Covid-19 has left its mark on almost every industry. While for some the impact was indirect, creative agencies have really felt the heat of the pandemic. Whether specializing in consulting, marketing solutions, communications, advertising, media or digital transformation, Vietnam’s creatives had to quickly adapt to the changing reality to better support their clients and partners.
In this feature, we ask the experts from Vietnam’s leading agencies about the changes they (and their clients) had to embrace to survive and thrive during the pandemic. We also zoom in on emerging advertising trends in Vietnam.
Hoang Anh, Managing Partner, The Purpose Group
In 2019, what were the most prominent trends in advertising and media?
In my experience, most of the prominent trends in 2019 revolved around Gen Z. This is likely to be the case for brands and agencies for the foreseeable future while advertisers are trying to figure out the approach to Gen Z, who are labeled the “super creative” generation.
Despite being seen as a “virtual” generation, Gen Z-ers are extremely “real”, to the point of being allergic to anything artificial or perfect. They prefer everything to be “hyperreal”, unadorned and possibly even ugly, whereas the nature of the advertising industry has always been to inspire by making a brand look perfect. To market to Gen Z, we need to change how we communicate to them. These changes would be reflected in:
- Content creation: Advertisers are getting better at understanding how Gen Z creates by reaching out to content creators whose audience are Gen Z-ers or to influencers who themselves are Gen Z-ers.
- Impactful communication: No longer swayed by traditional advertising or even celebrity endorsements, Gen Z-ers turn to peers, to community.
Finding a purpose: Gen Z is a “purposeful” generation. They are driven by values and big ideas. They expect brands to be responsible and to take on social issues. As a result, a number of brands have moved towards building “purpose” into their brands.
Have you noticed any big changes on the consulting side?
- Increasingly, strategic advice is being integrated in all aspects of brand-building and communication. Strategists, in this day and age, pool all the resources at the brand’s disposal and optimize them. But to be successful, they also need to have a thorough understanding of how each channel can be utilized to maximum effect.
- When working with influencers, we focus on a more thorough analysis based on the quality of engagement and other metrics, not merely looking at what lies on the surface, like the number of followers or likes. Before partnering with an influencer, as well as after wrapping up a campaign with them, we apply data analytics to analyze their potential and their performance.
- Lastly, there is the media journey. The consumer journey is becoming more and more complex, but thanks to technology, communicators can also better understand their touchpoints and craft personalized messages.
What was the most meaningful project for you and the team in the past year?
- The Tale of Cuoi Project — an internal initiative of The Purpose Group to refresh the Mid-Autumn Festival image in the eyes of modern youth, to make them excited about its arrival every year. The Tale of Cuoi first saw the light of day in 2018, but it was in 2019 when we had a real breakthrough with a fully animated MV created by our in-house creative team.
- Another highlight was the Huggies Platinum launch (a high-end diaper brand). It’s a high-growth segment and one that is difficult to break into, given that it’s dominated by a handful of well-established brands that are top of consumers’ minds. Our approach was not to rely on traditional advertising products like TV commercials, but to tap every channel.
- Finally, the new positioning project for Beck’s Ice in collaboration with Binz. The campaign’s success lies in effective collaboration with influencers and in creating a content ecosystem for all channels.
What are the key trends in advertising and communications in Vietnam in 2020?
Since the start of the covid-19 crisis, I have watched the media industry take a hard blow, then recover, somewhat. We are seeing a trend towards accelerated adoption of purpose marketing — a nod to Gen Z’s wishes. In addition, influencer marketing will continue to evolve and will become more sophisticated, leading to longer lasting and more meaningful partnerships between creators and brands. Brands and agencies will embrace digital transformation more fully, linking strategy and decision-making to data analytics.
How will The Purpose Group need to transform to adapt to these trends?
We will continue to promote our consulting services, as well as working on new technology to optimize content and streamline cooperation with content creators.
What are some of the projects by other agencies that stood out for you?
WeChoice Awards 2019. It’s an annual event to celebrate Vietnam’s emerging talent and inspiring individuals. In 2019, the awards went to content creators mostly for their high value projects.
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Thi Anh Dao, Managing Director, Isobar Vietnam
In 2019, what were the most prominent trends in your field?
The most prominent trend, and not only in 2019 but over the past five years, has been digital transformation (DX), in all fields. Now we have entered the post-digital stage, where communication and all activities are facilitated by technology. Digital devices are also becoming increasingly more accessible for all income groups.
The covid-19 pandemic has contributed to faster digital transformation and behavioral change. So, in the post-digital era, when the lines between digital and offline become increasingly blurred, how will human behavior change?
In my opinion, it is hard-wired into us as human beings to want to connect emotionally. And the role of the advertising industry will continue to be centered on finding creative solutions and delivering interesting, rich experiences that make this connection possible.
When talking about Online to Offline (O2O) and brand commerce, Isobar has once argued that one of the marketer’s weaknesses is going heavy on new technology. The essence of DX is not to introduce new technology, but to apply the existing tools to create change. So when it comes to advertising, DX’s role is to enhance the user experience and to help businesses solve their problems.
So, are businesses in Vietnam aware of the importance of DX?
Enterprises in Vietnam are divided into groups with different characteristics, so their DX strategy is also different.
At the multinationals, there is an understanding that DX is a must and they can afford to invest on a large scale in terms of systems and technical solutions. What they are interested in is cultural transformation and how it manifests itself in this market. For the employees working at these corporations, it is easy to embrace new technologies and adapt.
The second group comprises large Vietnamese enterprises. Over the past 1-2 years, these businesses have paid more attention to improving their effectiveness. A good example is PNJ who in the past few years has drastically improved their conversion thanks to a new development plan.
The last group are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who have also started to deploy DX. Usually, they are looking for short-term results and quick successes, so agencies need to draw a clear distinction between short-term results and long-term goals to build trust with clients.
What was the most memorable moment and project for you and the team in the past year?
2019 was Isobar’s 10th year in business, so we organized a picnic for the entire company to celebrate the milestone together. It was an opportunity for the team to sit down together, share lessons and agree on directions. Advertising is an industry with a very high turnover, so it’s an honor to have close associates who have been with us for more than 5-7 years or those who leave but return. We have created a space for talented young people to grow professionally, to pursue a meaningful career.
In terms of meaningful projects, I would say those that helped to position Isobar as an agency for the post-digital era. They showcased our ability, as a business partner, to plan and coordinate multi-channel deployments and help companies realize their digital transformation vision. This is what Isobar has always been about — cultivating meaningful partnerships rather than treating projects as a business transaction.
When it comes to Isobar’s vision, in our opinion, the old model (creative agency releases TVC / artwork, then concept briefing for PR/ digital/ event agency) is no longer effective. Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is the future. To that end, starting from 2017-2018, we’ve been moving beyond the scope of a traditional digital agency to become a full-cycle IMC agency.
At the end of last year, Isobar officially launched the Isobar Strategic Alliance. It gathers professionals across a variety of disciplines: 50 creatives, 15 employees in charge of strategy and planning, experts in marketing, advertising, innovation, trade activation, events, technology experts. A 350-strong team of seasoned experts from PPlus, ST Communications and Isobar Vietnam.
This strategy has enabled Isobar to take a lead in multi-channel quality communications and to develop an experience-oriented marketing vision in order to achieve operational efficiency.
Among other 2019 highlights were our experiments with digital transformation solutions, particularly the successful roll-out of a comprehensive DX package for a fashion brand. Working within the O2O (online to offline) retail model, we were able to bring online order processing time down from seven days to one day, as well as reducing the number of employees assigned to the job by 50%. As a result, 30% more orders were placed and processed than during a similar promotional campaign they had run before.
We have also implemented a customer tracking system to help the brand’s marketing team better understand the customers’ needs enabling the client to build personalized promo packages. Additionally, we’ve introduced a system where store displays take regional differences and preferences into consideration. We have streamlined and perfected logistics and processes, making the movement of goods for both online and offline orders more efficient and reducing shipping costs for online orders. The project was the official kick off of Isobar’s new “Transformation Consultancy” product.
Other special moments in 2019 were not business-related but showcase our commitment to the community. Take the Bridgestone project, for example. A client of Isobar’s for the past three years, Bridgestone works with disadvantaged communities to provide critical infrastructure. They selected two remote residential areas in two provinces: Ni Lua village, Nam Lich commune, Muong Ang district, Dien Bien province; and Hamlets 7 and 8, Ea Le commune, Ea Sup district, Dak Lak province. Poverty here is higher than in 50% of the country and the economy is mainly based on agriculture. Local children have to make their way to school over unsteady wooden bridges that are often swept away by flash floods. As part of the Bridgestone initiative, modern concrete bridges were built benefiting 335 students in the two localities making the walk to school shorter and safer.
There is also Isobar’s project with Google called “Coding for the Future” where we help train human resources to support Vietnam’s digital economy. Phase Two of the project has increased the number of students enrolled in complimentary Google programming classes 100-fold compared to 2018, promoting computer- and internet-literacy to students starting from the elementary all the way to high school, and helping Vietnam to become an important global player in the era of Industry 4.0.
In your opinion, what are the key trends in Vietnam in 2020?
Vietnam has a long way to go in terms of digital transformation. If the world and the economy recover from the pandemic in 2020, we will witness a chain reaction of DX adoptions.
The agencies should take this opportunity to boost their effectiveness, because after the pandemic, brands that have bounced back will be looking to invest in marketing campaigns, and the agencies will continue to find themselves under pressure to change and become better.
For example, in PR, are clients paying for strategy and expertise or to simply tick the box? In the past, consumers had few entertainment options, so they were excited about events organized by brands. Now there are countless entertainment activities and in order to get customers to interact with the brand, we must deliver unique experiences that are only available through engagement with that brand.
This applies to all touchpoints and to all creative disciplines, not just PR. In addition, it is also important to note the differences in the behavior of each generation.
What are some of the projects by other agencies that stood out for you?
In my opinion, there is a series of projects that leverage music marketing to connect with customers. This is one of the trends that Isobar is yet to fully embrace. From the music videos, Isobar’s team learned how to design experiences tailored to the tastes of the audience, seamlessly integrating the artist’s DNA into the brand’s DNA. Then, we take the creative language from the music video and translate it into an experience that engages the customer on all levels while reflecting the brand message.
Nhi Chau (Ivy), Media Engagement Lead in Vietnam, & Raphael Lachkar, Director ASEAN, Vero
What trends stood out in your industry last year?
Nhi: Last year, we released a white paper on influencer marketing titled ‘Vietnam’s New Influencers: Gen Z, Gen Y, and the Shift of Trust’, which showed that the digital age has not only caused a shift in platforms, but also in consumer mentalities towards marketing – towards something more personal based on a sense of connection.
We track returns on all spending to find the most effective channels for each message, and this year we saw a similar transition to the one from offline to online platforms – representing a shift in focus from individual influencers to social media communities.
Many of our clients’ expectations also reflect this trend towards building consumer communities. One example of such a community is Yeu Bep, a group for people to share their recipes and food photos. It was founded in 2018, but only became really popular in late 2019, when it reached 1.1 million members. Its hype has continued to grow during the lockdown, along with two more recent Facebook groups: Nghien Nha and Ghet Bep Khong Nghien Nha, both founded in early April 2020.
They quickly became viral and reached around 1 million members just in a few weeks. In communities, people can easily share their thoughts with others who have similar lifestyles and interests. A post by a member in the aforementioned groups can reach up to 20 thousand likes and several thousand comments – all organic! Any content creator can act as an influencer based solely on their content, which is clearly a game-changer.
What was the most meaningful moment for you in 2019?
Raphael: It’s tough to choose just one! 2019 was perhaps the most achievement-filled year of the past decade for Vero, and I have to say it’s setting the bar very high for the years to come. We won Campaign Asia’s Southeast Asia PR Campaign of the Year award for a public awareness campaign, and we revamped and relaunched our office in Vietnam and onboarded extraordinary brand partners like Air Asia, Daikin, Estée Lauder, and Under Armour. We also expanded our business to Indonesia and grew the overall ASEAN team by 30%. So can I say the year was a series of meaningful moments for us?
Given the current economic headwinds, in what ways will your industry adapt to changing conditions in 2020?
Raphael: The digitalization trend that was already picking up before the Coronavirus outbreak has become a full-blown transformation, as the need to adapt to stay-at-home orders forced companies to accelerate their plans. As a result, we’re seeing more brands expanding their digital services and shifting their marketing towards digital channels. We expect it to play out similarly to how Alibaba and other online marketplaces in China really kicked off in the wake of the SarS outbreak. But this time, it’s on a global scale.
That transformation is also causing a fundamental shift in how people spend their time online, which is reflected in changing communication strategies among brands. Where once social media was one channel among several along a typical consumer journey, it is now integrated into every aspect of life. Entertainment, exercise, food, social gatherings… all are happening digitally now more than ever.
We can see this in the adaptation from the global digital campaigns to local ones. Levi’s is hosting a series of live concerts on Instagram TV. Adidas launched self-made testimonial videos with influencers.
In Vietnam, Tiger Beer is promoting its beer delivery program, and during the mandatory social distancing period they encouraged people to hang out at home with their Social Dance Challenge on Facebook. Unilever co-hosts a series of livestreams called “O nha? Co sao!” with Yeah1TV, featuring one KOL/artist each week on both Facebook and Youtube, to promote their shampoo brands Clear and Sunsilk.
Pizza 4P’s, the gourmet pizza restaurant with 20 locations around Vietnam, used the downtime to create a podcast that reflects their mission to “Make the World Smile for Peace,” with the first installment being a guided “pizza meditation” based on readings from the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
General economic outlook in your sector for 2020 onwards: positive, cautiously positive or negative? What sort of bounce will your industry see after the pandemic passes?
Raphael: It all depends on what we compare it to. As a regional business working with international brands, we consider Vietnam as part of the global ecosystem. And in that regard, while every economy is taking a substantial hit, we expect that Vietnam will come out better than most. Supply chain disruption and decreased global consumption will still have their impacts, but we already see attention drift faster towards Vietnam, which will bring about new local opportunities.
The IMF’s latest GDP forecast for 2020 gives Vietnam a 2.7% growth as of mid-April. That’s the highest figure in Asia, and with continued trade tensions between China and other countries, it’s clear that Vietnam has a unique opportunity to rise in prominence. This will mean greater trust and engagement from foreign and domestic companies, investors, entrepreneurs, and consumers with regards to the Vietnamese economy, thereby creating opportunities to communicate.
We can also add that all companies which hope to survive this era are transforming both how they operate and how they address their audiences, and in that they will need the assistance from experienced agencies with their ears to the ground.
What do you foresee the key trends in PR, digital, social and influencer marketing services in Vietnam being in 2020?
Nhi: We think less about trends than about shifts in behaviors. Trends might signify shifts, but just as often they’re ephemeral and superficial while shifts speak to long-term changes in where a society or a community is heading. The digitalization of the economy is a real shift, from which we can expect consumption to be increasingly fragmented across platforms and communities.
One example of this is the surge in Millennials using TikTok since the beginning of the crisis, with 32% of monthly app users in Vietnam now belonging to the 25-44 age group. TikTok is usually considered youth-centric, and marketers are unlikely to use it to reach a Millennial audience. But surprisingly, these older users are spending similar amounts of time on the app as younger ones and engaging with it as much or more, which represents mainstream adoption of not just that platform, but also digital behaviors that were formerly the province of younger, more niche demographics.
Crises don’t usually reinvent paradigms, but rather accelerate certain transitions that were already in progress. One thing we have been seeing across our research for the past year is the growing desire for people to be part of micro-communities and surround themselves with micro-personalities catering to their specific interests.
In a sense, it’s like going back to the early internet of forums and chat rooms, but with far more people – and correspondingly larger marketing budgets – involved. More than ever, communities will be central to brand communication, often replacing large KOLs with flat engagement rates.
How about projects by other companies in 2019? Which ones stood out?
Nhi: The Biti’s Street Inspiration Campaign (Cảm hứng tự hào từ Đường phố Việt Nam) promoting its Hunter Street x Việt Max – The Nameless Edition last July stood out to me. It was a collaboration with the art director and multiple Golden Kite nominee Việt Max, who designed both the collection and its TVC (television commercial), and it was named one of the 11 best campaigns of 2019 by readers of Advertising Vietnam.
With this campaign, Biti’s emphasized its pride in being “made in Vietnam” with a celebration of Vietnamese street culture. The two-minute TVC elevates street style to an indispensable aspect of culture by showcasing the noise, chaos, and vibrancy of street life in Saigon – the perfectly flawed, the beautiful mess, that love-hate feeling in the hearts of so many urban Vietnamese.
Biti’s chose to connect with Việt Max – himself a b-boy and graffiti artist – due to his close connection to street style culture, which lent the campaign a sense of authenticity. And crucially, they first promoted the campaign via Việt Max’s social media following. This is another example of how communities – online and off – are replacing traditional demographic pointers at the heart of modern marketing campaigns.