Deep thought on “Bún cá Cam”

Today, I just paid 70,000 VND for a bowl of “Cam” fish noodles (Bún cá Cam) (the average is 35,000- 60,000 VND). There is nothing “disruptive” in the product or store that can rationalize that price. The store locates in a small, unknown street. The room is air-conditioned like other stores in the same areas. Nothing unique with the decorative style. But just one small (but decisive) point: there is a story about that “Cam” fish in the noodles, which is Da Nang’s specialty and transported fresh to Ho Chi Minh city.

I can’t figure logically why I happily paid for that price, because if you put me in a blind test, I won’t be able to tell the difference between fish. I didn’t pay that extra for the Cam fish, or the noodles or the store atmosphere. I paid for the “fresh Da Nang’s specialty” story.

People pay the perceived value, which is formed by a story. The story makes a product/ service a brand.

A T-shirt is a product. A T-shirt worn by Cristiano Ronaldo is a brand.

A piece of paper is a product. A piece of paper that is authorized by the government as the official currency becomes a brand.

Hold on, aren’t we using “brand” (money) to pay for “brands”? And we are paid for our “brand” (expertise) ?



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Logos and other distinctive assets rarely have meaning

There is no point in finding meaning in Brand Communication Assets, simply because consumers don’t care.

Why does this cow appear in the beer ads? Why not?
Why use a chicken as an ambassador for a milk brand? Why not?
Why use this no-meaning name for a brand name? Why not?

Marketing Science

It’s not uncommon for marketing consultants to preach the need for a meaningful logo, something that communicates by itself from day one. Ries and Trout used to argue that brand names like ‘Head and Shoulders’ were much better than meaningless names like ‘Pantene’ or ‘Vosene’. We marketing people tend to take our brands, and logos, very seriously and tend to assume that consumers do too, but this is misguided out-of-touch thinking.

Brands, and their distinctive assets, identify – that’s it. They (potentially) ensure that people know it is you, not someone else advertising. They allow people to repeat-buy you, to see you on shelf.

Consumers rarely stop to think about whether the logo looks nice, trustworthy, or conveys any other connotation. Few people (outside of the marketing industry) ponder….

  • Why America’s largest most famous burger chain has a Scottish name ?
  • Why one of Australia’s largest banks is named after…

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Social campaign: the next big thing to capture the Vietnamese Millennials


“What is your opinion about the social ignorance issue of young Vietnamese nowadays?”

This is one exam question that you might find in Vietnam’s Grade 12 Literature class.Do the young Vietnamese nowadays ignorant? I really doubt it.

If you belong to the “Vietnamese Millennials” group, possibly you are on the same page with me. The new Vietnamese don’t just care. They care about many more things than their previous generation did. LGBT rights, environmental protection, assistance for people in need, women rights and many more are realized and fought for by the new generation.

In the past, when people faced an inequality or difficult problems that require the crowd to unite, all they can do was through relationships or one-one-one persuasion. Now, via social media, that mass call can be achieved rapidly without much effort. Imagine what if the Vung Ang fish death incidence occured 8 years ago, it would not cause much heat as today. People might just read the news, discussed with other people off-line and the incidence might float away like any other news.

Seeing social issues as the top sharing posts on Facebook in these days, I wonder why no brands in Vietnam have yet been responsive. Environmental issues, food hygiene and safety issues, traffic safety issues, tourism safety issues, etc. you may count. But there hasn’t been any big brand campaign to raise their voice on this.

If you say a social campaign requires massive investment, you are surely wrong. One of the most viral campaigns recently that advocated a social issue belongs to a private flower online shop named Hoa Nói. The idea is simple: giving 1000 flowers to street cleaners in Ho Chi Minh city to honour their environmental contribution. The idea became a hit because it reminded us of the silent heroes working days and nights, whom we have taken for granted. In addition, it is striking that the street cleaners are very environmentally aware. They write on the white board to tell people not to use plastic bags and throw trash in the right place. (Visit their fanpage for details of the campaign) The campaign gained huge attention from media, being featured on VTV, Thanhniennews, etc. and each of their campaign Facebook posts got over 7,000 shares.


A street cleaner writing on the board: “Please do not ask for more plastic bags if not necessary”


Mr. Nguyen Hong Viet, the idea and Hoa Noi owner, giving flowers to a street cleaner

The above example shows how a simple social campaign can engage the young Vietnamese. However, with that being said, it does not mean doing whatever CSR can make your brand viral. Many brands are just doing CSR for the sake of CSR, which will not do any good for leveraging the brands. In order to create the wanted interest and interaction from the Vietnamese millennials, there are several key points brand needs to take into account:

  • The social campaign idea must resonate with the Brand Purpose. This is a must. No need to elaborate on here.
  • The social support can be cliche, but the idea should be fresh. If you want to give scholarship to students, the conventional way is way too boring. What if you create a competition between them instead of giving the scholarship directly? What if you give them an opportunity instead of a money scholarship?
  • The social support should have a specific impact. If you are running a water-saving campaign, have a specific outcome after the campaign. For example, 1 billion meter square of water commitment by Comfort Unilever Vietnam (Refer to the campaign site)

In the following part, I will share some social opportunities that BRANDS might use or could have used. There are so many of them if you think about it.

Some recent social campaign opportunities for BRANDS in Vietnam:

  • Vung Ang mass fish death. Are there any creative solutions to prevent dead fish flowing to the markets? What if a brand launches a fundraising campaign for the fishermen suffering from the incidence?
  • In mid May 2016, tonnes of fish died after heavy rain in HCMC. Could any brand take this opportunity to do some good? What to do with over 70 tonnes of dead fish? Any solution to prevent mass fish death in the next rainy season? Any campaign to reduce the current pollution in the city?
  • American man cleaning polluted canal get in trouble with Hanoi authority. What if a brand sponsors this man’s project and gets his good will widespread?
  • Traffic accidents are the norm on the news. Any brands take up this challenge? I have seen so few.
  • History subjects in Vietnam are dead boring. Could a brand make a history lesson intriguing to students?
  • Domestic violence in VN is still an issue. How could a brand stand up and protect women?


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It is chaos



The creative world is a chaotic world.

For those who think it is just a poetic portrait, it is true and untrue. True in terms of its fanciness, but untrue for what they don’t know the pain people suffer behind the scene.

In the creative world, everything just gets …creative. Out of the norm.

For those who think there is a creative process, it is true and untrue. True, because there’s actually somehow a process. But untrue, because I wonder whether that “process” should be called as a “process” at all.

Creative process  is an exploratory process fuelled by emotion and pop-up thinking, or another name, unconsciousness. What is crazy about this process is that they don’t have one process. Imagine a road where everyone can go left or right, forward or backward in whatever direction they like. Imagine a 2-D world, someday turns 3-D, then 4-D. If we try to make sense in a 4D world, it’s beyond our conscious thinking ability.





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Equinox- Commit to something

Back to 2016, Equinox, with Wieden + Kennedy New York, launches a series of Print, Digital, OOH campaign. The theme revolves around “commitment”, by which they mean not just exercise commitment, but also a variety of aspects in life, such as women’s rights, sexuality and life choices.

This campaign portrays the exact brand idea of Equinox: an obsession for commitment, as explained by Equinox CMO Carlos Becil:

“Equinox is about commitment, we are obsessed with it, and we challenge our members to know who they are and what they want. It’s not just about fitness – it’s about life. The concept of commitment is bold, incredibly powerful, and it’s real, especially in a world today where commitment is lacking.”

Let’s explore these beautifully shot fashion-style ads:

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What I love about this campaign and the brand itself is its extremity and obsession, which is an appealing character for a luxury brand. Whether you will love or hate it, there will be no middle opinions. Added to that, these ads do not stop at being promotional ads, but also advocates for the right, the trend which we are witnessing from many popular recent campaigns.

“It is the responsibility of advertising to communicate modern times and social issues,” Klein said in a statement. “This campaign addresses today’s issues and social commentaries, which is a powerful approach instead of portraying people as superficial objects with no narrative.” – W+K

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Why are most job interview questions terrible?

Job interview questions are terribly designed. This is what I realize after conducting several qualitative research interviewing customers.

The most terrible job interview question of all time, I believe, is “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” The reason is strengths and weaknesses are relative and happen in context. Most people ignores context of things. A person might think oranges  are great for dessert, but a no-no for breakfast. Similarly, what situations are you putting me in when asking about my strengths and weaknesses? Are you asking about the situation when I pitch to the clients or the negotiation moments or the working-alone office time?

The even more terrible question than this is specifically tell us to “Name your 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses”. The mindset of this question is strengths and weaknesses exist separately, not as a whole. This is like seperating the yin and the yang. (Many people thinks yin and yang are different things, like female is yin and male is yang. This is dangerous thinking. Yin yang always co-exists.) This is similar to the conversation with our friends or family members about their personalities. “You have a very tough character.” This is not enough, because I don’t know in what context you are tough, in what context you aren’t tough and to how much extent.

Research questions must designed to meet the objectives. General, misleading questions such as “strengths and weaknesses” don’t do the job, because it is too open-ended. Just like research questions, job interview questions should be tunnel-shaped. They must be able to tune in the mindset/ thinking/ capabilities of the candidates.


Things happen in context! I don’t understand what “responsible” that you mean.

The next interview questions I hate similarly is situational interview questions. “What would you do if you discovers that a man who has a relationship with your boss’s ex-wife is having an affairs with your bigger boss’s sister in the CEO’s office room?” Those kinds of situational interview questions are terribly wrong. It does not yet provide a complete situation. It’s like practising martial arts and thinks if a person throws a punch in this technique, I  will defend and attack like that. It’s bullshit because there are so many variables to think about. A punch of a tall, strong person will be different from a short, weak one; a punch of male will be different from a female; or that same punch technique but two people standing on different terrain. So many variables we can think of to take account in. No way, there’s no way to spot out that situation, the exact description of the situation, everything. Again, situational interview questions do not mention about the context, which can vary widely.

To end this blog post, I would like to quote Dave Trott in his “Creative Mischief” wonderful book.

“Context isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Ask in context. Answer in context. Think in context. Do in context.Feel in context.





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Creative Confidence by IDEO

A page from The Field Guide to Human-centered Design of IDEO- an creative organization that I am a huge fan of.

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