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Marketing Brand Strategy Heineken

Tiger global brand director talks APAC creativity and the challenges across the region

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By Dani Gibson | Senior Writer

March 15, 2023 | 8 min read

Ahead of entering the judge's room of The Drum Awards for Marketing APAC, global brand director for Tiger Beer, Sean O’Donnell takes a moment to chat with The Drum about the creativity coming out of the region.

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Global brand director for Tiger Beer, Sean O’Donnell

Sean O’Donnell has worked in the alcohol marketing sector for almost two decades and his current role as global brand director for Tiger Beer (part of the Heineken Company) has seen him lead the growth of Tiger as the No.1 International Premium beer from Asia launching global campaigns ‘Brewed Against the Odds’, “Boldness Finds A Way” featuring Global Football Star Son Heung-Min and ‘Brewed For Your Fire’ for Tiger Crystal.

O’Donnell shares why Asia is such a creative continent, his favorite campaigns, and why marketers need to be the CEO of their brands.

What’s been your favorite campaign to work on?

That would be DB Export Brewtroleum. It was a campaign for a local beer brand in New Zealand called DB Export which has a strong history of innovation and sustainability and is very relevant to New Zealanders. Kiwis want to look after their amazing country and keep it clean and green. So, with Brewtroleum we took the natural leftovers of beer waste, to create a biofuel called DB Export Brewtroleum. We then partnered with a fuel company Gull and launched it across NZ turning their service stations into Brewtoleum stations, which really got New Zealand talking about how by drinking a DB Export beer they could help save the entire world. The Campaign was a huge success for the brand driving both sales and brand power and ultimately won Global Awards including Titanium and Grand Prix at Cannes

What has been your proudest career moment?

I’ve been very privileged to lead some amazing marketing teams. My proudest career moment was in 2019, when as Marketing Director for DB Breweries (Heineken NZ), at the New Zealand Effie Awards, DB Breweries won several awards across a number of brands and award categories. For DB Breweries, we were awarded the Client of the Year and I was lucky enough to win the New Zealand individual marketer of the year award. From a team perspective, it was highly rewarding because we succeeded with several of our brands growing them in an extremely competitive category through Creativity that led to improved business performance, whilst obviously being recognized as the individual marketer of the year was a great personal honor.

APAC has so much diversity from market to market, making regional work very challenging. What does Tiger do to tackle that?

APAC’s diversity is one of the great opportunities for working in the region. The multitude of differences leads you to think about creativity innovatively which ultimately leads to better outcomes.

The differences between countries mean that language, different cultural norms, religion, etc, makes working across the region challenging, but it’s also a huge opportunity if you can find consumer insights that resonate.

At Tiger, we build global campaigns that can resonate across the region. Firstly, by researching consumers across several markets and finding out what the similarities and differences are we believe we can build scalable campaigns across multiple markets. We believe that our brand positioning “Uncage Your Tiger” resonates across the region, but we understand that how we execute the platform can differ by the market without losing our core brand positioning.

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Other regions criticize APAC for not being as creative, but is there a lack of understanding from other markets?

Often, what you communicate is probably a lot simpler. In many Asian markets, consumers may not have been exposed to creativity as much as in the Western Markets, for example. In many Asian markets consumers are often more literal in their understanding of communications.

Where I think Asia is really interesting, is creativity firstly in the use of media channels and how brands communicate their message with consumers, and secondly how brands build experiences and events at scale. In many markets across Asia, TV was never a big-scale channel, so mobile devices have transformed how these consumers look at and engage with brands. Being able to deliver an experience through mobile and mobile-first or through engaging activations and events is quite different from how a standard campaign may work in other markets.

Where do you think the most creative and interesting work is coming out of APAC?

Over the last 24 months, the creativity in India has been exceptional. There are several creative ideas that have come out of the Indian markets that have been so insightful and well executed.

Australia and New Zealand are part of APAC, and whilst smaller markets both deliver world-class creativity and have a different view of the world from other like-minded Western countries. And in Southeast Asia, as brands grow and develop and consumer understanding of creativity grows, there is some interesting work starting to stand out.

What are you hoping to see from The Drum Awards for Marketing APAC entrants this year?

I’m looking forward to seeing how brands are thinking and executing creative ideas differently now we are through COVID. COVID has really changed our behaviors, how we’re interacting with each other, how we’re working, socializing, etc. So, I’m really interested to see how brands have adjusted to the new world and how they’ve applied that to creativity.

If there’s one problem you could fix within marketing, what would it be?

The visibility and recognition of marketing within organizations. It has been shown that creativity drives business results and in some companies, the focus on creativity (beyond just advertising campaigns) needs to be elevated. However, alongside creativity, it’s also imperative that marketers build a strong commercial acumen to help reinforce the credibility of the function internally and to ensure that their marketing strategy and plans are delivering business results. Marketers need to be the CEO of their brands and understand every aspect of the brand’s performance.

The deadline for The Drum Awards for Marketing APAC is Thursday 23 March.

Marketing Brand Strategy Heineken

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