In Asia’s advertising and marketing landscape, Thailand has always stood out for its uniqueness. But locally some of that creative power is shifting from ad agencies to a new breed of independent creatives who are empowered, entrepreneurial and spreading the word.
According to Oliver Kittipong Veerataecha, chief strategy and innovation officer at Y&R Thailand, “street arts, local chic, the sufficiency economy, micro-segmentation, and the rise of SMEs” are all huge trends that are impacting Thailand’s creative industries and the wider business landscape.
“There’s a new generation of Thais that are passionate and have entrepreneurial dreams and aspirations,” says Veerataecha. “These people are interested in small scale projects that make a big impact. Self-improvement and a desire to redefine things are strong trends. We are seeing local wisdom and youth power having a big influence in Thailand.”
According to We Are Social’s 2016 Global Digital Trends report, Thais top the list for the amount of time spent using mobile Internet, registering an average of 3.9 hours per day. But in the last year, Veerataecha says that this trend has matured and taken on a new meaning. On the surface at least, it continues to fuel the growth of new Internet and social media idols. But it’s the lasting “fame, success and fortune” of this group that is fuelling a wider entrepreneurial drive in Thailand.
Paruj Daorai, executive creative director at Leo Burnett Thailand observes a knock on effect that has impacted the advertising industry.
“It’s not just YouTubers and creators. There are many self-made entrepreneurs, writers, artists and all kinds of people who are launching startups in Thailand now,” says Daorai. “These people have built their reputation by themselves. They come up with their own ideas and they build their own businesses after gaining influence. They’re also thought leaders and they’re spreading the word.”
In the last year, Daorai has seen many creativity training workshops, seminars and mass exhibitions led by people who don’t come from the ad industry. On top of that the Thai government has been active in promoting the value of creativity through campaigns and education initiatives.
“A lot of people, including brand marketers and marcom people are joining these creativity workshops. There are lots of books and media on this topic now,” says Daorai. “And people are being taught to be creative on their own. It’s really popular.”
Although this awareness could aid the creative agency agenda, it is forcing the industry to work harder. “If we don’t continue to improve, the problem is that clients may no longer use their ad agency,” says Daorai. “More and more people can think of cool content ideas for Facebook on their own, build their fan base and start selling products to make money.”
While Daorai says that big brands and SMEs “eventually look to agencies for scale and more professional marketing and advertising services”, he’s not underestimating this trend of creative empowerment coming from outside the ad industry.
“Anyone can be creative now. We all have access to the same information,” says Daorai. But as ad agencies in Thailand focus more on “results-oriented creativity”, he believes that the industry will simply have to continue to prove its value in a market where he says entrepreneurs and SMEs are sometimes more creative than agencies.
Lagging behind in digital
One area the Thai industry could improve is in digital marketing creativity and effectiveness. Satit Jantawiwat, chief creative officer at JWT Thailand admits it’s still a work in progress.
“In creative advertising, Thailand used to be a leader and in the top rankings of the world,” says Jantawiwat. “However, when we entered the digital era, consumers changed so fast that agencies and clients have had a hard time catching up.”
Despite the creative savvy of Thai marketers, Jantawiwa says client requests for viral video clips with “demo and pack shots” are still the norm. “We know for a fact that consumers can smell advertising a mile away,” says Jantawiwa.
Pete Nuchanatanon, head of marketing at Google Thailand is more optimistic.
“If you just look at the three Thai ads in the YouTube leader board, people watched these ads for a combined total of over 100 years,” says Nuchanatanon. “Seeing as millions of users choose not to skip these ads, the brands know they just won a little love from these consumers.”
However, this focus on views and watch time could also just be a creative plateau for Thailand’s marketing and advertising landscape. Jureeporn Thaidumrong, owner and chairwoman at JEH United thinks the problem may come down to Thais being “more artistic and craft-driven than scientific”.
“What is missing in our creative process is the ‘technologist’,” says Thaidumrong. “I think there’s hope though. We are starting to see brands embrace technology and focus more on solving problems for consumers instead of just doing viral content.”
Three of the top ten ads in Asia-Pacific on YouTube in 2015 came from Thailand and they're all long form videos that are more like short films than ads. Watch them below:
Measuring creative success in Thailand
In Thailand, brands are slowly becoming more results-oriented when it comes to digital. Daorai says that awareness is still an important metric to marketers but that they’re demanding more “real-time, digital and social media marketing insights and analytics” in their tool kit.
“In the past, brands would just want 10 or 20 million views for a video or campaign and call that success,” says Daorai. “Now they know they can buy those things or place their video on a fan page with a lot of followers.”
At the same time, brands are learning that they can’t just keep using the same tricks. A good example is Hormones, a popular drama series about youth culture in Thailand, which was launched exclusively online on YouTube for the first two seasons. Engagement has steadily declined through to the most recent season launched on LineTV.
“It’s a lesson relevant to brands. They tried to repeat the success using the same formula and that’s very difficult,” says Daorai. “The problem for LineTV is that they got Hormones season three not season two. Season one was the big hit. So Line got the tail end and the decline. This is Thailand and you can’t show something again without making it more extreme or more interesting.”
In terms of producing groundbreaking creative work, Daorai says that Thailand has fallen short in the past year. “Sadly I cannot name one brand or agency that has done work like that,” he adds.
The most recent Thai creative trends are more gimmicky with brands doing “social experiment ads or controversial clips to get attention”. Daorai also observes a trend towards ads that get brand exposure at the cost of driving negative discussion in the community. In addition, slapstick and tearjerker ads continue to be mainstays in Thai advertising.
“It’s our nature. We love soap operas. We love to get emotional with the characters,” says Daorai. “Thais are expressive and introverted at the same time. We’re kind of bipolar. On the inside we’re quiet but outside we are kind of crazy.”
In order to move beyond the limitations facing the industry, Daorai believes the agency creative process will need to jettison the “factory production line way of working”.
“It’s clichéd but time is money, especially these days,” says Daorai. “If you have a friend who’s a client, they will tell you how frustrated they are waiting for an agency to come up with an idea and do it. And if you can’t relieve the client’s frustration they will leave your agency eventually.”
From accounts and planning to strategy and creative, the agency process is rigid and laggard. In order to take things to the next level, Daorai says Leo Burnett Thailand recently explored design thinking and did a hands-on workshop with design firm Ideo.
“It’s very early stages. It will be a while before design thinking takes off in Thailand but it’s starting,” says Daorai. “The economy isn’t great and brands are using smaller budgets to try things first before committing. This is a time to test things. As things improve, we’ll also be better equipped and think Thailand will bounce back.”
“On the positive side, Thai people are seeing the value of creativity and design like never before,” he adds. “And in the long run this will serve the country well.”
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Last year Campaign Asia went to Bangkok for the YouTube Fanfest event and met with some of Thailand's top independent creators. Watch the video below to hear their stories: