Given the long hours that people work in South Korea, as well as the lengthy and crowded daily commutes they face in major cities such as Seoul, napping on the train while going to work is commonplace. So too is sometimes missing your rail stop because you're fast asleep.
Bearing these factors in mind, fast-food giant Burger King and a local brand activation company were recently able to come up with an innovative marketing promotion that boosted morning sales at participating stores by nearly 19% and, at the same time, provided a useful service to tired rail commuters who travel for an average of two hours every day in Seoul, a city of around 10-million people.
According to the industry publication 'Ad Age', early-morning travellers at five subway stations were given sleep masks with a message written across them that asked fellow commuters to wake them at the appropriate stop. Inside the masks were two coupons for a free Burger King coffee – one for the sleepy traveller and the other for the kind-hearted person who woke them up.
The promotion was developed by Cheil Worldwide, a Seoul-based marketing and activations company, as part of a wider strategy to boost Burger King's morning sales and counter the dominance of McDonald's in the breakfast fast-food market in South Korea. "Burger King was better known for burgers, so they wanted to promote coffee this time," a Cheil spokesperson is quoted as saying by Ad Age'. "Agencies and marketers usually want to make connections between their consumers and the brand. For this one, the campaign also connected consumers to consumers – when subway passengers woke each other up and when they shared the coupons. It was also just a way to make people laugh during the boring, tiring morning commute."
Apart from the increase in sales during the promotion, which ran from late February to mid-April, social media chatter around the Burger King brand increased by nearly 45%. The campaign is now being run in South Korea's second biggest city, Busan.
Seoul's time-stressed commuters have also proved fertile ground for other clever marketing initiatives – although this time of a more permanent nature. In 2011, British-based supermarket chain Tesco launched a 'virtual supermarket' at subway stations that enables consumers to browse through the same merchandise offered at its actual stores in Seoul.
All commuters have to do is scan the QR (quick response) codes of the items they wish to order and then click the 'send' button on a smartphone app. The order is then delivered to the person shortly after they have arrived home.
Soon after the introduction of the concept, online sales increased by 130% and site registrations grew by 76%. The idea has since been mimicked by several other retail chains: Peapod (US), Cold-Storage (Singapore), Woolworths (Australia) and Yihoudian (China).
Part of the reason that the virtual supermarket idea took off so rapidly in Seoul is South Koreans' love of technology. Among 18-24-year-olds, smartphone penetration is close to 100%, while around 80% of the entire population uses smartphones. Internet penetration is about 85% and credit card usage is amongst the highest in the world.
Multinational snacks and confectionary giant Mondelēz – which includes brands such as Cadbury, Toblerone, Oreo, Chiclets and Halls in its portfolio – is set to roll out emerging market campaigns using basic feature phones rather than more sophisticated smartphones.
This follows successful trials conducted with Facebook in Indonesia and the Philippines. Both countries have a strong social media culture, but the vast majority of consumers do not have access to smartphones and instead use feature phones that have limitations such as low resolution, limited data access and no video-viewing capability.
One of the things that set successful marketers apart is their ability to reach local consumers as they navigate their daily lives. What works as a means of influencing tech-savvy developed-world consumers might not achieve the same reach in a developing country like Botswana, for example. The secret is to know which avenue to use to achieve the appropriate brand penetration.
An example of how this plays out in practice was recently highlighted by international underwear and sleepwear manufacturer Jockey, which adopted different marketing approaches in some of the developed and developing markets in which it operates.