do you get the same questions from agencies in China or APAC?

We don’t – the market in China is ferociously competitive when it comes to user attention. If you look at all the activities that people can do from their phones these days based on fast mobile Internet, the battle is for attention against content, movies, social, games, websites, eBooks. This makes it more important to build coherent stories that users want to get involved with.

Making that experience of marketing seamless for the user or the customer is essential.

Do you think publishers and tech partners need to have an open data relationship to encourage creativity and better marketing or does it need to be better protected?

User privacy and data security is a given. If you cannot protect that data as much as humanly possible, then you lose trust.

For marketers, being open and collaborating around data is not the same as letting that data become available to everyone.

How do you think Asia does in terms of creativity when it’s put into the global arena?

I think the Asian market is at the forefront of creativity, and China in particular is leading the way when it comes to the collision of mobile, e-commerce and creative campaigns. For example, Mercedes-Benz has successfully run campaigns across mobile and social for customers to book test drives and put down deposits for cars solely from their phones. That combination of ease of access, reach and trust here is very important for this kind of campaign.

I think it has encouraged marketers in China to think bigger around mobile and social campaigns, and the fact that the whole customer journey can be tracked also makes it easier to demonstrate ROI from these campaigns, compared to those taking place in the West.

Does it do better or worse in any aspects?

I think it is different. The marketing landscape in China was – for many years – viewed solely as an extension of sales rather than being a skill in its own right. Today, I think that mindset has been left behind. There’s greater willingness to learn around the potential for marketing strategy to lead to business change and wider commercial success.

At the same time, China is unique in its social and technology position. The growth of mobile has led to many changes that are specific to us.

What can global brands learn from China and the way it approaches creativity and tech?

I would say the biggest lesson is how connected things are in China around social. Weixin (WeChat) has become a dominant platform for many daily tasks, from ordering a taxi through to shopping and games. This has made it easier to think about integrated campaigns, to some extent.

China is not just one market as well. There are differences between generations, and between cities depending on size. The Tier 2 and 3 cities in China do tend to look at the likes of Shanghai and Beijing for the latest trends, but the rise of mobile means that this is taking place much faster than it used to do.

L'oreal WeChat

Loreal Wechat
L'Oreal WeChat Campaign
L'oreal WeChat campaign
L'Oreal Wechat campaign

Last year, in terms of awards, APAC actually did quite badly… how can the industry work together in APAC to get the great work better recognised?

I think this will happen naturally. I look at the work that L’Oreal carried out around the Cannes Film Festival. Before this campaign, Cannes Film Festival was perceived as an international event that was not relevant to women in China during their everyday lives. There was not that direct, personal contact with the event and the brand.

L’Oreal’s campaign led with its key opinion leader in China, Fan Bingbing providing a voice message sent to target audience members. This was the first step around personalizing the brand, and it was followed through a social network campaign that used Weixin to create direct, personal interaction between users and celebrities. Users could interact around backstage events taking place at Cannes Film Festival with both Chinese and international celebrities, as well as sharing these events as if they were directly connected to those celebrities on their social accounts.

The perception of Cannes – and of L’Oreal – was improved through this campaign, and it has been seen as a leading campaign in China with many other brands mimicking some of the ideas here. It was a combination of brand ideals and technology that led to the brand doubling its follower base and also increasing its sales.

The challenge with this kind of campaign is that it requires an understanding of exactly how well L’Oreal used social to innovate in China. For international audiences, this awareness will come as some of the approaches developed in China are taken up by other social media platforms worldwide.

Do you think some things can be lost in translation?

Cultural changes and differences can come up in all things. However, I think marketers are uniquely placed to make a difference here. Translating global brand and business goals into tactical programmes that make a difference - as well as entertaining customers - is where marketers and agencies can demonstrate their creativity.


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