An Evolution Under Way in Cambodian Advertising

Increased competition is leading to greater sophistication in marketing and ad design

To some Cambodian business owners, branding and clever ads may be perceived as a waste of money, but advertising agencies say an increasingly competitive market and the need for businesses to differentiate themselves is leading to growth in the ad industry, even amid the economic crisis.

There are about 10 advertising firms in Cambodia, double the number of a just a few years ago, and more and more businesses are ceasing to produce their own ad­vertisements and are now seeking the help of professionals to create new slogans, jingles and ad campaigns, agencies say.

“The value of a widely recognized strong brand is only coming into the country in the last few years,” said Joanne Clifford, creative director for the Cambodian-owned Cade advertising firm.

“There was really a reluctance to spend any money on ads, but some people are seeing that their competitors are doing it and they have to do it too,” she said.

Five years ago, many Cambod­ian-made television ads involved subtitles, voiceovers and photos zooming around the screen, but now, some Cambodian-made ads have live action shots and slogans, she said.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done, she said.

“From our point of view, the biggest challenge we have are businesses not understanding what they are paying for,” she said.

Some businesses still create ads in-house, often leading to cluttered designs full of text that are far too busy to be informative, she said, adding that some business don’t realize the difference between being able to use design computer programs and designing quality ads.

“Too many type faces, too many colors there. Just too much in the ad,” she said. She said finding Cambodians to create ads is challenging as well, and her agency generally hires out of a vocational school in Battambang.

Marianne Waller, country director of Bates 141, an international ad agency, said businesses will have to get creative in order to compete.

“Because the market is becoming very cluttered and businesses are going to have to differentiate themselves,” she said, citing mobile phone companies as an example.

Mobile phones companies were the top five advertising spenders for the first half of this year, spending an estimated $5.1 million, according to Indochina Research, a marketing research company, which based its figures on the undiscounted ad prices. Over the same period last year, only three tele-communications companies were in the top five, spending about $3.8 million.

The speculation that some telecoms will either fold or consolidate explains the increase of advertising dollars, Ms Waller said.

But Cambodians are still learning the importance of advertising because so many grew up in a time when brands and ads were not important, she said

“I think for any market there is a learning curve,” she said.

Some of the country’s best strategic thinking in advertising is found in the public service announcements developed by NGOs, which use karaoke or story lines to get their message across, Ms Waller added.

Quite literally, signs are everywhere that the reach of advertising is increasing in the country.

In the former communist stronghold of Anlong Veng town in Oddar Meanchey, splashy billboards now advertise beer, and increasingly sophisticated electronic billboards blare slogans in Phnom Penh.

Last year under pressure from the tourism industry, the Tourism Ministry decided to hire a professional firm to create a national tourism slogan. The winning agency, based in Vietnam, created the “Kingdom of Wonder” campaign, which is now broadcast internationally. Before deciding to use professionals, the ministry had offered ideas of its own, such as the ambiguous “Cambodia: Diversity Asia” and the curiously self-deprecating “Cambodia: More Than Your Expectations.”

Chy Seila, owner of the BB World and Tea and Coffee World restaurant chains, said that as his company faces increasing competition from international chains it has embraced advertising and marketing.

“Some people think that if they have a good products and good service they can build up reputations and they think that is good enough,” he said, adding that such businesses could face problems if they don’t change their minds.

Even with the infusion of ad dollars from telecoms, some of the mobile providers have not moved beyond basic name recognition in their campaigns, said Mervyn Cheo, CEO of Phibious advertising firm.

Some ads merely show “happy Cambodians smiling, holding a phone. What’s the difference? There doesn’t seem to be much effort on the marketing side to differentiate themselves,” he said.

Some are only focusing on promotions, not building brands or using aspects of Cambodian culture to attract brand loyalty, he said.

“I think the market will be forced to try to be a lot more creative,” he said.

Syed Azmeer, chief marketing officer for Telekom Malaysia International Cambodia, which owns the Hello Point mobile phone network, said his company is trying to be creative and doesn’t show mobile phones in its ads so that it can convey a broader message of communication.

“There are nine players, so the message has to stand out,” he said, referring to the number of mobile phone service providers in Cambodia.

 

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