OCTOBER 2, 2008
(STAR) COMMONNESS By Bong R. Osorio - Three compelling forces impact and will continue to affect the way people live in Asia, according to Christopher Graves, president and CEO, Asia-Pacific, of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.

Graves, who spoke at the recently held 15th National Public Relations Congress staged by the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP) at the ballroom of Hotel Intercontinental, comes from an interesting background. He spent nearly a quarter century in media and communications, having worked in TV news (CNBC, CNN, Wall Street Journal TV), the Internet (WSJ.com and putting content onto mobile platforms), and print (managing director of the leading English business magazine in Asia) and now, public relations.

Chiefs of business, marketers and communicators, Graves emphasized, need to understand these powerful energies since they are creating new paradigms on how to run a business and the use of business models to move it. If disregarded, you could be left behind by the rapid changes but if harnessed, you could reap enormous lifetime opportunities. Graves identified these forces as: 1) The rush to slow down, if not overturn the environmental smashup that is setting off startling effects and criticisms; 2) The fast aging in most of Asia; and 3) The resurgence of the new digital “tribes of mind” and how they are rapidly changing the communications landscape.

Don’t Get Started If You Can’t Walk The Talk

“Marketing efforts to go ‘green’ are losing their shine and getting attacked,” Graves stressed. Studies show that 70 percent of US respondents view green labeling as just a marketing tactic or a token marketing ploy rather than sincere changes, and label the offenders as “greenwashers.” This is the first force that you have to face. Since marketing and advertising campaigns in support of green advocacy initiatives are being rated by their greenwash factor, Graves warned companies to carefully think through the process if they intend to use green campaigns to bolster their credentials when it comes to corporate social responsibility engagement. “If you can’t walk the talk, don’t get started on it,” he cautioned.

Every step forward, Graves stressed, may bring new consequences or difficulties related to climate change. He used the “shift to biofuel” and “wind” examples to dramatize this point. In 2007, the push to go biofuel was seen to be a showcase of what is truly green, until the prices of food sources soared, driven by perceived demand for using corn to make fuel instead of food. In an instant, the same companies that appeared responsible were looked at as heartless organizations that propelled food prices beyond the reach of developing nations. At some point, the wind looks enormous as an alternative energy source, until critics say that the massive turbines that go with it are monstrosities that demand new cables into the electricity grid.

Borrowing from a famous Isaac Newton quote, Graves emphasized that “every environmentally responsible action triggers an equal and opposite critical reaction.” He urged companies to move from supporting tactical do-gooder deeds to embracing a comprehensive, strategic approach to doing good that starts from inside the company. And if companies want to venture into honest-to-goodness social responsibility programs, Graves suggested that they must attain credibility, generate third-party certification, identify specific believable actions, adopt brand-aligned actions and engage in relevant storytelling.

The Joy & Luxury Of Experience & Discovery

It’s a known fact all over the world that Western Europe and even Japan has a quickly maturing population. However, very few know that the aging phenomenon is rapidly creeping up in Asia, with China, Korea, Thailand and many other countries approaching the tipping point of becoming older nations. That’s the second force. The birth rate in most of Asia will plunge with the youth segment (those below the age of 14) of the population, and will shrink by 30 to 50 percent or more in the next 20 years.

Graves pointed out that everyone thinks that Asia is all about the youth market. But in truth, the age wave means that most populations in Asia are graying very fast, with the exception of Vietnam and India. The Philippines is the “youngest country” in the region now, whose demographic profile discloses a big number of Filipinos below 40 years old, but this may not be for long, as Graves’ graphic charts will show.

Rather than getting obsessed with young consumers, Graves highlighted the opportunities that come with an empowered group called the “empty nesters,” or high-income middle-aged individuals. The term was derived from the “empty nest syndrome,” a general feeling of loneliness that parents or guardian relatives may feel when one or more of their children leave home. While more common in women, it can happen to both sexes. The marriage of a child can lead to similar feelings, with the role and influence of the parents often becoming less important compared to the new spouse.

Empty nesters are seen to have peak earnings and the greatest purchasing power but no one is talking to them. They do not want to acquire more material things or accumulate more possessions. They simply want life experiences. To them discovery is the new luxury, and time is not money; it is gold.

A New Way Of Rorschach Branding The third force revolves around the “twittering and tagging” concept. In plain language twittering is nagging, while tagging is labeling or branding. It’s an offshoot of Web 2.0 online communities, whose members find each other through the creation of micro-groups and new tools that allow for micro-conversations. These similarly predisposed individuals have developed the so-called “tribes of mind,” whose power can be tested on how the members collectively label companies and their products and the massive impact the labeling act creates on people’s perception.

In the process, tribes brand you, your product, or your company whether you like it or not. It’s a new way of Rorschach (a method of psychological evaluation used to test the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of people) branding wherein consumers are forming impressions and reputations with no control from the branded companies themselves.

Graves shared a Lego PR template that practitioners can consider as they plan their communications road map, keeping in mind the three identified forces. It comes in three columns — listening, strategy and engagement. Listening covers data-gathering and monitoring tools (snapshot map, crisis watch, etc.), while strategy includes influence audit, conversation map, search visibility plan, empowerment strategy and multi-media visibility, among others. Engagement deals with Web 2.0 development, blog development and digital advocacy.

Green, gray, twittered and tagged. Be aware of these forces and appreciate their impact on the way you do business and live your life.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved