Interview: Tom Doctoroff, JWT, North Asia Area Director, Greater China CEO

“Brand friendliness in India is more than in North Asia,” said Doctoroff in an exclusive conversation with

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | November 8, 2011

In New Delhi recently to moderate a session on Asian creative at AdAsia 2011, Tom Doctoroff, JWT, North Asia Area Director, was very excited to be travelling to India. He had also been around for the Goa Fest and quite happy with the way his session went.

In an exclusive conversation with the Best Media Info team, Doctoroff talked about how the North Asia market was different from the Indian market and how brands should use digital and social media. Excerpts:

It’s a usual trend to group developing countries in one bracket, but do you feel the North Asian and South Asian markets are very different?

I think the environment in the two regions is very different. If you consider North Asia, then countries like China and Japan or any other have a very different cultural equation than in India. Also, they are in a very different economic category in terms of strength. As a result, we have to reassure clients in North Asia that brand building is a worthy investment. However, in India, it is pretty much understood. Brand friendliness in India is more than in North Asia. On the other hand, the infrastructure readiness of North Asia is very far ahead of India. So, the world of   brands, the size of the brands and the scale of brands is larger in North Asia than in this part of the world. Each of the geographies has its own strengths and weaknesses.

China is known to be a very controlled economy and there are many checks and balances even for the media. Does that make your job a little more difficult?

Not really, because advertising is not a strategic area of development. If we were an oil developer, then things would have been different, and we would have a very different story to tell. But advertising is relatively free of such constraints. Where it does become a little bit difficult is in two areas. One is the high price of media, which is largely due to consolidation of selling. The second has to do with the censorship but that is not that big a challenge because China is largely a very conservative society, so if there’s anything that offends the Chinese, it will not go down well with the government as well.

Marketers generally want their brands to be built from scratch overnight, so how does that impact your business and how do you go about communicating the right approach in this regard?

Well, that is actually a challenge because brands can’t be made in a night. Brands by definition are long term and the key thing is that brands are not just about CSR programmes or TV commercials. Brands need consistency both in terms of investments and value-adds and a marketing driven structure. So, where you have a sales driven structure, where the definition of brand is instant awareness, you have people constantly yelling the brand at the cost of long-term values of bonding or loyalty. So I think it is more of a need driven thing but an instant brand is obviously a non-starter. We have to go beyond those headlining and go for companies which are evolving their structure to facilitate short-term sales pressure and long-term equity drives.

The focus these days has shifted to engagement. So, how is JWT in North Asia partnering with clients on this front?

First of all, engagement is not just digital. There are two basic philosophies of engagement.  One is definitely digital and that has been awkward because we have spent the last few years trying to figure out what should be the best package. And we have come out with a conclusion that brand engagement capabilities should come from inside the agency. Other capabilities such as technological capabilities or CRM, for example, need to done separately. Some of these can also be done in affiliation with agencies and we are following this example in some places. But our desire inside the agency is to have the digital confidence in terms of communication learning, in terms of technology understanding, in terms of project management, and also have all our creative people and account people embrace digital.

The other big area is in-store because in emerging markets there are more people who are new consumers and they want more reassurance and experience with the brand at the point of purchase. We have invested heavily in what we call field marketing. We have put products in the hands of the customer and our target over time is to develop these field marketing networks into smart networks, which would make these arms and legs have a head.

Talking about digital, a lot of companies now demand digital because it’s a trend and because they want to have it in their 360-degree plan but do not have a clear strategy on how best to use digital. As a result, they end up putting their TVC on websites or something similar. So, as an agency, how can you help brands in making meaningful conversations and make full use of the digital medium?

By making sure everything is campaign driven and by helping figure out at what point of purchase is the decision relevant. I consider any digital idea which is not linked to the overall brand idea or campaign idea to be a waste. We are brand idea builders and digital comes into that.

How is the use of social media different and how do you advice your clients to deploy the same?

Social media is absolutely fundamental in any emerging market because word of mouth on Internet is very important. Another answer to that is having opinion leaders, and also the creation of content for the opinion leaders to disseminate.  But opinion leaders can’t be responsible for everything, there has to be a lot of screening. We have just acquired a social media company that specialises in relationships with opinion leaders and content creation. But the content creation must gel with the overall brand idea.


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