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Fanning the cultural campfire moments

Eunice Tan
Managing Partner
The Secret Little Agency


Eunice Tan, Managing Partner of The Secret Little Agency which has offices across Asia, talks to Hall & Partners about how she helps clients embed themselves in local culture

How would you advise brands looking to enter and grow in Asia?

Empathy is key. It’s not enough to understand what motivates people to buy something; you need to understand the way they live, so you can embed yourself in their lives. We work a lot with digital service providers and, in general, they’re finding that the conventional purchase funnel is broken and needs reinvention. So, we first need to understand the utility and relevance that this brand or service brings to consumers in that market. Then it’s our job to translate this utility into brand values that can be ‘loved’ and ‘shared’. These are the fundamental building blocks we always start with to help clients understand and successfully enter a new market, whether it’s the Philippines, Bangladesh or Singapore.

What role does social media play for brands today?

TSLA has never seen ‘social’ as a separate discipline – it’s central to the way we work. We don’t put data or analytics on a pedestal. It informs our thinking but metrics such as word-of-mouth, shares, reviews or recommendations are less interesting to us. What we want to know is: What are the things people want to share on social media? These are what we call ‘campfire moments’ – the everyday conversations people have with different groups about shared subject matter.

What's an example of a campfire moment?

‘Salted egg yolk on everything’ is a big food trend in Asia right now and a great example of a campfire moment we currently share. As a strategist, I’d love to know how the ‘salted egg yolk’ conversation started and understand why people are exchanging notes on it. The best brands understand how these campfire moments come about, and how to be present with the consumer in a real and meaningful way.

How should clients go about identifying and inserting themselves into these campfire moments?

We must understand that different Asian markets congregate naturally, so the curse is to adopt a homogenised or flat-line view that isn’t particularly exciting. You have to go out and find people, not from the industry, who have strong passion points about culture in their country, be it music, fashion or street food (bonus points if they write well!). They needn’t be ‘cultural pushers’ but they do have to be passionate, even obsessed, with a particular topic. Then you get great local content and ideas because they bring along a refreshing point-of-view with real insight into what’s happening in the zeitgeist. Most clients don’t approach it this way; they still commission cookie-cutter research, talk to advertisers and read white papers. You can’t sit in an ivory tower and do adaptation anymore; you need to break the old ways of thinking and working. Otherwise you either miss key campfire moments, or you insert yourself in a moment that may not actually be a good fit for your brand and risk coming across as superficial.

How could the idea of a campfire moment help brands bridge both Asia and the West?

Think of Tiger beer which is consumed very differently in Asia and Europe. The red thread (or campfire moment) linking the two is ‘street food’. While street food is deemed as trendy in the West, in Asia it’s seen as an ‘everyman’ habit. So when we look at all the characteristics, street food seems like a natural fit for Tiger. It would allow us to play up the spirit of hawker pride, provenance and an equalising quality in Asia, and the associations of authentic and fashionable in the West.

Eunice highlights three golden rules for brands when tapping into the cultural habits of Asian markets:
Be unafraid to break your own moulds and ways of working

This is especially hard for MNCs with ingrained operational models, but you may be surprised by what you find when you focus on value instead of methodology.

Be generous with your time as a brand guardian

Understanding a different market and culture requires much time and effort, especially when you have to go out and speak to real people as opposed to simply reading Euro monitor data. But it will help you immensely.

Be empathetic and immerse yourself in a new culture or market

Identify campfire moments to help you understand ‘what works’, then seek to connect this with your product truth.