‘In this World, The Rules are Different’ – Interview the Internationalist

Dick van Motman has been living in China long enough to understand the wisdom in advocating popular Chinese sayings and the quotations of the country’s greatest figures. At a recent Internationalist event celebrating the successes of Agency Innovators from around the world, Dick talked about his focus on the end goal by citing the simple words of the late Chinese leader, Deng Xiao Ping: “I don’t care what color the cat, as long as it catches mice.”

Through his leadership of the DDB China Group, Dick has certainly demonstrated that the agency is indeed the cat that catches mice. For the past five years, he has worked tirelessly to build DDB Group from a small office with just a couple of clients to one of the strongest and most integrated agencies in China. DDB China Group has grown six-fold in the past five years and now consists of three offices, in three cities, offering three disciplines (DDB, Tribal DDB and RAPP). And the honors have been pouring in.

However, Dick van Motman shared two topics at the Innovators Summit last week that underscore just how to be a successful marketer in China today:

  • Don’t underestimate the digital power of the Chinese market.
  • Don’t be afraid to compete in a daunting arena — even if you’re McDonald’s and you’re trying to sell more chicken than KFC.

Dick outlined 8 key points that affect marketers in China’s new Digital Frontier:

  • The Scale is Phenomenal. China now has 420 million connected citizens and expects 600 million by the end of 2011.
  • The Citizen of the World are Connected. And China is becoming the most digitally connect country on earth. (In a one-child society, there’s a need to reach out to others.)
  • China’s World is Mobile. Today China has 285 million mobile users.
  • This World is also Social. Over 90% of China’s netizens use instant messaging.
  • Surprisingly, This World is also Driven by Self-Expression. In China, 163 million people consider themselves to be active bloggers and produce an extraordinary amount of content.
  • The Familiar Names Are Missing. China’s developers have created the country’s own platforms — preferring them to the likes of facebook, YouTube, Google, etc.
  • In this World, The Rules are Different. This may be the greatest divide between East and West. In China, 28% distrust banner ads and 47% distrust ads in games.
  • The Path to Success Lies in a Social Approach.

In a demonstration of marketing fearlessness, Tribal DDB helped McDonald’s to encourage Chinese consumers to try its McWings — even though KFC was the market leader for restaurant chicken purchases and had nearly double the number of locations. The Chinese enjoy snacking and love chicken wings; however, the fast-food industry is highly competitive. Tribal DDB’s solutions underscored several tenets of China’s new digital world — online word-of-mouth and social media, but also took advantage of the country’s affinity for couponing.

Through announcements on major social networking sites, McDonald’s promised to honor chicken wing coupons from any other food establishment. This generated massive social media buzz and McWings Mania. Over 2 million people pledged their love of McDonald’s chicken wings online, the mainstream media jumped on the story — added fuel to the coupon swaps and the lines for McWing purchase, and McDonald’s increased sales by 30%. It even resulted in a Harvard Business case study.

Dick van Motman often jokes about his extraordinary internationalist background. He’s of mixed descent: Dutch/Indonesian, Portuguese/Jewish, and grew up in Holland. After studying marketing and economics, followed by sociology, he worked in Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore before making his way to China. However, he has shown — regardless of those roots or perhaps because of them — that he understands how to market to China and certainly recognizes how to be the cat that catches mice.

(This interview was originally published in Internationalist Magazine as part of the Trendsetters-series)

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