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Adverts flood Cambodia with promise of good life

Adverts flood Cambodia with promise of good life

IN Cambodia's world of advertising, indulgence has its rewards: slugging back a beer

will make you smart, sipping wine will make you strong and smoking cigarettes will

make you rich.

Too good to be true? Not in this marketplace of miracles, where companies anxious

to cut through the commercial clutter will often resort to questionable claims, and

eager consumers will often listen.

"Anything goes here, "said Phillip Kelly, manager of ad agency Prakit/FCB

Cambodia. "For advertisers, it's very permissive."

War-torn Cambodia, which is struggling to emerge from decades of civil conflict and

to foster its fledgling market economy, is a place ready to embrace promises of the

good life, however extreme they may be, advertisers say.

"The legacy of war means that people who now have money are willing to spend

it," said Ian Taylor, who recently opened a J. Walter Thompson office in Phnom

Penh. "And people spend money ferociously here."

In Phnom Penh, newly expanded supermarkets are becoming crowed with curious consumers

who tour the new products on display, fingering glossy packages of soap and scrutinising

jars of imported foodstuff.

Shopkeepers and restaurant owners say they often agree to display advertisements

for free because of their popularity. Sidewalk stall umbrellas, the walls of buildings

and the backs of bicycle taxis are also plastered with commercial enticements.

For many Cambodians, using heavily advertised products is a status symbol.

"In Cambodia, being seen driving in a Mercedes or smoking a certain cigarette

tells people you've made it," said Paul Guymon, general manager of the research

division of International Management and Investment Consultants Ltd.

"Supermarkets are the place to be seen, " he added.

The advertising blitz has been heaviest with tobacco and alcohol products, consumed

in large amounts here.

About 80 percent of Cambodian men drink beer and up to 80 percent smoke, according

to one market analyst.

"Alcohol and tobacco are relatively cheap rewards," said M.A. Aleem, general

manager of British-American Tobacco, whose 555 brand cigarettes are Cambodia's best

seller.

"There is an element of gratification there, and conspicuous consumption is

quite heavy," he said, adding that he estimates tobacco consumption at five

to seven billion cigarettes per year.

Advertisers say there are about 100 brands of cigarettes and 40 kinds of beer in

Cambodia- figures they believe to be among the highest in all of Asia.

The flood of products from many companies dabbling in the Cambodian market has left

advertisers with a tough task- to create brand loyalty in an environment of inexperienced

consumers who enjoy experimenting with new products.

"There's a tendency among consumers to try new things, and so brand loyalty

is relatively low," Aleem said.

For the crowded alcohol and tobacco market, that can mean drastic measures, say advertising

executives.

Beer commercials show fit young men leaping and sprinting while promises of physical

and intellectual prowess flash on the televison screen. In one popular spot, a man

cracks an egg into his beer, and the yolk transforms into a woman. He drinks down

the attractive brew with a slurp.

In a billboard advertisement, a small bottle of wine tonic is purported to be the

nutritional equivalent of eating two whole chickens.

Complicating the mix, cigarette and beer makers run lotteries, awarding jackpots

and prizes to lucky consumers.

"You have to spend so much money here to get any share of voice in the market,"

said Taylor. "And with everyone giving away prizes, you have to do it, too."

It's a big effort for a market of only 10.5 million people whose gross domestic product

per capita is under $300 a year, but companies say the risk is mitigated by Cambodians'

appetite for new products and prime location in the heart of the booming southeast

Asian market.

"Companies have put a lot of faith and they don't want to lose on the gamble

of getting in here," said Prakit/FCB's Kelly.

Aleem of British-American Tobacco agreed. "We see the future here. The market

is at the very low end, and it has to improve. We want to be a part of that growth,"

he said.

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