Marketing and advertising in myanmar cover
Multiverse Advertising, OPPO A37 with Ni Ni Khin Zaw

The recent successful elections and peaceful transfer of power marked a proud day for Myanmar. Growth and investment in the country formerly known as Burma were already going strong, and they’ll only accelerate as the country’s economic climate looks increasingly hospitable. Myanmar is open for business, but a country that was closed off for so long presents stark challenges to companies trying to expand into it, and that’s especially true in marketing. Barriers of language, culture, nationalism, and religion present a minefield of potential stumbles, but there are opportunities as well that marketers in-touch with the local culture know how to leverage.

Cautionary tales

In an unfamiliar language and culture, messages can he heard much differently than a company intended. This is a lesson that a lot of brands have learned the hard way. This amusing list of Eight international marketing fails shows just how common these cultural faux pas can be. From Coors beer promising Spanish consumers diarrhea, Ford offering Belgian buyers a dead body in the car, and KFC telling Chinese customers to eat their fingers off, there’s no shortage of these blunders when companies move into new countries and unfamiliar cultures.

Now, with social media giving everyone a voice, these cultural missteps are amplified, and outrages can spread like a contagion. Internet penetration in Myanmar is among the lowest in the world, but it’s growing fast and there’s a large enough netizenry to cause the dreaded social media backlash here as well. In Myanmar as in any other country a marketing plan needs to be developed with locals who understand the language, culture, and context.

Developing a local team

It is unlikely that KFC had no Chinese nationals on the team that created and approved the “eat your fingers off” campaign, which illustrates the point that it’s not merely enough to have locals on the team. A culture needs to be cultivated within the team that encourages pushback against questionable ideas, and that enables people to be direct when a concept needs to be shot down. Whether you have your own marketing team, or you’re choosing an advertising agency in Myanmar, making sure to foster an environment that encourages challenging of one’s colleagues is essential.

Unique challenges to marketing in Myanmar

As in any other country, there is no one-size-fits-all marketing plan. Different products with different target consumers need customized solutions. For example while print, radio, and TV ads may work well for certain mass market consumer goods, they certainly aren’t the right medium to reach premium audiences. With all the new wealth being created in the country now, luxury goods manufacturers are rushing in. But marketing luxury goods in Myanmar needs to be approached differently than it would elsewhere. Luxury goods consumers here are best targeted through premium and exclusive experiences that complement traditional advertising campaigns. Myanmar event marketing should be a strong suit for anyone trying to sell upscale goods here.

Multiverse Advertising Yangon Night Scene

Building the brand with Myanmar

Myanmar is quite welcoming of foreigners, but as a country that has been exploited by outsiders more than once in its history, there is also a strong nationalistic reflex that kicks in when it is perceived that a company is working against the public interest. As noted above, there’s a strong enough social media scene to fan these fires once they’re lit. Yet smart companies see this more as an opportunity than a challenge, and develop corporate social responsibility programs to benefit the community and country. By building an image of their brand as helping Myanmar – and doing so in a partnership rather than an unequal or patronizing way – companies will find themselves rewarded with a positive brand image and increased consumer loyalty. (For more, see our post CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AS A BRANDING TOOL IN EMERGING MARKETS)

Myanmar marketing risk and opportunity

Myanmar is still a frontier market meaning the risks are high, but the opportunities are as well. Marketing here reflects this perfectly. Consumers are young, unjaded, and open minded in their brand loyalties. This is an advertiser’s dream, but with it come all the potential stumbles of an unfamiliar culture. When developing their Myanmar marketing plans, companies had better know what they’re doing, or find someone who does. Get it right and you’ll look like a genius, get it wrong and prepare to enter DEFCON level 1 damage control mode.

05 May 2016