20 May 2017

EVERYWHERE in the world, the burning question in people’s minds is “Who Owns The Brand? Marketer or Consumer?”

This was, to a certain degree, answered at the joint International Advertising Association (IAA) (Malaysia chapter) and DentsuAegis Network event, IAA Ignite, on Wednesday, at the Pavilion Sports Bar & Brassiere, Royal Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur.

After the resounding success of the inaugural IAA Ignite in November 2016, which carried the theme “Is The Newspaper Immortal?”, this second panel debate-social networking session had the thought provoking “Who Owns The Brand? Marketer or Consumer” as its theme.

Moderated by Harmandar Singh, the two teams comprised an admirable panel of luminaries from across diverse backgrounds. Harmandar, better known as Ham in the industry, is also the founder and regional CEO of ADOI and Marketing magazines, as well as the honorary advisor of IAA Malaysia.

Team “Marketer” was headed by Entropia founder and senior partner Prashant Kumar with team mates, Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia chief data officer Sue-Anne Lim and Isobar Malaysia lead strategist Tanvi Singh.

Team “Consumer” was led by Havas Media head Andreas Vogiatzakis, with team mates, lawyer turned theatre-television-radio-public personality Chacko Vadaketh and DRB-HICOM group head of strategic communications division Mahmood Razak.

In his introduction, IAA Malaysia president John D. Chacko said: “In essence, the question is not about who owns the brand, but more about whether the brand is fulfilling the brand promise. But since ownership remains such a burning question in everyone’s minds, let the two teams state their case and let the audience decide. Consumers remember the promise of the brand and when the brand breaks that promise, they have the power in the palm of their hands to tell the world.

“In recent memory, the United Airlines kerfuffle is a case study, in where the brand, United Airlines, was perceived to have broken its brand promise of “come fly the friendly skies”. Within hours, that brand promise ended up a contradiction as judged by the hundreds of millions who watched the infamous video around the world. In this age of digital advocacy, ‘it’s not what you say, it’s what they say’. Consumers can make or break a brand.”

Harmandar deftly handled the teams with a balance of patience, persuasion and dead-pan humour. Attended by almost 100 personalities from in and out of the marketing communications industry, the evening’s theme resonated well with the audience.

“Visionary marketers lead the consumer, not follow them. Consumers don’t wish to take accountability for the brand. They can’t be owners. Marketers are responsible for the brands, so they are the owners, not just in letters but also in spirit.

“There is a social contract between the consumer and the brand, based on a value exchange against a certain price. If you break that contract, if you break that trust, consumers have a megaphone today and they will not sit quiet,” said Prashant in driving home the “Marketer” stance.

“Today, two out of three people in the world are connected to social network, which makes 3.5 billion independent media owners out there. About 80% of consumers say they trust peer comments and recommendations on social media and only 20% trust advertising. This new social power allows the consumer to be the brand custodian,” countered Vogiatzakis.

Putting forward her argument, Lim noted: “Today, marketers have access to consumer intelligence and voice in a scale never-before, and the smart ones will utilise these insights to foretell what consumers want and don’t want, to continuously improvise brand marketing. To abdicate the entire marketing decision and shift the ownership to consumers is not just non-visionary, it’s plain lazy! Consumers are important and active consultants to marketers, but they certainly do not own the brand”.

“Marketer is more of a custodian for the brand. The consumer decides if he wants to use the brand and effectively claim ownership of it. The consumer has the brand in his hands. He can evaluate it through a variety of means easily at his disposal, and decide for himself, regardless of what the marketer may tell him,” responded Vadaketh.

Stressing her point, Tanvi said: “Social media is now a power play where consumers want to exert dominance over brands who fail on their brand promises. No way does this mean consumers want ownership of the brand. Rather, it’s a phenomenon which is bringing new equilibrium to the brand-consumer equation”.

An interesting quip came from Mahmood, citing an example of English football, which many Malaysians are passionate about. “In their 2013-2014 Premiership season, the1899-established Cardiff City, nicknamed the Bluebirds, now under a new owner, changed their look from the traditional Bluebirds blue kit to a dragon logo red kit. Fans were livid, with protests via banners, booing, skipping matches, even switching allegiances.

“The owner was forced to revert to the legendary blue kit in the 2015-2016 season, by which time Cardiff was back in the Championship. Don’t mess with the sanctity of brand! The owner is the ‘legal owner’ of the ‘brand’, but the brand is actually ‘owned’ by the fans,” he said.

After being entertained by the fiery sessions, the audience voted the “Marketer” team had put forward a more persuasive argument. This event saw Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia as partner, and M&C Saatchi, Media Prima, Marketing, Jaguar Land Rover, JDC Brand Truth and Visual Retale as supporters.

IAA Malaysia’s purpose is to connect, inform and represent the marketing communications community, with primary focus on knowledge and learning and networking.

With calls to have events such as this more often, IAA Malaysia has earmarked one exciting event every quarter. IAA, headquartered in New York, was established in 1938 and now has a presence in over 76 countries.


  • The Star