Advertising and Marketing

A 'Branding Conference' Not About Branding
by Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris is the pseudonym of an annoyed executive at a leading branding agency in Beijing.

A 'Branding Conference' Not About Branding

by Chuck Norris

On Friday December 8th, a couple hundred advertising and marketing people from China and abroad converged on the Westin Hotel in Shanghai to participate in The Branding Conference, organized by AdAge China and GroupM. It was trumpeted as China's first ever conference of its kind. I was one of those advertising and marketing people who paid a steep subscription fee of 300 US dollars hoping to hear some helpful hints, interesting case studies, and listen to a roster of industry speakers that — on paper — looked impressive.

However, the conference turned out to be a disappointing waste of my time and my company money, especially considering the fact that I flew to Shanghai from Beijing with the sole intent of participating to the conference.

Things started to look pretty grim from the very beginning when, after a long wait at the registration desk, I started to flip through the pages of the conference program. Branding being the topic of the conference I would have expected the organizers to pay careful attention to the way they 'branded' themselves in all the aspects inherent to the organization and communication at the conference, including their printed material.

Instead, the program looked and felt cheap, it was badly designed, and with several spelling mistakes, including a rather unforgivable one involving the surname of one of the main speakers of the day, right underneath his picture.

After the opening remarks delivered by Mr. Scott Donaton (AdAge Group Ass. Publisher) and Mr. Irwin Gottlieb (GroupM CEO), the first panel discussion started:

"Global Brand Building in China: how to build brands in China and win consumers". The three panelists (Mr. P.T. Black from Jigsaw Shanghai, Mr. Mark Fischer, MD of NBA China and Mr. Richard Lee, VP Marketing Pepsi Cola Intl') discussed about pretty much anything from digital marketing, to the aspirations of China's hip urban youngsters, from Pepsi advertising and NBA marketing success and brilliant plans for the future. Any mention of global branding in China? Nada. Any mention of how to build brands in China and win consumers? Nicht.

The following speaker, Ms. Jean Cai, Directorofolympicmarketingprogramsbrandcommunications from Lenovo was supposed to deliver a presentation about "The Rise of Chinese Brands: case study on Lenovo".

Ms. Cai addressed the audience with a disgraceful PowerPoint presentation about Lenovo's marketing/communication/branding strategy in the world, patched together in a messy, unprofessional, and extremely unclear fashion, delivered at a speed that made the content of the slides and the words coming out of her mouth almost unintelligible.

Any valuable indication on which are the challenges that Chinese brands face whilst trying to build a brand outside of China? Nicht. Any mention of how the perception of the Lenovo brand has changed in the consumers after the acquisition of IBM's desktop and notebook divisions? Nada.

At this stage, the disappointment for the way the conference was going was further emphasized by a communication informing the audience that the coffee break had to be killed because of time restraints.

Moving swiftly along to the next panel discussion "Striking Gold in 2006: China's Olympic Dreams". Representatives from Ogilvy, Adidas, Visa and SEEC Media Group went up on stage and talked about their respective company's involvement and commitment to the Beijing Olympics. Most notably, they talked'INTEGRATING' (advertising and marketing people all share a special fondness for this word) their communication and marketing strategies and 'joining forces'. How engaging is that?

To whet the appetite of the audience, the presentation of McDonald's Executive VP-Global Chief Marketing Officer, Ms Mary Dillon was left for last before the lunch break. (By the way, Mr. Donaton introduced Mc Donald's as the most iconic brand in the world. A rather opinable statement, especially for people in the audience—and indeed there were—representing a company like Coca Cola.)

Ms. Dillon's PowerPoint presentation looked professional, but — once again — it was off topic. A few TV ads were presented, and a lot of time and examples were spent to explain the audience how much McDonald's cares about the quality of its food (!), all the important acknowledgements it has received from the Chinese food quality and hygiene authorities and so forth.

More than talking about the awareness among Chinese people of the McDonald's brand, or why it was decided to translate McDonald's in a certain way instead of another, or the challenges of branding beef in a nation that culturally prefers to eat chicken and pork, the audience was told about McDonald's next global advertising campaign.

After the lunch break, Mr. Tom Doctoroff — CEO of Greater China and North East Asia Director of JWT — took the stage. His keynote presentation was titled '10 Mistakes to Avoid in China'.

Mr. Doctoroff is an engaging, entertaining speaker. His mixture of a wisely chosen topic, international experience and local knowledge, balanced humor, English language and sudden spurts of Mandarin ensured that he had total control of the audience right from the start. To his credit it must be said that his presentation was without doubt the most interesting and helpful of the whole conference. However, even Mr. Doctoroff ended up being for most of his keynote speech off topic. The 10 Big Don'ts of his speech partly covered the 'branding in China' issue (which in theory was the main purpose of the conference, and the reason why my company paid 300 bucks to send me there), and ended up talking more about advertising and marketing in the People's Republic of China.

This notwithstanding, at least Mr. Doctoroff taught a lesson to all the other big advertising and marketing executives present in terms of how to engage an audience.

After being informed that the keynote speech of one of the scheduled speakers from Motorola had been canceled, the last panel discussion of the day — China's Changing Media Landscape — finally took place. The panelists (respectively from P&G, Group M and One Media Group) discussed issues that every bloke with a bit of knowledge of the Chinese publishing and advertising market knows already. In two words: nothing new. And, once again, no mention at all of 'branding' in the publishing industry.

I must admit that maybe I had set my expectations for this conference a bit too high. I was expecting to hear people discussing issues and case studies involving the challenges of ensuring the consistency of a brand in one of the toughest and biggest markets in the world, where piracy and counterfeiting erode the values of a brand day after day, and quality issues are a constant headache for every production manager in the country. I was expecting that by paying 300 bucks, someone on stage would have addressed the issues of brand loyalty in China, or analyzed more in depth the steps to build a new and successful brand in China.

I was expecting the first 'branding conference' in China to be about branding, and it simply wasn't.

There are currently 8 Comments for A 'Branding Conference' Not About Branding
by Chuck Norris.

Comments on A 'Branding Conference' Not About Branding
by Chuck Norris

Witty, colorful writing.

Pity about the pseudonym. Is that something "Mr Norris" learned in China? Where I come from, when you pay $300 bucks and get rubbish, you needn't hide your name.

I mean, *who* should be embarrassed: The inept organizers, the off-topic speakers...or the paying audience?

Bruce Humes

I'm not surprised. I guessed that it was going to go the way of a couple of other such events in China and stayed away from it.

Thank you, Mr Chuck Norris, for helping to confirm my suspicion (and decision). ;)

I too am not surprised. Have been to a number of these events and the process is quite clear. conference organiser asks company rep to speak at conference. company rep sees this as good opportunity to spread some company PR and the next thing you know you are listening to half an hour of off topic self promotion.

One of the worst I remember was the lady from Kodak at a government relations conference. A half hour presentation on just why Kodak has been so successful in the China market (ie. why Kodak is so great and why she is such a good leader) and not a single minute spent discussing how to further better government relations. A chamber of commerce at the same conference gave the audience a 40 minute introduction to the country in question (its key exports, gdp, etc) and then said thank you and good bye.

Luckily I did not have to pay for these amazing insights - if it had come out of my own pocket I would have been very angry. As it was, I enjoyed the free food and the break from work...

I do not know how long Mr Doctorof wants to do this kind of peresentation but these 10 mistakes of advertising he has been touting for at least the past 5 years....has nothing changed....probably just the contents. I guess the format works well so all he has to do is change content as it changes through the years. good to hear it is still relevant

Great words.Last week,I heard about that the branding conference organized by Adage. and I expected the conference will be very worthwhile. Thanks for your words. And I confirmed that such conferences are just waste of time!

It's an after work hangout for those who aren't spending her own money.

The organizer has no intention to promote business knowledge in the first place.

They're advertising the event by using a bundle of so-called big names, as to provide a namecards exchange environment for those eager market latecomers.

What do you expect from a 300 buck socio-gathering?

BTW, do you expect those big names would pass on to you tips-and-tricks to help you out with your biz?


Thanks for your precious, 'I knowitall suckers' advice.

Next time I think about participating to a conference I'm going to place a post on Danwei asking for your opinion.

Hi Chuck

That is dissapointing. If you are keen to organise a branding conference/event based on branding in China - I am all ears.

I am a branding strategist based in Shanghai and am sick of hearing the same "china is china because it is china" analysis.

Action is often the best reaction - there is a desperate need for this type of event.

Let me know -

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