"Is the marketing communications industry regressing?" - John D Chacko - The Coverage
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“Is the marketing communications industry regressing?” – John D Chacko

Try eavesdropping on conversations in the marketing circles. Chances you will hear catchphrases such as ‘pulse of the target audience’ and ‘heartbeat of the consumer’ being bandied around. More often than not, these soundbites and the encapsulation of these phrases are derived at without proper understanding arising from a lack of analytical insight.

In the age of digital advocacy, everyone heralds himself or herself an expert. This makes it all the more pertinent, that, when an industry professional provides an opinion or makes a statement or enters the domain of keyboard warriors, what comes out in the open must be thoughtful and must have substance, as, in all probability, it will be shared and commented upon.

A case in point is the recent snafu by Watsons in their ‘Legenda Cun Raya’ video aka ‘the blackface ad’. Kudos to Watsons for taking down this video after a huge backlash over, to put it mildly, its insensitiveness. Though the initial response of Watsons was to defend the video by explaining the creative rationale and message behind the video, in the end, Watsons did issue an apology.

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Caryn Loh, General Manager and Country Head of Watsons Malaysia, said, though the intention was to convey the concepts of inner and outer beauty, the video had instead offended many.

“We deeply and sincerely apologise for our recent ‘Legenda Cun Raya’ video which was released on social media in Malaysia. The 15-minute video was inspired by the Malay legend, Dayang Senandong, made popular in the 1965 movie ‘Dayang Senandong’, she stated.

Loh continued, “Regretfully, we acknowledge that the ‘Legenda Cun Raya’ video is not in line with the values that we hold dearly in Malaysia.”

“Following the feedback from the general public, Watsons has immediately removed the video and we appreciate your honest feedback especially leading into an important celebration like Hari Raya,” said Loh. Did Watsons have their finger on the ‘pulse of the target audience’ or ‘heart of the consumer’? And by ‘consumer’, I certainly am not referring to a textbook definition of just their existing customers, but to all and sundry by virtue of the video being meant for public consumption.

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The attention span of today’s consumer is short, so much so, that, if you get a consumer’s view for 120 seconds, that is a call for celebration. Yet, Watsons produced a 15-minute video for Hari Raya.

From my engagement with professionals in the marketing and communications industry, aside from annoyance, they just skipped and stopped at various points as they simply had zero patience to wait for the complete ‘intended message’. The end takes, to them, is ‘a girl with a black face rejected by a wealthy man in search of a partner, on the premise she has a black face’.

The idea of a girl with a black face being rejected and then being accepted because she returned with a fair face, is repulsive to the consumer at many levels. It showed a very elementary understanding of creative strategy and a very politically incorrect dramatisation, that, without a doubt, in this day and age, most consumers would reject.

“Hello…are you insulting my intelligence? ” would have been the thought running through the consumer’s mind on watching the video.

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So, what about brand Watsons? What does this brand stand for and what does the brand owner want it to stand for? Remember, branding is the art and science of aligning what you want people to think of your brand and what they actually think of your brand.

Did this creative strategy and execution by Watsons create convergence or divergence with the brand promise? What was the creative brief? Who reviewed the strategy, the idea, the script and the final cut and approved it for airing?

Were those involved, from client to agency to production house to director and everyone else in between, in sync with the ‘pulse of the Malaysian target audience’ and ‘heart of the Malaysian consumer’?

Or was it another basic dramatisation in the hands of tactical storytellers without consumer insight? We need to progress, not regress, in everything we do in our marketing and communications scope, no matter what our product or service.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John D Chacko

    June 23, 2017 at 12:16

    Last night I was asked “why didn’t you write about this earlier”?. I am not in the business of racing to be first to comment and neither am in the business of commenting on creative work. But when I see complete lack of insight and strategy, I have to state my views regardless of time.

    Let this be a learning case study for all clients especially to young professionals in the marketing communications industry. Don’t compromise the fundamental human truths in the race to produce drama that is divergent from your brand promise and values.

    As President of the International Advertising Association, it incumbent on me and my ExCo to voice our concerns when we see deteriotating quality of thinking and production in marketing communications.

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