Marketing Creativity Requires Commitment To Diversity

A melting pot of storytellers is sparking innovation across the Asia Pacific region.

Marketing Creativity Requires Commitment To Diversity

Late last year at the Association of National Advertising’s annual Masters of Marketing conference, Brad Jakeman, the president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group, suggested a lack of diversity within agencies was behind shortcomings in marketing innovation.

“I am sick and tired as a client of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white, straight males talking to me about how we are going to sell our brands that are bought 85% by women,” he said at the event, in Orlando, Fla. “Innovation and disruption does not come from homogeneous groups of people.”

While this observation may ring true on the global storytelling stage, it is not necessarily the case in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Content creators and strategists are becoming younger and more dynamic,” said Nicola Eliot, who heads up the Singapore arm of BBC Worldwide’s content marketing unit StoryWorks. “In my experience, both within agencies and clients alike, [there’s] a melting pot of tenacious, incredibly dedicated and creative women dominating the scene in APAC, with the traditional ‘older white male’ stereotype a rare sighting.”

Don Anderson, chairman of the Asia Content Marketing Association (ACMA), agreed. “If you look around at most agencies and marketing departments in the region, you’ll see that women largely outnumber men,” Anderson said.

This is not to undervalue the experience of an older and perhaps mostly male generation, but the hierarchical separation between marketing veterans and newcomers is breaking down, Eliot said.

“Senior marketers are beginning to understand the need to draw on the innate abilities of a generation who are digital by their very nature,” Anderson added.

Double-Edged Collaboration Sword

But the discussion extends beyond age and gender. Of equal importance is the investment in art and science professionals to yield unique content and real results despite tight budgets. This means marketing departments that collaborate with freelance journalists, producers, and data scientists on a project-by-project basis to justify quality branded storytelling.

Anderson said he has witnessed a rise in freelancers creating content for brands in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Australia. “There are some really experienced freelancers out there who simply want to work on their own terms,” he said. “Why hole yourself up in an office when you can work remotely from Bali?”

Expected to do more with less, brands and agencies are employing a variety of freelance professionals. While Anderson believes this results in more innovative content, he warned against hiring individuals just because they’re cheap. “Are brands sacrificing quality by employing these individuals?” he asked. “As with anything, you get what you pay for.”

The most successful storytelling comes from brands that invest in production and experienced storytellers, said Jim Ribbans, the head of business development at Singaporean production house Beach House Pictures.

“Red Bull’s content model is a great example of this–it’s focused on creating great content first, with the brand being part of the experience but not the sole reason for consuming it,” he said. “Here in Asia, we’ve worked with brands like Canon and Shell, who have been brave enough to adopt this kind of model.”

Waking Up To New Ideas

ACMA’s Anderson said he is seeing a shift in the region, with brands investing in diverse marketing options and talent to produce short-form stories, bite-sized social content, and influencer-led content to populate their channels and drive real engagement.

“Rather than spend a couple-hundred-thousand dollars to produce a celebrity-laden TV ad or a million-and-a-half dollars to sponsor a cable or terrestrial TV program that fewer people will watch, some marketers are waking up to the reality that they can get better value elsewhere,” Anderson said.

Likewise, Josh Black, chief executive of media investment firm GroupM’s Asia-Pacific content division, predicted the next 10 years of branded storytelling will be all about data, but he id not discount the importance of collaborating with creatives.

“You will always need a great idea to drive an emotional connection with consumers,” he said. “As the world becomes even more cluttered and our attention spans get shorter, the importance of a big idea and a story well told has never been more important.”