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CEO of Phibious, firm behind Coke World Cup ad, reflects on regional players succeeding globally

CEO of Phibious, firm behind Coke World Cup ad, reflects on regional players succeeding globally

Few companies embody passion like Phibious. As a former David among regional advertising agencies, they stood up against multinational advertising Goliaths and convinced global players with their creative concepts. One of its latest projects was producing a global TV commercial for Coca Cola in this year’s Football World Cup – a great accomplishment for a relatively small player in Southeast Asia. So, what is Phibious passion all about? The agency’s website says “No bureaucracy. No bull. Just great ideas from a fantastic team to work with.” Julius Thiemann spoke with Phibious CEO Mervyn Cheo to find out more about the agency’s recipe for success and how the Singaporeans made Cambodia “Phibious country”.

In 2013, Phibious won double awards at the Agency of the Year awards. What makes an agency like yours stand out? What are your most recent outstanding campaigns?
We are proud to have achieved industry recognition for the work that we have done for our clients. This is the result of imaginative work that has achieved impactful results for our client’s business.

One of our proudest campaigns in Cambodia was for Google. It was recognised at Cannes this year, which is the single most competitive international creative awards competition. We launched Google Street View at Angkor Wat, which created significant positive buzz for Google and Cambodia. Some of the results we achieved were increasing worldwide searches on Google for Angkor by 50 per cent in two days and 181 per cent within one month.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

We also created over 200 global stories and over 255,000 social actions in three weeks.

Another proud achievement of Phibious is creating the global television commercial campaign for Coca Cola in the FIFA World Cup, which was aired in over 127 countries around the world.

This is especially so as the work came out of Southeast Asia and received quite a fair bit of coverage in the region.

How do brands stay relevant to their audiences?
Humour is the most effective tool in advertising for connecting with the audience, which, much like music, also has the power to cross cultural boundaries. It disarms the audience and connects them with their most desired emotions. Brands who can effectively leverage this do exceedingly well in bonding with their audience.

Humour is one of the most honest, yet surprising, reflections of a culture. Cambodians and Singaporeans are attuned to funny, clever storytelling. It is also a reflection of similarities in our cultures. This is the essential reason why in Cambodia many Singaporean television comedy series are easily enjoyed. Although the environments may be different, how we act and respond to situations on a human level can still be appreciated and related to.

What is the future for Cambodia’s market leaders?
Providers of products and brands, which are able to connect with Cambodia’s young and internet-savvy consumers, will be very successful here. I believe we will begin to see the emergence of more diverse brands and products revolving around or using mobile communication utilities. We will see products and services beyond what the current telecommunication providers have to offer. We are seeing this happen in neighbouring markets such as Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. I foresee a similar future for Cambodia as well given the fast growing smartphone adaptation and Internet penetration.

On your website it says: “Let’s stake out new territory and make it a place people love. Let’s start our own country.” What do you mean by that? Can you describe Phibious country?
It is a challenge to our employees to strive for innovation; to discover and find new, better ways of doing things. It is too easy to settle for the usual. Phibious has grown from a local to a regional player that works for two out of three of the world’s most valuable brands. It is for that reason that we believe we can do better and be more. We are entrepreneurial. We do this with a playful yet thoughtful and serious attitude. These are the values of Phibious that drive us to be imaginative and impactful in what we do.

Some products must be difficult to sell in Cambodia because the majority of its citizens don’t understand them yet (such as financial products). From this perspective, do you also see yourselves as educators?
This is true and unavoidable – especially if the business is a category creator. It just comes with the role as first mover. However, if done successfully, one reaps the advantage and reward of a first mover. We see this especially with our insurance client Forte Insurance, who in many ways has created the market by creating demand for new and innovative products. They have thus seen stellar growth in their business and market share.

Which are the most successful media channels for advertising? Please elaborate and give some product and target market example.
Different media are effective for different purposes across different target consumers at different points in time. The fundamental difference between traditional media such as television, print and radio versus digital media is in the measurements. For traditional media, we tend to look at the cost per thousand. For digital, we look at the cost per click, lead or acquisition.

In general, television is the most cost-effective for reaching the widest number of people. So effectively, you are buying eyeballs. This works well as a primary awareness driver for brands with a nationwide audience. This is why categories such as telephone companies and other providers of FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands tend to utilise the medium. However, due to the short time per exposure and higher cost of developing the content, messages have to be short and simple.

Print media works well for more targeted audiences. Advertisers can use the medium for information that television advertising may not be able to cover. For example, newspapers are often used to communicate to the business community for industries such as banks and insurance.

The most dynamic and promising media however are digital. With the real-time data and analytics that platforms such as Facebook and Google Display Network provide. Advertisers will be able to target the right audience at the right time more effectively then ever. If we do it right, we are able to effectively lower the cost per lead or cost per customer acquisition for our clients; something that cannot be done in traditional media.

What we are seeing in our offices in Vietnam and Indonesia is that more of our clients are moving away from traditional to digital media. Some clients already spend more on digital than on traditional media.

Please comment on what makes your company Singaporean, you and your company’s relationship to Cambodia and its people and how you can learn from each other.
Beyond the fact that the key founders of Phibious are Singaporeans, I believe Phibious shares a similar story to Singapore. Put simply, we started as a small dot made up of smart and passionate people. We dreamt our place and role in the world and worked hard to make it come true. Cambodia is a special place for me and our company. This is where it started for us. I proudly share our achievements with Cambodia
and in many ways attribute our success today to the contribution of its people.

I have learnt much from Cambodia’s people; the most valuable being their infectious positivism, national pride and immutable resilience. What the Cambodians can learn from us? Well, that really is not something for me to say.


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