SMG Singapore wins Ricola!

SMG Wins Ricola’s Media Business

Ricola, the manufacturer of cough drops and breath mints in Switzerland, has appointed Starcom MediaVest Group to manage its media strategy and business.

Starcom MediaVest Group’s remit covers media planning, digital and content solutions.

A pitch was held and three agencies were shortlisted. Maxus was the incumbent agency on the account.

“Team SMG has demonstrated strong commitment, enthusiasm and an overall good understanding of the Ricola business and challenges. We are also impressed with some of the ideas put forward by the Starcom team to build Ricola’s branding,” said Celeste Ong, Country Manager, Southeast Asia Ricola Asia Pacific.

Ricola provides soothing relief to millions of consumers through its unique herbal formula that are both natural and great tasting. It exports its herb specialties to more than 50 countries in Europe, Asia, America and the Middle East.

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Facebook – is it going anywhere but up?

[First posted on January 12, 2011]

Today, I read an article on the New York Times about MySpace laying off half of its employees. Tragic news, really. Industry observers are referring to Myspace’s downfall as a precursor to Facebook’s eventual demise; some are going as far as predicting its imminent end this year. Before I continue, I feel obligated to mention that I’m not much of a stock investor, nor am I anywhere near being familiar with the nooks and crannies of the venture capital funding business.

A lot of negative talks about Facebook’s latest valuation of USD50bil came under extreme scrutiny by industry observers were along the lines of Facebook’s inability to generate advertising revenue the level that is acceptable of the valuation – and at current value, it should hover at about USD30bil. To that effect, Goldman Sachs’ USD450mil investment into Facebook was deemed extremely risky and an unnecessary one to tax payers’ money.

Genuine concern here, I have to admit. However, I’m inclined to give Mark Zuckerberg the benefit of the doubt to be able to see a future no one can; you have to give him credit, he has done it at least once already. In a fragile economy such as the one we experience today, it’s hard to blame anyone to be more cautious with where money should flow. And probably to a lot of people, Facebook’s just a money-burning business with the amount of servers required to maintain the site that has now over 650mil users worldwide. Who would’ve thought they’d reach such a milestone? May be not even the Zuck.

One fundamental difference between the fall of MySpace and the eventual, wrongly predicted fall of Facebook is summarized aptly in this: “The paradox in business, especially at a public company, is, ‘When do you focus on growth, and when do you focus on money?’ ” said Mr. DeWolfe. “We focused on money and Facebook focused on growing the user base and user experience.” This cannot be any closer to the truth the business Facebook is turning into: a communications and utilities platform built on social network foundations.

MySpace was cluttered, flashy, populated by anonymous user names, driven by rock bands and emerging artists, and most tragically filled with ads that most of the time were of questionable nature. Like how Tim Arango, the NYT writer of this article, pointed out Facebook came into the party with a clean, Google-like interface. You also needed to tell people your real name; if anything was a game changer element in social networking, this was it. Facebook now has the richest database of people that no other business in the world can claim to have, not even Google. Personal information as real and accurate as it can get, short of asking tips from the government. All thanks to our hunger of being constantly socially connected and our natural narcissism tendencies as human beings. More so the Gen Ys, not so much the Xs.

Having a digital advertising background, I cannot stop imagining the mountains of advertising possibilities that can be turned on to leverage on the data Facebook has about its users. Taking into serious consideration the tremendous growth of Facebook so far and its potential to fuel more growth globally, would I, given the chance to work at Facebook, risk jeopardizing users’ perception of and experience in Facebook in exchange for millions (billions even) of advertising revenue? Is this too short-sighted of a plan?

I accept the realities of running a business and the vital (or a dire one in this case) need to have a sustainable revenue stream. Instead of looking at MySpace’s fall from grace as a point in case of the fickle-mindedness of social networkers and no one platform can last forever, why not take MySpace as a case study of what not to do. In many ways, Facebook has introduced and will continue to innovate new ways for us to stay connected digitally. Sometimes, we may not even realize that need until it one day creeps onto our monitors and changes our social lives again.

One question that I ask myself, more frequently these days, is whether Facebook ahead of its time. So ahead that we cannot entirely grasp what it intends to and could possibly achieve? From an advertising point of view, when has any company ever had such databases of users before? Do we really know what is the best way to leverage on this? Seriously, besides bombing display ads and behavioural targeted messages to users?

A business that is ahead of its time requires a sustainable revenue generation model of the same stature. Well, do we really have one? Should we force a half-baked, unoriginal plan from Facebook to satisfy investors and profiteers? I’m against it; you could say that’s because I don’t have a stake in Facebook but I do have a stake in something Facebook is trying so furiously to build – a better social networking experience.

*my source of inspiration: New York Times

Mobile solutions: we need morez!

[First posted on January 12, 2011]

If you’re in advertising too, you’d share the same sentiments as me about mobile and how often this topic pops up in conversations with clients and industry stakeholders. Let’s put this into a Malaysian context first – We all know that Andriod and iPhone apps are the rage these days; given the relatively small base of users of these two platforms, creating applications that are targeted specifically at a Malaysian audience, unfortunately, still isn’t feasible.

Unless, of course, if you’re creating for a global brand that scales in multiple markets e.g. Malaysia Airlines’ augmented reality app MHdeals

Other than apps, what other opportunities are there for advertisers? To be honest, I’m bored of wap banners, no matter how ridiculously high CTRs can get. Mobile search have not really taken off in Malaysia, and SMS spam advertising is over-used everywhere.

I went searching for inspiration and found this really cool online banner campaign executed by Gol Airlines (Brazilian aviation company) that fused banner advertising and mobile interaction. I’m genuinely impressed by the feat of connecting a mobile device, in real time, to a piece of animated flash game served as a banner ad on multiple sites.

As pictures can speak a thousand words, videos can…I don’t know, speak a million? Enjoy.

*my source of inspiration: Digtal Buzz Blog

edit: Another interesting and emerging mobile solution: tagging and product preview. Many potential applications to this, not just providing addtional product information but also mobile coupons, call to action platform that leads to digital resource, etc. Find out more

Influence and blogging

[First posted on January 11, 2011]

Malaysia’s a blogging nation; if cats/dogs had fingers, they’d blog too! (and probably rant about the ridiculous outfits their owners force them to wear under scorching Malaysian weather) On a serious note, I’m personally happy that the local digital industry is blessed with strong blogger communities managed by two sucessful companies:

a. Nuffnang/NomNom Media – I’m unsure what their official name is, but I still refer to them as Nuffnang. Lead by Timothy Tiah.

b. Advertlets – managed by the ever-so-popular-amongst-the-ladies, Josh Lim

I remember the early days (2006-07) of engaging bloggers as a way of credible, user-generated, and believable communication with consumers. We’d review profiles of bloggers, share a campaign brief, receive drafts of written content, somewhat spoil the advertorials by trying tad too hard to sell the campaign, and track results by reviewing the number of comments received and post views. It was all that we could do in regards to buying social influence in the digital space, short of spending millions on ambassadors.

Fast-foward to 2010-2011, the greater industry have been furiously debating/discussing about the now revived social influence topic, partly fueled by the rapid growth of Klout: a platform touting its ability to assign influence scores based on the quality and quantity of one’s social circle. It started off with only measuring Twitter scores, now Klout includes Facebook as well.

I’ve read about the web being an attention economy to advertisers due to the short attention span of web content consumers; I’ve also read about the content economy to brands that understand consumers’ innate craving for content creation (especially the Gen-Ys) and narcissism; there’s a different economy that’s flourishing on the web that has always been around but was in an intangible form, ever so elusive to marketers – the influence economy.

What is the currency of this economy, you ask? It’s literally everything that we do online – status updates, tweets, photos of that fine Phuket vacation, that new catchy song from Linkin Park that we like, etc you get the drift. Mark Zuckerberg found his true calling and made the publishing of these minute details about ourselves possible and accessible by just about anyone (until you control your own privacy, even then there are no guarantees).

Now what does influence have to do with blogging, besides the obvious readers/traffic that one gets to the blog? Stop for a while and think for a bit – why do we ‘buy’ advertorials from popular bloggers? In a stripped down and concise response, it is to leverage on the bloggers’ influence on their network of audience, including friends.

A bigger question is this: should we buy advertorials at all? Or even sponsored Twitter broadcasts for that matter? Influence isn’t constricted to just five paragraphs of biased opinion about a brand; influence manifests itself in every word and action of an individual. Hence, bloggers should no longer be only about these; don’t keep selling us advertorials, tweets, blogger events, movie screenings, or any of the tried-and-tested blogger sales pitches. Sell us measured influence.

Whether we like it or not, budget allocation hinges on proper brand/business justifications that usually rely on statistics and facts (no shit). Klout’s core ability of assigning influence scores becomes a pretty sight for agencies and marketers because we finally have a standard measurement methodology that top-level management decision makers may relate to. Are Klout scores enough to justify investments in sponsoring bloggers? At this juncture of their development, probably not yet. If so, what other metrics should we consider?

Ending this post with important challenges to the blogger community: how should bloggers management evolve? Are advertorials still the right way to go? Or should we treat bloggers as ambassadorial talents? In essence, how do we sell digital influence? I’m sure the answer will pop up sooner than we might think, and I’m excited to begin the journey in achieving that.