While Thailand’s alcohol advertisers are sweeping up awards, the Cambodian industry seems content to be in a creative funk
By Sacha Passi
Acting as decoration for beer halls across Cambodia, beer banners are often the only splash of colour on the walls of the country’s ubiquitous drinking dens. Simple in design and message, the strong nationalistic tones of these homegrown advertisements contrast with global advertising campaigns for beer, which frequently lean on humour to show consumer satisfaction.
Surprisingly despite having some of the most lax advertising regulations in the region, Cambodian beer advertisements do not draw on the creative licence at their disposal.
In late 2011, Khmer Brewery and its flagship brand Cambodia Beer made an impressive entry into the Kingdom. Armed with a capital investment of $60m, the market was quickly awash with the beer’s red and white branding as the company aggressively established its place in bars and shops across the country, where alcohol consumption has steadily increased over the past 15 years by an estimated 64%.
Yet, rather than taking advantage of the loose advertising laws – that should see creativity flourish – to distinguish the brand from its competition, Cambodia Beer capitalised on the success of Angkor Beer’s ‘national beer’ model, which is rooted in Angkor’s slogan, ‘My Country, My Beer’.
Nationalism and social status are the two themes that dominate Cambodia’s alcohol advertising industry, says Joef Pena, managing director of Maxxcomm, a Cambodia-based advertising agency that represents Heineken.
“I have observed behaviours of beer companies that are clearly reactionary to another brand’s advertising,” said Pena. “The advertising of alcohol in Cambodia is following a certain norm, in that it is rare that you will see a campaign that stands out from the rest. In the future, I hope we will be able to take more risks.”
Currently, advertisers don’t stray too far from the knowledge of the audience, and until the market becomes more receptive to subtle messaging, adverts are likely to remain tame and literal. A push for the conceptual is the next step.
“I would like to see that, at some point in time, the market will be ready for a different approach to advertising alcohol that delivers results in terms of brand awareness, likeability and preference – rather than just sales,” said Pena.
With almost no guidelines to follow, but many ‘unspoken’ principles to adhere to, the onus is on the advertisers to get it right.
“While there are no formal restrictions, you need to be in a country for some time to know what will and won’t work,” said Pena. “If an advert is too sexually overt, for example, it could be very sensitive to the conservative part of the population, especially with billboard advertisements. It’s hard to define where that cut-off point is, though.”
The sector received a jolt in 2011, when the Phnom Penh Municipality banned alcohol advertisements on billboards – then the second-most popular medium for advertising – in an effort to stem drink driving in the capital. The restriction didn’t last long, however. Two weeks later, billboards were back on the agenda following an interjection from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who suggested advertisers find a middle ground by including the message ‘don’t drink and drive’ or ‘drink responsibly’ in their artwork.
Cambodian advertisers have complied with the regulations, but have yet to produce anything like the creative pieces coming out of Thailand.
Unlike Cambodia, Thailand has strict alcohol advertising laws. Ads that induce consumption are banned and ads cannot run a tagline or show a shot of a pack of beer. Brand logos can occupy only 3% to 5% of total ad space or air time and must include a warning that comprises 20% of total ad space.
Yet Thailand’s creatives have shown that restriction breeds creativity. Leo Burnett Bangkok, the Thailand branch of the global advertising agency, recently produced images for a ‘don’t drink and drive’ campaign that is turning heads. Simple and stylish, the images depict a person drinking from a glass or bottle with a car exploding out of the back of their heads. The message is clear.
In a market where you can’t directly advertise beer, JWT Bangkok did well to scoop bronze at the Festival of Asian Marketing Effectiveness 2013 for its ‘50 must-do things in Asia’ campaign. The promotion used a guidebook and app to incorporate Tiger Beer as an integral part of a traveller’s journey throughout Thailand. It was a novel approach that targeted a market largely missed by traditional forms of media and skirted around strict advertising laws that state adverts cannot boast the social benefits of drinking alcohol.
“The authorities also provide a reward to anyone that reports a violation of the advertising act,” said Kesara Summacarava, a senior associate in Bangkok with global law firm Mayer Brown.
With fines of up to $16,500 per offence and the possibility of a one-year jail term, strict advertising laws are forcing advertisers of alcohol in Thailand to think outside the box.
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