Content marketing on the rise in Asia Pacific

Red Bull's adrenaline-pumping initiatives have set a high bar for content marketing
Red Bull's adrenaline-pumping initiatives have set a high bar for content marketing

It's taken a while for the region to catch up to the US and Europe, but brands and agencies are demonstrating the value of branded content to their regional clients

Asian content marketing is still in its early stages, particularly compared to the US and Europe, but it is maturing at a steady pace. According to industry estimates, it is growing at 5% to 10% annually. 

As a result, brands and agencies in the region have recently been making moves to ramp up their content-marketing capabilities. Companies have launched dedicated content-marketing hubs and teams, and hired expert strategists; meanwhile, agency networks have set up specialist divisions to satisfy client needs. 

In June, JWT and Group SJR, a division of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, announced the launch of Australian content-marketing agency Colloquial. Colloquial already has staff and projects based in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. 

"Over the next 12 to 24 months, many brands will start investing heavily in content-strategy," said Zeina Khodr, Colloquial general manager. "Brands will start to see there is more value in owning your media property and developing an audience you have control over rather than building content on someone else’s land."

Just a few months earlier, Carat Asia-Pacific appointed Adam Bow as regional director of content and digital, based on the agency’s belief that an increasing number of marketers are looking for strong content to support their media strategies. Bow believes there’s a "larger opportunity here for success" in Asia than in the more mature content-marketing countries of the US and Europe. He warns Asian brands to avoid "copying the US and Europe models."

Brands are getting serious about this form of marketing; it is now commanding a greater slice of the marketing mix and therefore a larger slice of marketing budgets. Phil Townend, managing director of Asia-Pacific at Unruly, said branded video content — a major component of content-marketing for many brands — has almost doubled from around 20,000 branded videos to over 35,000 branded videos over the past year across Southeast Asia in particular. "It is quite difficult to surmise exactly how much brands are investing," Townend said, "but we would assume 100%-plus growth in content marketing with the data we are privy to."

According to Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, the average business in Asia spends about 25% of its marketing budget on content-marketing creation and distribution. Pulizzi believes that within the next decade, half the average marketing spend will be channeled into content-marketing.

In Asia, the big challenge, however, is keeping up with global companies. Content marketing’s poster child, Red Bull, has created an entire business unit around it. Hot tech company Hubspot has grown its whole model off the back of building an audience first, and the same goes for Copyblogger Media and Goop. 

Figures show CPG brands are leading the way in terms of investment in content marketing, with consumer tech and automotive clients getting more involved as well. There’s also interest from travel and government messaging — understandable as content is "a great way to impact perceptions and behaviors," according to Unruly’s Townend. 

This growth stems from brands’ realization that there is great value in developing original and authentic content and in behaving like media companies.

At this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity,  the region picked up two Golds for Branded Content & Entertainment — including one for NTT DoCoMo’s "Three-second cooking" online videos

Tetsushi Kawachi, creative director at Tokyu Agency, said the concept had been to create a high-speed Rube Goldberg machine that would draw attention to the two fastest "lanes" in DoCoMo’s LTE service. "One of the things we should do more of is collaborating with clients to create products, or things that are not advertising. Of course, advertising will still be around but this is the direction I would like things to go in."

In Vietnam, Comfort has also been experimenting with a content-driven, interactive campaign using live-streaming, commenting and user involvement. Featuring parents and babies, it brings to life the fact that babies prefer soft things — a noticeable shift from the traditional hard-sell of "buy Comfort, it makes your clothes soft."

"[Don’t expect] all brands will become media powerhouses," Colloquial's Khodr said. "However, authentic and original content will be used in ways to develop bigger, longer and more nuanced experiences."

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