Can we all be “ruthlessly fearless” marketers?

I just spent a week in Tokyo, attending the first Asian Advertising Week conference. Best part of the week was the keynotes, featuring speakers like the chairman of Shiseido Group,  head of Asia for Google, LinkedIn and Facebook, and many more luminaries. Most inspiring was two presenters: Bonin Bough, Chief Media and eCommerce Officer at Mondelēz International, and Jimmy Smith, Chairman and CEO of Amusement Park Entertainment, a brand storytelling agency based in LA.

What struck me most was one thing Bonin said, that marketers need to be “ruthlessly fearless”, so as to achieve results, change minds, move the needle. As an example he cited the Honey Maid “This is wholesome” campaign featuring diverse families such as gay dads and mixed races, and the tongue-in-cheek rebuttal ad to the haters. Or the Walmart rebuttal to a New York Times article where they redlined all the factual inaccuracies in the article. That takes guts, taking on the NYT when under fire. Did it stop Walmart’s labor practices from being further attacked? Probably not, but I bet it made all the critics fact-check more carefully.

Forgive me for being a cynic, but I just cannot imagine a brand in Asia that would dare to go out on a limb like that.

During breaks my colleague and I also discussed the phenomenon of scam ads, campaigns created specifically to win marketing awards. We all know it’s a common practice for agencies to design a campaign from the ground up based on what wins awards, then find a client to sign up for it, and place a few media buys before award entry deadline. That practice is vilified by many in the industry, but then I wonder, if clients challenged agencies to do great, fearless work, and gave them the air cover to fail, perhaps even spectacularly, would scam ads even exist?

Of course us agencies are at fault too, for giving up. I’ve had the honor of working with a client for many years, a brand consistently among the top 10 in the global brand value league, yet we rarely did work for them that pushed the envelope. Brainstorms with the client inevitably resulted in great ideas that were watered down in successive rounds of discussions because their bosses “won’t understand it” or “it’s not on-brand.” After a few years, a challenge from any client in that company (usually a marketing manager fresh off the boat) to think outside the box would lead to silent despair, because we knew whatever brilliant but unusual idea we came up with would never see the light of day. Perhaps we should have persevered though.

Are us Asians just too timid? Are we too afraid to rock the boat and therefore turned it into an immovable barge?



Let VR make zoos obsolete

Like many people online, I was distressed and angered by news of Harambe the western lowland gorilla who was shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo just one day after his 17th birthday, for the actions of a neglectful parent who allowed her four-year-old toddler to slip through the barrier and fall into the enclosure. Michelle Gregg, the parent, has been defiant and unapologetic in a Facebook post, calling it an accident. All the online hate she has received is not going to change her mind, but perhaps we can direct that hate towards a positive outcome.

Let’s question this: why do we need zoos? If we are trying to preserve near-extinct species, might we not direct our money and efforts towards combating the actual causes of extinction, such as over-fishing, hunting, poachers, and unscientific traditional Chinese medicine remedies, to name a few? If we want economic ways for children (and adults) to observe animals in the flesh, there are new technologies today that are just as good.

How close can you get to a predator in a zoo anyway? 20 feet? 10 feet? Is that worth them being locked up in a cage or enclosure for years? Animals’ stress in confinement conditions is a well documented phenomenon. We know we are doing these animals harm. Yet we do it anyway because “every city deserves a zoo.”

Perhaps it’s time to call for an end to public zoos. We call Josef Fritzl (the man who imprisoned his daughter in a cell for 24 years) and his ilk monsters, yet we routinely imprison animals for their entire lifetimes in the name of science, companionship, or “education” for children. Perhaps letting a child experience a gorilla up close through VR goggles instead of from 20 feet away in a zoo, is a small price to pay to spare an animal years of misery and stress?

If you haven’t already, get yourself and your child a VR headset (the cheapest is Google Cardboard), and see the potential of the technology. I’ve swam with dolphins and penguins, stood within 5 feet of a lion, and soared next to an eagle.

What zoo can match that?

5 ways to liberate yourself from smart device slavery

We are all slaves. On average we spend 3-5 hours every day looking at screens, including PC, mobile, tablet, and TV. If your work involves sitting at a desk your number is likely to be much higher.

As gatekeepers and curators of what you see, social networks do everything they can to capture your attention, by constantly introducing new formats, or seeking new screens to deliver that content. The result is a generation of smart device slaves. Sadly, I’m one of them. How do you know you’re a slave?

Addiction. We devote more and more of our available attention to consuming content, to the detriment of valuable, personal connections. Witness the archetypical Dai Tau Zuk (低頭族) out on the town, sitting silently in a restaurant, their faces lit by the faint blue glow of their phones.

Mindless multitasking. We spread our attention thinner and thinner, leading to mindless reading and viewing. Ever read something online distractedly, then suddenly realize you cannot recall a single fact?

Sleep disruption. Research has shown that prolonged phone use, especially before bed, disrupts your Circadian Rhythm and leads to poor quality sleep.

What can we do? I’m not the best at uncoupling from social, but I have smart friends that have come up with some creative ways:

Do the PhoneStack. I’ve started to do this with friends, or even colleagues when we dine out. The game goes like this: everybody stacks their phone in the middle of the table for the duration of the meal, and whomever caves and touches their phone first, has to buy the entire meal for everyone. Try it, it works like magic, and you won’t believe how easily normal conversation returns.

Limit your device time. My friends Allen and Jacco have a rule in their house: phones only in the living room before bed. No bringing phones to bed. You can set your own house rules, such as: no devices at the dinner table; no devices in the car, and so on.

Declare a “FayKay”. Announce on your social network that you are taking a break. Deactivate your account for three months, so that friends must actually call or write you to get your attention.

Declare your limited availability. Many people like me have multiple social networks, messaging and email accounts. I try to limit my use to only a few (Facebook, SnapChat, Whatsapp, Gmail), and on the platforms that I don’t check frequently, I declare in my status message my preferred networks.

We are only slaves if we allow ourselves to be. What has been most liberating, and revealing, has been the realization that all you have to do is declare your boundaries. Don’t use Facebook? Declare it and don’t apologize! Only prefer Whatsapp and don’t want to be reached on WeChat? Declare it.

Together we can embark on a mission to free ourselves and live life in the moment.

What is Authenticity in a world ruled by social networks?

A fellow marketer recently advised the CEO of a mid-sized company on dealing with a social media crisis. Essentially the CEO had been personally attacked by the host of an online forum, for reasons that are not important but not unsubstantiated either. Regrettably, the CEO insisted on personally responding to the anonymous critics on their page, in defiance of her marketing team’s advice, believing that authenticity and transparency is the best policy. Needless to say, she was massacred and in the end had to halt responding as wave after wave of new accusations surfaced with her every post, laced with profanity and dripping with outrage.

I’ve dealt with my fair share of online crises and firestorms on behalf of clients, so this got me thinking, what went wrong? (Apart from her not listening to her team in the first place, of course.)

The CEO took anonymous criticism personally. Faceless keyboard warriors love to push buttons to get a reaction, so the more personal and profane their comment, the better. They are called trolls for a reason. Hidden behind the anonymity of a username, they attacked the CEO’s morals, ethics, and worth as a human being. When attacked this way, the reaction of any normal person is not just psychological, it’s physical: racing heartbeat, shallow breaths, clenched fists, and anger, so much anger. Acting on that emotional poison, was her first misstep.

The CEO underestimated her critics. She attempted to explain and clarify, stating her version of the story. Problem was, she wasn’t telling the whole truth. 95% true, but still not the whole truth. The 5% was confidential internal information she omitted, but she underestimated her critics, who were able to gather evidence from other sources, and call her a liar. She thought she was being authentic, but she really wasn’t. She was being 95% authentic, which doesn’t work. 95% truthful is the same as 100% untruthful.

What have we learned?

Social Media requires a thick skin. If you operate a public-facing business nowadays, social media is likely a part of your marketing toolbox.  Yet we often forget that social media is fundamentally personal, so where that crosses with business interests can often create conflict. The most effective attacks are personal attacks, because any Internet user knows how easy it is for a faceless corporation to ignore you. Learning how not to react emotionally is very important. When I worked in the restaurant business many years ago, we taught frontline staff to deal with belligerent customers by imagining they are attacking their uniform, not them. We taught them to visualize the customer scolding an empty uniform on a hanger, looking ridiculous. This hits home the point that they are not being personally attacked; they are being attacked for their job. This helps them compartmentalize, and not react emotionally. Likewise, when attacked personally online, we must respond on behalf of the brand, not ourselves.

Authenticity requires absolute honesty. If you cannot share part of the facts, you need to be proactively upfront about which part you cannot share, and why. Transparency means transparency, not translucency. The Internet will always find a way to uncover evasion and lies by omission. By being not completely honest, you are already not authentic. Likewise, if you cannot feel the feelings you think you ought to feel, don’t fake it.

Authenticity is binary, either you are, or you are not. You can’t fake it.


P.S. Some details above were modified to protect the innocent.

Have you painted on Facebook’s Canvas yet?

Facebook is never one to slack when it comes to launching new ad formats that meet specific objectives, such as lead generation, video views, and even event registrations. Now there’s a new format called Canvas that you may want to look into if you want to tell a story, or have a product narrative that is too constricted by the standard ad formats.

Canvas is a new mobile ad format that creates interactive, multimedia ads that are delivered via Facebook post or page ads. Once the user the clicks on the ad, they can see the Canvas ads, and interact with them. Canvas ads are multimedia experiences that ONLY run on mobile, and can contain any mix of video, pictures, text, delivered in a carousel format both horizontally and vertically.  For wide or panoramic pictures Canvas also supports horizontal scrolling by tilting the phone left and right. The entire experience allows embedding CTA buttons pointing to multiple destinations, typically web pages for e-shopping or offer claims. 

It is important to see Canvas as a multimedia experience and not a single ad, as the production of a Canvas experience involves a ton of design work, and in some cases videos need to be natively produced as well to make the whole experience very integrated.  The best way to think of it is a storytelling experience. Daylight believes the Canvas experience is a perfect way to explain brand stories cohesively, while keeping engagement high.  For example of a typical Canvas experience, here’s one from L’Occitane.

What Facebook’s view of their future means for you (Hint: More time spent on it)

Facebook just concluded F8, their annual technology conference where they announce new products, technology roadmap, and vision for the future.

Here is our interpretation of what some of the announcements means for you:

Facebook is evolving from a social network to a content network. You first joined Facebook because you wanted to stay connected with friends, families and acquaintances, to share moments. Social sharing was the original motivation for billions like you to join Facebook, but motivations change over time, impacted by changing user habits, competing services such as Messaging, and competing networks such as Snapchat and Vine. Social sharing, especially among longtime users, is decreasing, while third-party published content is rapidly rising. Sponsored content (aka advertising) is relentlessly rising, which means a need for non-advertising content to balance, or users will bolt.

What does Facebook’s revenue rely on? Your continued engagement within their platform, so they must find new ways of keeping you there. That means offering more content you want to read/watch/hear. Enter the Content Network.

New products such as Live video, VR/AR, and Instant Articles, are all designed to keep you inside Facebook. With Facebook Live, you can now broadcast a live video stream from your mobile, with viewers commenting in real-time. Facebook is also opening up its API to third-party developers, creating a funnel that links you back to, what else, Facebook. VR/AR (Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality) are emerging technologies that Facebook believes will radically transform the way you experience their network in the future. (At Daylight we agree, which is why we created our Immersive Storytelling team.) Widespread prevalence of VR still requires a year or two due to hardware limitations (clunky headsets and motion sickness after prolonged use, for example) but these will be solved, there is no question. Once the technology matures, we believe Facebook will be one of the largest platforms for virtual shared experiences, from large arenas such as concerts and conferences to intimate one-on-one interactions. To make it easier for content creators, Facebook has also unveiled an open source 360 VR camera.

Messaging is the Next Big Thing.  Mark Zuckerberg, smart cookie that he is, saw the writing on the wall, and invested massively in Messaging (WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger), seeing it as an emerging connected ecosystem that could complement and perhaps supplant Facebook one day. Don’t see this potential? Just look at what WeChat has built, and could potentially be capable of. On WeChat you can already shop, get customer service, consume brand content, and yes, communicate with contacts, among many other things.

The introduction of Bot Engine for Facebook Messaging is an attempt to take messaging to another level, to enhance your experience using such ecosystems. Developers can now create bots that let you interact conversationally with companies, to shop (“Show me the latest tote bag from Coach”), get customer service (“I ordered a tote bag last week but I haven’t received it”), and look up information (“Where is the nearest Coach store?”)  No doubt more uses will emerge over the coming months.

Pseudo-AI assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Alexa have proven chat AI technology is rapidly maturing. Facebook wants you to get used to interacting with companies by talking to Facebook Messenger. People will type less, and talk to their devices more.

What of the Facebook future, and how can marketers take advantage of it?

  • Re-engineer marketing campaigns and customer service for chat messaging. Start planning IT infrastructure changes that allow systems to hook up to chat software and hardware. Design campaigns that feature a chatbot in innovative ways.
  • Missed the YouTube boat as a KOL? Now’s your chance. Brand ambassadors and KOLs must understand live video inside and out and explore the possibilities. Livestreaming events and moments is just the beginning. How about a live reality show for 15 minutes every day? Innovation and Creativity is key.
  • Learn to tell stories in VR, understand the radical changes in planning shoots, from script-writing to storyboarding to post-production, and hone your craft. The technology is still maturing, so you’re right at the start of the curve.


Why I finally snapped and embraced Snapchat

I had a Snapchat account (@Davko1) when it was first in the news, but like most people, I downloaded the app, took one look at the interface (“yuck clunky and counterintuitive!”), and deleted it immediately because I didn’t understand it.

Recently I’ve come back to Snapchat, and in spite of myself, become a devotee. It started with reading a news article about DJ Khaled, the “King of Snapchat”, who has accumulated over six million fans within the span of five months (as of Feb 2016). Curiosity made me download the app, reactivate my account, and after a few days I was hooked. Why I like DJ Khaled on Snapchat is for another post, but the words “motivational” and “authentic” come to mind.

Snapchat is scrappy, unpretentious, unapologetically simplistic. You can’t even see how many followers your friends have. The main interface is a camera preview, which makes it disorienting to use for the first time. Snaps disappear after 24 hours, so you’re only as good as your last. That’s scary for professional content creators like myself, but I love the liberation of not worrying about perfection, about crafting a post just right, and curating just the right picture. Life is fleeting, so why the arrogance of believing every passing thought demands permanence? Say yes to doodles and weird AR (Augmented Reality) faces, say no to self-importance. You can of course do the Facebook thing and build a glamorous persona (and many do), but colorful hand scribbles and giant emojis just don’t fit perfect shots of a champagne life.

The rise of Snapchat at a time when people are sharing much less original personal content on Facebook, is perhaps a sign of the times, or a natural evolution of what social media means in our lives. We’re not sharing less of our life moments, we are sharing them more the way we feel they should be shared: Fleetingly and capriciously. For now that is Snapchat.

Snapchat today is a behemoth in the US and Europe, but still nascent in Asia, although rapidly rising in Southeast Asia. So if I am honest, there’s no business reason for me to embrace Snapchat, yet. Penetration rate in HK is single digit, it’s banned in China, and although some Asian clients are curious, we’re not planning any major campaigns in North Asia yet. Yet, yet…nobody said everything we do has to be about business. Sometimes I just want to create a snap of myself with bunny ears and share that for laughs.

Snapchat has given me a reason to be silly. For that I am grateful.

Why I quit PR and started a digital agency (or, To hell with swim lanes)

Three years ago I quit PR after 20 years and started a digital agency, Daylight (this one, yep.)

I did it because I was tired of head-butting this perception that PR is just writing press releases and media relations. I did it because I was tired of being excluded from creative pitches because we were a PR agency, or coming up with great Big Ideas that were given to advertising agencies to execute because clients said we hadn’t done it before. I did it because PR as a descriptor is archaic anyway. (Who is the Public? What Relations are we having?)

Recruiting digital talent (or what I call, talent) was an uphill battle because digitally experienced marketers want to work for “digital” agencies, not PR. This even though many experienced PR practitioners are skilled storytellers and masters of messaging, regardless of channel.

Brands tend to confine agencies to swim lanes labeled PR, Advertising, Media, Creative, and Digital. We’ve done ourselves no favors by inventing new labels such as Content Marketing, Influencer Marketing, Sensory Marketing, ad nauseam. These swim lanes are a holdover from pre-Internet days before it totally disrupted the marketing and media industries.

Clients know agencies don’t like to be boxed in, and over the years we’ve met enlightened clients that bring agencies in for “agency days” where the team with the best idea gets to lead the campaign, regardless of discipline. That’s great, until the client has to decide how much each agency should be paid. Then the Media people scream bloody murder. Or the advertising agency.

It’s time for CMOs to lead the charge, break down the silos, cultivate cross-discipline synergies and make a paradigm shift into a world without swim lanes (Us marketing folks also like our buzzwords.)

Simply said, clients need to be daring, to put their money where their mouth is when they say the Best Idea Wins. They need to nurture the flame of invention from smaller agencies (especially when it’s hard), and challenge their larger agencies to be more inventive.

I founded Daylight because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a PR agency, because digital agencies are granted more flexibility in the sandbox these days. But isn’t Digital just another swim lane you say? This is where it gets interesting, because Digital isn’t a swim lane, it’s the water.

Let me repeat that: Digital isn’t a swim lane, it’s the water.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know with a comment below or send mail to

Social Media isn’t making the world worse, Advertising is

The news that Instagram will join Facebook to impose an algorithm-curated feed is causing all sorts of hand-wringing, but of course the writing was on the wall the day Facebook acquired Instagram. Why else but to monetize all that Attention from their users, and maintain Facebook’s dominance? (Or prepare for eventual irrelevance, if certain pundits are to be believed.)

The real danger is more insidious, and there is no broad-based solution in sight, at least that I know of. It’s the societal impact of Social Media in our lives, but not for the reason you think.

If you’re a TED talk fan like me, you might have heard that social media networks have created a “filter bubble” that has led to polarization of views and a general decline in civility online (YouTube comments, anyone?) Search engines are guilty of this too: Google searches are highly personalized. Don’t believe me? Have a friend (preferably with a different demographic or cultural background) google the same keyword and compare your results.

This bubble enslaves you in an online echo chamber where you only see content by people that agree with you.  How did this happen? You.

  1. In order to serve ads that are highly targeted and effective, Facebook and other networks must know your interests, political views, travel habits, preferred news sources, and so on.
  2. They know what you like by tracking what content you engage with the most, from tracking your Likes and Shares, to measuring how much time you spend on each post.
  3. In order to keep you on their platform so that you can be available to be targeted by advertisers, Facebook (and Instagram, and Google) must create a content stream/newsfeed that is finely tuned to what you like to see. You stay because your natural desire is to keep consuming content that YOU want to see.

This bubble effectively hides dissonant content from you.

Exposure to diverse points of view is critical to developing a balanced, largely unbiased view of the world, so this filtering of what you see, can polarise you. When the online world meets offline though, people with extremely different POVs can clash, often with severe consequences.

While the social networks are not going to change this state of affairs anytime soon, there are a few things you can do as an individual:

  • Switch your Facebook newsfeed setting from “Top Stories” to “Most Recent” (Find out the settings in other social networks that allow you to do this. Warning: It’s not always possible.)
  • Actively subscribe to news sources with a different viewpoint from yours. If you’re liberal, make sure you include a few conservative news sources in your feed.
  • Spend less time consuming your news online, and more time cultivating a natural curiosity by speaking to people you meet offline. Take an open, non-judgemental stance when listening.
  • Ask lots of questions. Question everything you read.



Picture credit: NYT

Hail to the Pink Dollar (Daylight launches LGBT practice)

Today we celebrate the addition of a new client, The Society for AIDS Care, an NGO that delivers after-care to HIV positive patients and people living with AIDS.

Daylight’s association with the LGBT community has been long and abiding, beginning with our team that’s itself diverse, and intolerant of intolerance. We were the official social media agency for Pink Dot Hong Kong 2015, a massive outdoor event that brought together over 15,000 LGBT people and their friends to Hong Kong’s Tamar Park for a day of music, games, food and drinks.

In fact, since our founding we’ve always ensured our client campaigns never ignore this very important demographic, even when a client brief is not explicit on it.

That’s why in early 2016 we stealthily formed our LGBT practice, Daylight PP (for Pink Power), a team of marketing professionals dedicated to bridging the gap between brands and the LGBT community at large. LGBT consumers have been an underserved demographic in Asia, but the tide is turning. While studies have shown that in Hong Kong there isn’t a substantial difference between what gays earn and what everyone else earns, the difference lies in where they choose to spend. LGBT consumers typically spend 25% more than other consumer groups on non-essential expenditures, like dining out or shopping. When on vacation, gays tend to spend more as well.

More importantly, LGBT people are understandably ultra-sensitive to discrimination. Overwhelmingly, if perceived to be discriminated against by a brand, gays would distrust the brand, avoid purchase of their products/services, and promote the same attitude to friends. That is a brand communication minefield where an experienced guiding hand is essential.

LGBT people also tend to care about brands that speak to them positively as a community. They tend to support brands that celebrate diversity and create LGBT-friendly products and services. How to speak to this community, however, is an art that relies on in equal parts Authenticity, Sincerity, and Sensitivity.

Over 80% of LGBT people said that they would “try a product or service by a brand if it deliberately targeted the gay community.” That’s what Daylight PP is here for, and our win today is just the start.



Source: Community Business LGBT Climate Study