The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The West Doesn’t [Always] Know Best …
January 28, 2007, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Comment

Do you know what those little things you can see in the above piccie are?

They are massive cargo ships coming in/out of the World’s busiest port … Singapore.

Everyday, literally hundreds of these superboats come in and out delivering or sending millions upon millions of goods … from iPODs made in China … Computers made in Taiwan … or Furniture made in Thailand … all around the World.

Infact, World demand is so high that the cargo boat building business is in a massive growth phase.  How about that eh? 

Just like people who predicted the television would kill the cinema … people said the plane would kill the seas … but they are wrong, they are so, so, so, so wrong.

Actually, business is so good that they are trying to build the ultra-cargo ship … something that can hold upto 30,000 huge containers per journey – which to help put into some kind of proportion, is THREE TIMES more than the current super-cargo ships can manage.

However that isn’t what I want to write about.  Oh no … it’s about how the East are winning off the West’s belief in pure innovation.

You see many people are under the misguided belief that Asia innovates … but they don’t.  Infact, throughout their history, they have been practitioners of exploitation – be it from SONY televisions to Toyota cars.

[Only recently have certain Asian brands started to try and be true innovators – Samsung / LG for example – but they are still the exception and their financial modeling plans have been questioned by many economists around the World]

Sure they have come up with certain innovations of their own … but in the main, they’ve always been ‘enhancing’ an existing  technology/capability rather than creating something totally new from scratch.

Do Half Time’s look familiar?  Bit like KitKat?  Yep …

You see in most parts of Asia, their philosophy is to make enormous cash by either making or delivering the products the West spend years and billions trying to create. 

It’s not about creation … god no, there’s far too many risks in that … it’s about fulfilling someone else’s dream.  Of course if something becomes really, really, really successful, then they’ll do something about it – however it tends to be either ripping it off mercilessly or doing their best to screw the business potential up for them.

There’s a rather famous story of a Chinese Government Department who invited a German train building company to come and ‘present their technology’ to them.

With dollar signs in their eyes, the German company flew over … and in a matter of months, built a mile of track so that they could show off their train to the best of their ability.

The Chinese Government Department took a close look at what the Germans were proposing …  thanked them for their efforts … then sent them on their way and built an identical track it for themselves.  Who needs to invest in expensive R&D when you can steal it from someone else.

Ethical? No.  [but lets face it, lots of Western companies are hardly ‘posterboy’s’ for ethics]

Clever? As embarrassing as it is to say it … yes … it sort-of is.

You see I am convinced that China is NOT this land-of-opportunity that so many Western companies think.

Sure there’s 1.4 billion people there … but when you take away some key issues [like 60% of the people live in rural areas!!!] the opportunity gets much smaller. 

Sure 40% of 1.4 billion is still a huge number … but when you take away other considerations [ie: poverty levels / distribution costs / income levels / advertising costs etc etc] the investment needed to stand even a 2% chance of profit is outrageous. 

I personally blame us shareholders … because we’re constantly demanding more and more return from our investments, thus subliminally pushing companies to find new territories to sell/expand even if in the cold light of day, their potential is no way near what the ‘hype’ suggests. 

My favourite bit is that so many Western companies target Shanghai … because apart from the fact it is the most un-Chinese of China, the population have so got used to Western brands trying to get a foothold in the country, that they have started to think they are ’special’, thus alienating themselves further from the rest of China which inturn, minimises the chances of a Western brand to make it there.

Don’t get me wrong, some Western brands are making it big out here and whilst their impact is changing certain aspects of culture [from diet to marriage] the real power is not with the Western companies who own the company … but with the Asian brands who are making and distributing it for them.

We’ve seen how retail brands like Asda, Tesco, Woolies and Sainsbury’s are now more powerful than the once powerhouses of Coke and Unilever etc … and we can definitely expect to see it with Asia versus the West … so the next time someone say’s innovation is where the money is at, think about the way they do it in Asia and just hope the Chinese and Indians never get it together because with their two astounding skill-sets [Manufacturing and Technology] they could quite simply end up ruling the World!

17 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I take it all is working again.

Great post and I am sure many Western companies know this is true but daren’t admit it for fear of scaring shareholders or for upsetting their sensibilities as they realise all their hard work could all be in vein.
Nice to see you back to normal and no mention of sausages. Sorry Marcus, but you almost changed Rob there for a second.

Comment by Pete

I think goes back to the conversation about third mover advantage. Asian firms (particularly in electronics) have always been brilliant at taking other ideas and refining/improving them to take them to the mass market. Whether on features or just plain cost.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Sure does … and yet the ad industry tends to only believe in a ‘Be First Or Be Last’ strategy – which is plainly not the only option available.

That’s not to say when you have something truly great you shouldn’t run with it … but too many agencies and clients put out crap communication and products because they believe it allows them to say something the competition can’t.

An old boss on mine used to say to clients thinking about doing this, “Sometimes you are first to say something because the competition realise it’s actually not worth saying – DON’T leap, lets look” – he was right.

There are so many marketing philosophies still based on the 50’s … and whilst some are still relevant and should always be incorporated into thinking, many of them are just outdated [ie: any news is worth promoting – which, to be fair, is often driven by retailers DEMANDING to see the brand being supported or they threaten to de-list it … another outrageously small minded attitude] which ends up costing companies more than just advertising spend – but things like reduced relevance, brand loyalty and distribution to name but a few.

Comment by Rob

Hi Robert, long time no contact. Hope life is good with you and all. Love this post, it’s spot on as was the “think slower” strategy you wrote about last week.
The sooner organisations start teaching their marketing people about the changing World, the better. It’s like that old BBH thing, “don’t sell, get people to buy” yet many companies seem to forget that there is a consumer inbetween all their processes and retail obligations.
Keep up the good work and hope to see you and the boys again soon.

Comment by Colin Drummond

Still wish I had a Sinclair C5, the world was wrong on that one.

Comment by Northern Planner

the train story is very funny. The German government are still hurting from it today.

Comment by MarcusBrown

“don’t sell, get people to buy”

I’d never heard that quote before but it’s golden.

Comment by Age

Hi Colin … great to hear from you. Would love to catch up and hopefully it will happen soon.

As for the C5 … did you know they actually went on to be quite popular because oil companies bought shitloads of them for people to go around their massive sites? Still not enough for massive profits, but they weren’t the disaster everyone say’s they were.

And yes, that BBH quote sums it up. Of course, that’s when they were still super-amazing, hahah. [That’s just for you Charles!]

Comment by Rob

“The sooner organisations start teaching their marketing people about the changing World, the better”

The sooner my boss, the executive director starts believing me about the Changing World, the better!

Comment by lauren

Who is your boss Lauren????

Comment by Rob

The C5 was the right idea with the wrong marketing…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Abit like the Segway!

Comment by Rob

The Segway is genius marketed as hideous.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

And to think Steve Jobs said it could be the most important invention of the modern age! It makes you almost think iPOD was a fluke!

Comment by Rob

It was a great invention, just a badly managed product.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

unfortunately being an artist in Australia doesn’t pay the rent, so i have a ‘day job’ doing promo/comms for a not-for-profit arts organisation.

Comment by lauren

Well tell whoever your boss is that the World has moved on from 1963 and its time he/she got a grip on how technology has changed how we think.

Does that help at all? Ha.

Comment by Rob

Leave a Reply