BBDO: Stop using Western ideas to market to Asians

BBDO's Tsang (left) and Lopez-Vito.
BBDO's Tsang (left) and Lopez-Vito.

At Singapore creativity festival, agency executives point out positions of marketing strength

SINGAPORE — What Asians regard as "aspirational" is unique and rooted in the region's culture, proposed BBDO's Beijing CCO Arthur Tsang and Greater China CSO Hans Lopez-Vito on the first day of the Spikes Asia Festival of Creativity here.

Western ideals, which are rooted in ancient Greek philosophy, are often diametrically opposed to Asian ideals, which are based on the teachings of Confucius, said Lopez-Vito. These differences include:

  • Happiness: In ancient Greece, happiness comprised the freedom to do what you want. For the Chinese, happiness is defined by harmony — to coexist and not disrupt the system.
  • Nationalism: The borders of Europe often led to greater independent thought and traditions (and also lots of Hellenic wars). China, however, has no strict geographic border, and to be Chinese is often referred to more as a cultural identity rather than a national identity.
  • Starch: Rice can't be grown by an individual; it requires a whole community. So in Asia, the way you're regarded by other people in the village becomes a matter of survival. If you cooperate, you eat.
  • Goodness: In the West, people avoid wrongdoing because of feelings guilt. In Asia, individuals are more influenced by social shame. 

These factors, Lopez-Vito said, have culturally disposed Asians to deeply about how their social networks regard them. "It nags them more than it does Westerners," he said.

But because Asians are more likely to trade up due to culture than pure economics, aspirational branding is also more likely to be effective, Tsang said. But what do Asians regard as aspirational?

1. Filial dependability. Filial piety, said Tsang, is central to tenets of Confucius. "Aspiration can be created by playing up responsibility as a badge of honor." The son who saves up to buy his mother a washing machine is a paragon of filial duty.

"In the Philippines and Indonesia, people who send money home to their families are regarded as national heroes," said Lopez-Vito. "And in China, this is true for 380 million migrant workers who send money back home."


2. Material wealth. If you value harmony, you need prosperity, Tsang said. Confucianism, he said, has been named the "religion of practicality." So, symbols of abundance are popular throughout Asia. "Asia knows how to do bling like no one else," he said.


3. Social distance. The love of bling among Asia's new rich has however resulted in a backlash among younger Asians, pointed out Tsang. Chinese netizens now use the term "tuhao" to describe people who are very rich but have no taste. 


"Asians are more accepting of 'power distance' — the gap that sets the powerful apart," Hans-Lopez said. A Visa campaign that plays off this concept, sought to differentiate new sophisticated Chinese tourists from the hated stereotype

3. Admirable rebellion. While individualism is traditionally frowned upon for disrupting harmony, social media has created the ability to rebel "harmoniously." Tsang cited BBDO Guerrero's campaign for Reporters Without Borders as an example.

This article first appeared on


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