Iconic Brands and Localisation

Taking advantage of this period after I left my last job for a rest and refreshment and before I locked interests for my next marketing excitement for my career, I, rarely, started to read books. Yes, books….Like ages ago I picked up a paperback!!!

Recently into this one called: How brands become icons: the principles of cultural branding by HBS Profession D.B. Holt.  (you know I am very addictive to “mega brand”, and took pride in helping some of them during my marketing career. I love GODZILLAS!)


I also came across an article in Financial Times, related to localisation strategy of MNCs in India, (Article here)which I also observed or, if not, believed happening in a lot of countries and markets across a lot categories. Brands diversify the portfolio to different clusters of markets instead of one pair of shoes fit all. I have no fundamental objection with that.

Put 2 together, there seems to be some conflicts, which I will talk about later.

Allow me to start from what I took away from the book, as building iconic brands is quite a big dream for me.

  • Prof Holt studied the successs of iconic brands like Coca-Cola. Harley-Davidson, Mountain Dew… looked into their success through a specific lens–Culture.

  • Those iconic brands, through powerful symbolism in their marketing communication, create “identity myths”, that soothe collective anxieties during a time that significant social change happened.

(Back to 7 years ago when I was in PepsiCo, we used to sharing global Ads and studied them in multi occasions. The Mountain Dew Ad and Coca Cola 1979 Superbowl Ad-Hey Kid, catch. Mean Joe Greene) was shared by BBDO. From the book, now I knew what they were about. And I don’t think any team members really understand such cultural and social context by that moment, nor the Agency. It is always easy to say racial divide but I am afraid that only after you live in that country, you can get the real sense of it…I feel sorry for those Ads I misread in the past 😦 )
  • This is a step further from routine strategy draw on brand benefit, consumer value, personality, etc. In my word, it is to gain mind share  based on functional or emotional superiority.

  • The book then highlighted several ways to stay in the heart land of culture change and build brand into “identity myth”, which I won’t illustrate further, else the article is too long.

Questions thus far to this book is:

  1. Culture, Society undergo changes all the time, and thus the anxieties also changes. We have less

    war worries today yet more concerns about  Trump’s random twitter…How brand can still ride on the undercurrent, keep evolving together with the society, yet maintain a consistent brand image across time?

  2. The community now is much more diverged and fragmented than ever was. Anxieties exist everywhere still, but do they still “collective”? Will such strategy lose the scalability of reach and thus effectiveness and efficiency diluted a lot? (with this being said, traditional marketing strategies haven’t proved to be anything better.)

  3. Iconic brands, being called iconic, is partly because the huge awareness and distinct identity and personality is consistent across markets. MJ is called King of Pop in all countries. A Coca Cola usually is red color and be associated with happy, refreshment etc, across different markets. How iconic brand enable the cultural commonality and the diversity, led by geography, at the same time?

    This links to the FT article above mentioned now..

    MNCs like Nestle, Pepsi introduced like 16 different “cluster markets” to cater to local consumer’s needs. It is practical strategy. In such cases, will a common “identity myths” still work or should exist?

    A stand alone question related to the FT article only is that, we said localisation for ages, why only in recent years, it starts to be a fashion?  What are the triggers behind?

Unfortunately, I don’t have answers. All in all, the regime of marketing is borderless and we say it is ART for a reason–you can explain anything in any way and you can’t explain anything…

It is a Schrodinger’s cat…



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Are we celebrating the same CNY?

Now we are into the Chinese New Year season with a lot of celebration, family gathering and entertaining happening almost every minute, even in the far far away island of Australia. 😛

Being a marketer from an Asian background, I felt nearly flattered while noticed so many brands launched their CNY theme editions to cater to the market and special festival season. It is rather facilitating to see how the Asian tradition is infused into the creation of those “limited editions” of western brands. It is truly encouraging to see an increasing number of brands start to invest to understand local culture and try to stay close to the local market.

I would like to offer my personal opinions on them, as a marketer who, fairly to say, understand bit cultures from east and west.  To fully examine the cultural challenge behind, my preliminary focus, the examples I shared here, will be western brands.

To start, though the enthusiasm of embracing local culture to stay relevant to the market and consumer, unfortunately, the majority of them, in fact, haven’t done a job that is good enough, when takes into consideration into their global reputation and rich resources available.

  1. Overly simple or too “light” on CNY

It is not to say CNY has to be complex or overly rich. But the same as the case in Xmas in western culture, in which season the whole family won’t celebrate the Xmas Eve with only one dish of salad, it is inappropriate to only get one design element to cover the theme. It is too shabby.

There are many elements or symbols that could be used for this festival season, such as lanterns, firework, flower, red packets, images of the zodiac animals…each symbol stands for certain wishful thinkings or implications like flowers for prosperity, bamboo for promotion etc. It shouldn’t be a challenge at all.

Look at this,

Image result for Chinese new year

and this

Image result for 狗年 春晚

However, some brands think differently.

Below an example from Lancome. It is not a very bad design but the expectation is higher than what we see here. The red color is on the theme, yet only one very abstract dog image as the key visual. Subtle… Have to say, it is quite an easy money for the designer: P

Related image

And Lancome is not alone, Armani

Image result for armani 狗年

Similarly for LV, it is rather a “dog” version instead of a “CNY” version.

Image result for LV 狗年限量版

There may be some “excuses” for above designs, simplicity is beauty, not overtone the brand cue, bla bla….

Below one, even as cheeky a market as Mark Yan,  which is me, can’t figure out a single reason why design in that way…

Here you go, the legendary red packets from Dior, on which incorporate a Simple Chinese Character ‘狗’, meaning “dog”. I was rather shocked by the “disruptiveness” then. I was thinking it must be a joke…


Besides the “simplicity”, this one also has a second issue, which sometimes can be fatal…

2.  Wrong code or mis use of the code

“狗” in itself is not an issue, but it is not supposed to use alone under such occasion. To hand out the red packets like that is like to call the receiver “dog”, which, in oriental culture, is not a nice thing. Indeed very offensive…

Below Addidas Originals shoes used too much white color which is not a “common” practice, to say the least, in CNY, and the double happiness symbol, the round shape icon on the back side, is actually exclusively used in weddings.

Image result for adidas originals shoes 囍

Well, share a joke here. I remembered once upon a time, my agency proposed to have a team of girls, each holding a white color lantern, to navigate the whole team of my employment company to the annual conference venue. The conference was held in CNY time and the agency believed such color will be very “eye-catching to the public”, “elegant”,  “premium/luxury” with the highlight was the lantern to “tie nicely into the festival season”…  I said to agency “I didn’t plan to die, but to use your idea, you have to kill me”. –Funerals are the only occasion white color lanterns to be used!

3.  Impair brand aesthtics and lack of integration

The design need to be celebrating, cheerful, cultural relevant and unique to the season yet also need to sit nicely with the existing brand DNA, aesthetic principles and design code. Especially for luxury brands, there should be very sophisticated and comprehensive thinkings here.

Burberry, a brand I loved so much…the classic plaid… really doubt whether the “福” FU character, meaning happiness, there fit the overall design.

The LV dog version bag above has the same issue.  Also, Gucci,

And watches probably the worst category, so many of them just get a dog onto the plate…

Join the list, Estée Lauder

Maybe the champion goes to CK. The left one is its CNY edition. You can’t be Parvenu enough. Ok, You win! It successfully exceeds my worst imagination of such!

I felt both amused and astonished while featuring above. Been amused by these rather silly designs, some really like the work from a junior designer only know basic skills of photoshop and have thoroughly no design thinking. Been astonished for the fact that such designs can be released, understanding how rich the resources those companies usually own and how complex the approval process of artwork could be in such companies.

To avoid such silly mistakes, I would suggest below:

  1. Explore deeper and wider into the culture and really understand the essence and sophistication of those traditions and its cultural context.
  2. It is a complete perception and a holistic picture, rather than individual bits and pieces.  It is not red/gold color only, it is not the zodiac animal only, it is not the Chinese characters only, although each of them forms an unmissable part of the whole setting.   It is not to simply add up, it is to integrate, harmoniously.
  3. Learn from the market and listen to the consumer. Understand what works and what not. study those best practice. Be open and be inclusive.
  4. Though festivals indeed set up the tone, don’t let the festival element override the brand DNA and design aesthetics, it will sacrifice the brand too much and risk the brand for being lost. Equally, don’t be too light for the festival theme. It is 1000 times harder to implement than to say it, but brands have to find a balanced and harmonious way.
  5. Do engage local team to have a gate keeping process to avoid stupid mistakes.

(or, you can hire me…:P)

The last part, I would like to share some great examples to feast the eyes…

Coke, actually not as good as I have wished. Quite safe designs, somewhat plain, not eye-catching enough. I also challenge the visibility of brand logo.

Image result for 可口可乐 狗 新年限量版

Pepsi focus on dog with the play. Modern and vibrant. With a disadvantaged base color of blue,  actually did a good job. Image result for 百事 狗 新年限量版

Below is for HK market, my favourate among the 3. Image result for 可口可乐 狗 新年限量版

Suntory beer, Japan market, very good design.  Image result for 狗年 限量版

Australia market, Penfolds immediately jump into my mind. Around 2 years ago(?) they introduced the CNY limited edition, and used red color soft wrapping tissues, very on theme. This year’s version is also great example!

Image result for penfolds chinese new year

Image result for penfolds chinese new year

Believe such success of Penfolds being jealous by a lot, such as Wolf Blass, who has an idea this year. Good usage of golden color cue. Wolf Blass纷赋酒庄推出狗年限量版新春酒款

Chobani Yogurt launched a “Mandarin” version. I love the wit… Design is ok being first time into this.


Image result for chobani chinese new yearImage result for chobani chinese new year

****************Special attention pls*********************

As you know I always save the best for the last, so allow me a little bit selfishness to save this special spot to my favorite Hennessy.

Here to feature the limited edition for China market…very celebrating color red making it a great gifting option. (btw, they should also launch a CNY version of Hennessy Classivm)

I believed AUS has below item, celebrating Hennessy VSOP’s 200 years anniversary, on market now, stunning!!!

Image result for HEnnessy vsop limited edition 2018

The CNY theme poster and instore visibility, created by Chinese artist Shan Jiang, whose visual creation perfectly portrays the spirits of Hennessy and captures the excitement and emotion of the Chines New Year. The piece includes various auspicious symbols such as sailboat, dog, Goddess, peony, wishing lanterns, firework, cloud and more.

Thank you for the reading. I hope you enjoy it. Should you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to reach me or leave your comments.

Here I wish you a happy Chinese New Year (Gong Xi Fa Cai)


Note: Images are from internet. Please let me know should there be right issue.


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Cultural impact to business model  

I recently came across a case in real life which inspired me to think a lot about how culture impact business model.

I had been with vodafone for nearly 7 years now, initially started with Three, then as VDFN phased out brand “Three” after the merger, became a vodafone customer.

As for me, there has been a clear change over of culture of the enterprises involved and quite deep change happened along the journey.

While i was with Three, it assembled a typical western style of management philosophy. Customer, for most, is the most critical part, thus the business should organise all resources to ensure best customer experience achieved. It was during that period, when you  approach them, you can, most likely, gain a very satisfying resolution. you can sense that they were trying everything to retain every customer, big or small. The greeting has been warm, the processing speed has been great and most importantly, efficient. The team were well trained that can answer your question in a professional way. I can’t recall a single complaint.

Things changed, gradually, yet quite clear, after the 2 companies formed 1 organisation and the Asian backgrounded CK Hutchison holding took the realm. You found more price deals, which in itself not necessarily a bad thing. All in all, who will mind to pay less for more? But at a cost of client service… You will find they are lack of investment into system and organisation capability. You will find it indeed increased the complexity of operation flow and thus in the end jeopardized customer experience.

A most ridiculous case happened recently when i tried to buy an iphone. As i didn’t need the iphon x, being “old fashioned”.I booked an iphone 7 from their shop. I understood that Apple was phasing out such model so it will be 4 wks later that i can receive the phone. It’s fine, i can wait. Yet after 6 wks, it’s still nowhere. I won’t tell you how many calls, complains, visits to shop happened after wk 4 when i realised the phone hadn’t hit me. But through multi dialogue, i found below astonishing facts:

  1. there are vodafone shops under direct management and there are franchising shops, with exactly the same branding. But they had different info as for one same matter. This is bad enough! There has been no single source of truth. In my case, the franchising shop gave green light for my purchase without even a slightest remind of the risk of being late. (well, i should understand this, it is their own business). The direct management shop tried to prevent me from buying and they obviously were in the “better” known that the committed 4 wks won’t be fulfilled.
  2.  The hotline has no info as well for the supply chain and time line to customer. They knew one shop committed with me a time line, they didn’t know if it could be achieved. Because they had no visibility for the “realistic delivery time frame”. They only saw “Planned” time. How bad!
  3. The cancellation part is the most ridiculous part. It is quite a regular practice to set high barrier to prevent customer losing. But to a level of VDFN, I was amazed! You need to call a different hotline, being questioned by millions of “why”, being explained and lobbied by millions of “you will receive soon..”, only after you firmly firmly said “no”, you can enter into the path of cancellation.  Oh, you have to wait because the hotline guys were not in Australia and the issue can only be addressed when AUS team started to work in the morning.  (Question here is, if you call in morning, you will never connect through, or have to wait extra long, i mean, really really loooooooooooong)

Indeed i finally returned the phone and cancelled the plan, but there were so many moments i wanted thoroughly disconnected with VDFN.

In my humble opinion, they seemed to trim nearly everything to get a good operation efficiency thus to keep an advantage in pricing. (which, i can understand where it is from, yet not fully align to). Such is a very typical Asian way of working.

It is true that part of the success of the Asian background enterprises related to the price advantage strategy. All in all, in most markets, the price curve defined that the cheaper, the bigger scale of business. Asians have an advantage. They are hardworking and calculated. When they leverage such into the business, it is not a surprise to see a lot of them are working toward the left side of the price curve.

This can work as long as it won’t lead to negative customer experience. And i believe that we are in a time that customers are expecting “next level” of satisfaction, which means that what was regarded as a qualified service, nowadays, may not be seen in the same way.  Packaging is the most obviously evolution from such consumer mindset change. If you check the house brand of Woolworth or Coles, 5 years ago compared to now, you jaw won’t be closed. The traditional plain design, simple color, big brand logo style is replaced by modernised, fashionable and premium design.

There is a boundary to define how much cost you can cut (and whether you should cut). There is also another territories that can delivery better profitability for business owners. I truly encourage Asian entrepreneurs to step out of their comfortable zone and adopt new thinking:

–Must i pursue large scale with low profitability?

–Are there segment markets enable higher margin, which could be leveraging the strength of my business?

–Does my business adjust quickly enough to take advantage of the “profit” opportunities in the market.

–What kind of relationship my business is to build with the customer and how steady we want that to be?

–And to achieve that, how our internal and external resources and capability should be channeled and geared.

It is not easy, but it is not a dead end.






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Breakage time

Such a bad time for the past 4 week. Heard  6 different marriages ended up with broken families. All sort of reasons, all sorts of situations. however, why so fragile the relationship?

Looking around, except the neighbourhood grandpa and grandma, i can hardly find any marriage with a decency and quality. either already divorced, or at the edge of so, across cultures. In some unfortunate cases, the couples obviously experienced pains and rains together after a rather long length, however the relationship dissolved, mercifully.

What the hell is happening!.

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2 years since last update. nearly forgot the password etc…………………………….

quite interesting journey for the past 2 years, a lot insight, learning and inspirations.

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kick off the day with the XX intro

kick off the day with the XX intro

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What will your verse be?

Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys, Make your lives extraordinary.

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