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Myanmar: Adland’s Newest Opportunity?

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JWT on why brands need to leverage local insight and make a difference to succeed in Myanmar

Myanmar: Adland’s Newest Opportunity?

Myanmar’s newly-opened and developing market poses great opportunities and challenges for brands trying to communicate with the country’s emerging consumers, said JWT Southeast Asia CEO Bob Hekkelman at the Spikes Asia Festival this week.

“You really, really need to be willing to be go back to square one,” said Hekkelman.  “And you need to be in it for the long run and be prepared to learn and collaborate with local communities and people.  There are no short term gains in Myanmar.”

Companies across Asia and the world have started to eye up Myanmar since sanctions began to ease.  As the economy continues to open up, the country’s 60million emerging consumers are going to start buying new types of soap and shower gels for their bathroom, new detergent and hair care brands, and they’ll want to try out new kinds of food, snacks and soft drinks that will be available for the first time.  Later, they’ll buy their first washing machine, and maybe somewhere down the road, their first car.   

But brands will have to develop marketing campaigns that are unique to this country, said Hekkelman, who, together with Rose Aye Hnin Swe and Lynn Lynn Tin Htun, the cofounders of Yangon-based Mango Marketing, spoke on challenges advertisers face in Myanmar at the Spikes Asia Festival, Asia’s largest ad industry conference, in Singapore on Sunday. JWT signed an affiliation deal with Mango Marketing in April. 

“Myanmar people don’t want to be the next modern Asian tiger market. They have developed for the past 50 years in a very closeted environment and are proud of their uniqueness,” said Htun, who is Managing Director of Mango Marketing.  Brands that, for instance, play a role in supporting or preserving the family meal time or develop hotels and apartment blocks that respect the country’s traditions, will succeed.

Tone is also key. One prominent characteristic of Myanmar culture is that people tend to evade confrontation, which often results in the failure of brash western brands with messages that focus on or evoke competition.  That kind of messaging just doesn’t resonate in the local culture.  Years of propaganda, meanwhile, have conditioned the Myanmar people to believe messages in an environment without counter claims. Brands with strong messages are often believed without question, but people easily swap when presented with a new brand. “This is why it is so important to create a territory that a brand can own and can’t be replaced by the next transient claim,” said Htun.  

Advertising must leverage local insights; Western brands that run global campaigns in the Myanmar market often find their message fails to connect. “Myanmar people are deeply spiritual,” said Htun, citing the Myanmar custom of shampooing one’s hair on certain auspicious days. “There are lucky colours, spiritual colours and colours that host many other meanings.” It is crucial for brands to navigate this matrix of beliefs as they strive to launch in this market. 

Swe, who is Managing Director of Mango Media, showed a short video she recently made of a day in the life of a typical consumer, shopping at a wet market, passing billboards, doing her afternoon chores and watching one of the country’s brand new TV channels with family. 


“This is how the vast majority of Myanmar people live. A consumer’s interaction with brands is at a wet market, where choice is shaped by influential stall sellers and the gossip with neighbours,” said Swe. “Brands need to learn to dominate here. As you saw, our subject is very interested in trying new products, especially with an increasing number of new products entering her country. We have a real opportunity for trial.

According to Htun, the challenge for some global brands is to step out of a time warp. Many international companies distributed freely in Myanmar before sanctions were imposed. Post sanctions these products continued to find their way into the country despite halted communications. “These brands still have the same branding they had fifty years ago because the product has been here in a vacuum with no communications attached to it,” she explained.  These legacy brands have to now work hard to update their look and positioning, as new brands continue to flood into Myanmar.

Brands entering this frontier market have an opportunity to connect with a large, new group of consumers – but more importantly, they have an opportunity to make a difference, added Hekkelman.

Vodafone Egypt, for example, recently created a product called “Fakka”, or small change, which positioned micro-recharge top-cards, worth a few cents each, as small change in stores. Shopkeepers in many developing markets often give small items, like a pen or some onions, to customers instead of change – which consumers aren’t always happy about.  Vodafone even designed the cards so they fit in the cash register’s compartment where change is normally kept. The campaign, which was created by JWT, not only raised Vodafone’s profile and got people using their products, but solved a problem for shopkeepers and consumers.

“Brands, and agencies, need to come up with ideas that don’t just educate Myanmar’s consumer about products, but deliver a real difference to their lives.  That’s what will matter in this market,” said Hekkelman.

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Wunderman Thompson APAC, Tue, 17 Sep 2013 14:58:39 GMT