Paul Thomas – Asahi International

Paul Thomas – Asahi International

Paul Thomas is the Global Brand Director for Insights, Performance and Planning for Asahi International. Paul started the first few years of his career working at Nielsen and Ipsos where he gained experience on agency side. After five years he decided to move to client side, first at Ferrero, and then onto the spirits and beer category, first through Diageo in a range of roles. Paul: “Then Asahi came knocking 2.5 years ago with this amazing opportunity to build a global insight function from scratch. Where it was just me at the beginning, we are now a team of 8 running projects in every geography in the world, having embedded insights in all our plans, thinking and strategy. My team operates in 3 disciplines: insights, media touchpoint planning and innovation. Our job is to provide our marketers with all of the tools, systems and insights to succeed.”

Main KPIs for growth

When it comes to Asahi International’s main KPIs for growth, Paul tells us that they split growth into two elements: Power in the Mind, and Power in the Market. Paul: “We think there are 2 ways in which you can grow a brand. You build memory structures and desire within a consumer’s mind. Driving awareness, consideration, that’s power in the mind. Power in the market is presence, visibility, availability, always looking to be the best brand behind the bar. By getting the balance of those two things right, it allows you a premium price point if your Power in the Mind is slightly ahead of your Power in the Market. In old fashioned terms: if the demand for your brand is slightly above the supply. As a brand, you need to look at your current position in mind and market. Work out where it is relatively strong and weak, and what you therefore need to focus on in the year to come, and finding the right tools to do that.”

Role of creative

Paul tells us that the number one spend in the market – beyond ingredients to make beer – is advertising. Paul: “Beer companies spend millions and millions to win. Creative is one of the most important things we do. What drives Power in the Mind, with the right creative applied across the right touchpoints, should allow us to create that desire that makes consumers seek our brand more than the competitors. It can have a huge impact on brands. We just launched our first ever global Asahi Super Dry campaign. It is campaigns like these which will be vital for establishing what our brands are about, and why consumers should buy our products. Back in my Ferrero days I think about the Kinder Surprise. The chocolate egg with a toy. We moved Kinder Surprise to be about the power of imagination, talking about how those little toys can spark that glorious moment for a child, and all their worries melt away. Such a powerful piece of creative led to huge brand growth. It was really powerful to be able to encourage parents to find those simple, joyful moments in a world revolving around mobile phones and tablets.”

Creative challenges

Paul shares some challenges he has come across in creative development. The first focusing on international campaigns. “Developing a global campaign doesn’t mean sharing the exact same piece of creative in 50 markets. You need to think about how this campaign will work in Canada, South Africa, South Korea etc. You are not in a position where you can create a completely different campaign per market. That’s very expensive. You need to make sure that the initial brief to the creative agency includes how all these consumers think differently, rather than finding out later that it won’t work in a certain market. However, there must be a common theme across all markets. One of our biggest challenges is finding those insights which are globally true. When we launched our new Asahi Super Dry campaign: ‘Discovery is Calling’, we did lots of insight work. The campaign is based on the insight that people outside of Japan think that Japanese people are innovative, creative, and full of curiosity. This insight is shared across all of our key geographies where we will be advertising. But it took time to get there, and we didn’t brief the agency until we had the right insights. The second biggest challenge is that ultimately, you need to sell beer. We need the brand and product to be central to the creative. Any market research agency will tell you that branding is one of the biggest challenges. Trying to get the product to be the shining star of the advert, instead of just being shown in the last two seconds.”

Creative success

Moving on from that, Paul underlines three things that make or break a piece of creative. The quality behind the idea or insight, conveying the right message at the right point and not trying to do too much. Paul: “I mentioned the example of what we have recently done with Asahi Super Dry. We know the idea is brilliant because we spent loads of time with consumers. I have worked on creatives in the past where that work hasn’t been done and you are basing it on what you hope is the case, and it never works out. Next to that, I think it is really important to share the right message at the right time. You need to tailor the message to the channel. What we tend to do with our media approach is that we split all different channels into 3 tasks: awareness, understanding or impact. A Facebook campaign will give you some key information about the brand but won’t make you fall over with excitement. But, an amazing takeover of a top outlet in London, might. The third area is trying to do too much. With a portfolio like our, it’s easy to try and support every brand in every market but you end up with very small budgets per brand. And it gets to a point where nothing you are doing is going to make an impact. So, you have to prioritise and focus on the principle of ‘fewer and better’.”

All about insights

According to Paul, insights play a huge part in their business and creative development. “Research and insight should be the best friend of the creative agency”, Paul continues. “The research team should be providing them with loads of insights around the consumer they are targeting, the moment they are trying to win in, and the bigger idea that they are working on. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. Traditionally, insights revolved around giving that green tick or red cross to either pass or fail. Nowadays, we play a huge role in providing all insights upfront. With our latest Peroni Nastro Azzurro campaign we did a huge piece of multi country research to understand the idea better, before our marketers started to develop the brief. We do qualitative work during the creative development process to help them refine, shape, and improve. That’s where our focus lies, rather than a very harsh yes or no at the end of the process. We believe in partnership with our creative agency. We are not just there to test them, but to partner with them and make their creative better.”

Adapting to the situation

In the last couple of months, a lot of companies have changed their advertising to fit the current situation. Paul highlights an important distinction between being authentic as a brand, and trying to take advantage of the situation. Paul: “With Peroni Nastro Azzurro we launched a campaign around an Italian ritual where people get dressed up, go out, have a walk and meet up with other people to have their aperitivo. This passeggiata is a gorgeous tradition and people are fascinated by it and find it really enriching. We realised that that principle of going out for a walk, enjoying the small things, the company of those around you, is something that people have missed hugely during lockdown. So, we adapted the advert to celebrate being able to do this again.  This fits the Italian mindset of celebration and positivity.  This started with a letter from the brand to our consumers in UK newspapers. I find that brands which continued to be authentic and suitable, have done well through this period. When brands have obviously tried to take advantage of the situation (promising they are ‘here for us’ and with generic mournful piano music), that’s when consumers will spot it. If a company is not authentic, they will be the first to point it out.”