It all happened 7 years ago, well before Psy took the world by storm, when phones that played music were a novelty. Motorola launched their music-capable phones in China using a conventional media mix—TV, print, outdoor—but nothing much happened. Time (and budgets) were running out, and we were under pressure to deliver results. Inspiration came from an unlikely place. Wandering around online, we spotted two students from Guangzhou, who had suddenly shot to fame by lipsyncing a parody of the Backstreet Boys. The “Backdorm Boys”, as the parodists were called, inspired hundreds of imitation performances. We knew a good thing when we saw it, and the boys became the centerpiece of Motorola’s campaign. The music phone became part of a prank the Backdorm Boys would play online, wherein their fans were invited to upload their own songs. China’s young musical content creators began singing, uploading, sharing and “viralling” performances—their own and others—and the campaign went from a disappointment to a huge hit. In two months, sales of Motorola’s music enabled phones went up by 270%.
We didn’t call it branded content then. We just acted in response to the changing media behaviors among a young Asian population. We noticed that they used digital devices to consumer content, and they consumed it in gluttonous portions. The Chinese spend 1.67 billion hours in one month on online video sites according to iResearch Consulting Group. “Young urban seekers,” the Boston Consulting Group tells us, spend 5.4 hours every week watching. The wired generation all across Asia spends most of their time watching video.
There are other forces driving brand messages into content. Two years ago, in response to viewer complaints about too many commercial breaks interrupting their favorite programs, the Chinese media regulators decreed that prime-time TV would not be interrupted by advertising. In a completely different media environment—India —the Telecom Regulatory Authority proposed two months ago that only 12 minutes of advertising could be broadcast in an hour; if feature films were being telecast, there would be no breaks before 30 minutes, and there would be no pop-ups, past-screen or drop down ads during programming.
So how is this new content being shaped in Asia?
Ogilvy Singapore retold the classic Indian epic “Ramayana” with a Chrome Experiment. Imagine the adventures of the Monkey King’s legendary pilgrimage to India visualized on Google Maps, or the monk and his three disciples traveling on clouds made out of browser windows. The 24,000 verses of the Ramayana were translated into five scenes and two languages — Thai, Indonesian — with the story being told through shadow puppetry, traditional dances and water puppets. Chrome features such as Incognito mode and Google, products like Google Talk and Google Maps were integrated into various scenes in the story.
Asian cultures are full of stories, old and new. In the burgeoning, creative ferment that is Asia today, the brands the break out will be the ones that find fresh ways of unleashing the power of a story well told. Those storytelling brands will engage their fans and form a far deeper relationship with them that the sponsors of just another 30 second spot can hope to.
Kunal Sinha is the Regional Cultural Insights Director of Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific
[Asia Map: Antonio Abrignani via Shutterstock]