With Vietnam emerging from lockdown and agencies getting back to business, LBB’s Natasha Patel spoke to MullenLowe Mishra’s founder & CEO and CSO about the country’s resourcefulness and rapid response.
With a population of over 90 million, Vietnam had a huge responsibility to so many individuals throughout the Covid-19 outbreak. As social distancing regulations slowly start to lift and agencies move from home working to office life LBB’s Natasha Patel found out what brands can do for consumers from MullenLowe Mishra’s founder and CEO Saby Mishra and chief strategy officer Gui Tonon.
LBB> What’s the situation in Vietnam at the moment?
Saby> Vietnam has lifted social distancing measures in some parts of the country so we, in Ho Chi Minh City, are back to normal. But, ‘normal’ isn’t going to return overnight and it will definitely be gradual.
The country’s pandemic response was standout, globally. It was very firm, timely and quick leveraging past experiences from SARS and H1N1. We sit three hours flying distance from Wuhan and have a land border with China so geographically we were very close to the epicentre of the pandemic, so the government started mobilising it’s response in the early stages of the outbreak in January.
LBB> Did social media play a part in the government’s campaigns?
Saby> It’s important to note that there was an understanding from the public about what was happening and the risks so there was a high degree of compliance later. There was a mass public awareness education through social media earlier as almost 100% of the country is mobile literate.
Gui> There was a Vietnamese song that went global with the public service announcements, they have a very cool and funny way of doing public service announcements.
LBB> What is the general mood in Vietnam at present?
Saby> Vietnam has a tradition of nationalism and tenaciousness especially when facing difficult times; this goes back to the collectivist culture of society. All the pandemic efforts work and are working. People are definitely alert about income, jobs and safety, so whilst they have maintained their positivity, their concerns remain. The pandemic is still there, its been managed incredibly well in this market and there is an optimistic mood.
Gui> It’s also helping that people are relieved to be out of quarantine.
LBB> While so much of the Western world gathers in unity on their balconies and doorsteps to clap for those on the frontline, do you feel this same sense of togetherness in Vietnam?
Saby> Absolutely. There is a great sense of unity, a great sense of nationalism because the culture is about collectivism not individualism – particularly during a difficult time when the population is faced with a crisis. Vietnam came together really well.
LBB> Tell us more.
Saby> A stand out example is the story of a local bakery using excess stock of dragon fruit to create pink bread. The virus outbreak hurt exports and left the country with an excess of unsold dragon fruit. The pink bread idea was such a success that larger chains, included KFC, have started doing the same with their food. This captures the spirit of the people, we are in the middle of a pandemic and they are being incredible resourceful.
LBB > How have consumers reacted in Vietnam to Covid-19?
Saby> From what we are seeing there are a few areas of high consumer interest. One is hygiene – this has a very high resonance right now – and refers to personal and home hygiene. But also anything that is a trigger for good health such as food, wellness and cleanliness. We also found that streaming content has seen a spike.
LBB > What can consumers expect from brands coming out of lockdown?
Saby> The big focus is going to be on safety, reliability and wellbeing. These are three major things people are going to be looking for from companies. This doesn’t just mean in terms of products but delivery systems and communication. We also feel that the general sense of things, such as respect for the environment, sustainability, recycling and health concerns are all going to be hot buttons. They’ll lead to changes in behaviours related to brands.
LBB> What can brands do to meet those consumer needs?
Gui> People are expecting more actions than stories from brands.
Saby> The first thing is for brands to do something real and more meaningful than just talk about it. The big thing that’s going to happen out of is that brands are going to be tapping out these themes when communicating. Also brands are going to be showing how they’re walking the walk.
LBB> A lift in lockdown in China saw a surge of ‘revenge spending’. Do you think this will also happen in Vietnam?
Saby> Vietnamese people aren’t going to be splurging on unnecessary things right now, about 70% of Vietnamese people who are making money now are saving for later on. People here are cautious and smart. Extensive social distancing and people staying indoors has caused a boost in ecommerce. Its been making a lot of people trial online shopping who didn’t before and pre-pandemic this was an early stage market.
LBB> Is the e-commerce industry one that you think will thrive post-pandemic in Vietnam?
Saby> The next big story in south-east Asia is going to be ecommerce. During lockdown consumers were forced to buy online and tasted the convenience of it, so we think this could be a turning point for e-commerce.
LBB > What effect has the pandemic had on advertising?
Saby> Our take is that when a pandemic happens, people go into a cautious mode, despite the optimism. Advertising will help with demand to revive the economy faster. What we do as an industry is create demand and it can be a catalyst in a market like this, which is a growth-orientated market and that is something that we believe is going to happen. We can play a role in that as an industry overall.
LBB> How has the industry reacted?
Saby> In terms of the media spending we’re seeing from our clients, the shift away from out of home channels to online platforms has grown. During the lockdown not all brands went dark, in the initial couple of weeks there was a slowdown in terms of spending across the board but the categories that went off air were airlines and hotels.
LBB> Has production been affected?
Saby> In the initial lockdown period anything that was not necessary and critical was pushed back. We created interesting digitally-led alternatives using footage and animation just to keep the buzz going for the client on launches. Now that we’re coming out of the lockdown we’ll evaluate what the regulations are. I think we’re going to be using as little contact as physically possible. We’re looking at remote live shoots and we’re definitely not going back to full contact production yet.
LBB> And how did your team approach the working from home challenge?
Saby> We started last year as a new agency and didn’t have an office for a few days, so what people are doing in a pandemic situation we did back in July. Flexibility and agility got built into the DNA right then and there and I was surprised at how people took to it. So when this happened we went for remote working one week before the government put their restrictions in and we did more meetings than we ever did from home. Winners will be those agencies which will move in times like this with agility and who have learnt how to do it during this lockdown and apply it now – not go back to the old ways.
LBB> Will the pandemic change Vietnamese agencies as we know them?
Saby> We think there is no return to business as usual; this is it. We are already in this new reality. I think the new normal is already here, I don’t think there is a time where we wait for a recovery to happen. Things haven’t to move now. Agencies which fundamentally have simpler structures and cost bases, they will be the winners. And the losers will be agencies that are structurally constrained to respond to the local market and clients during this time. There is a huge need out there right now to be immersed in the client’s business recovery opportunities.
LBB> You’ve mentioned e-commerce, but what else do you think will come out of Vietnam post-pandemic?
Saby> The middle class story is going to be pretty significant. Vietnam has moved large chunks out of its people out of poverty into consuming classes – 45 million people. They’ve done a great job and that momentum is still there right now, but if that movement continues then this is going to be a sizeable middle-income country and important market.