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
"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
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
"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,"