Marketing madness in Vietnam

The sugarcane school of professional marketing has struck again

A sign for barber shop service in Nghe An Province, north-central Vietnam

The sugarcane school of professional marketing has struck again. Confronted by a Facebook post featuring delicious food and drink one day, I was flummoxed that the advertiser provided no address, no shop name or any other details for that matter. Just another day on Facebook, hey?

Incompetent marketing is a minor irritation on social media. It’s like a glitch in the mental software of an overly confident business owner who insists his junior staff post an ad while he sits in the coffee shop browsing online. It’s the wasted energy that annoys me.

This online stupidity virus isn’t confined to poorly-trained Vietnamese posters though. I’m still constantly amused by the carelessness of foreigners running bars that post ‘happy hour’ ads but forget to mention the hours! It’s even weirder when people announce that an event is happening five minutes before it’s due to happen or even worse, the day after…

It’s one thing to dream of making megabucks but another to get people engage in your product and willing to pay good money. I guess some people take the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple, stupid) too far. The classic scenario is when people use Google Translate to write their menus; how many times does beef stew have to become ‘chicken pocket virus’? Yummy! 

Still it’s great online entertainment. Music events are my favorites. ‘Hey, yo! Hip-hop, bebop salsa reggae happening this Sunday at Da Nang beach! Bring your towel, your girl and your groove and make some moves!’ Well, I’d love to join but where exactly in Da Nang is it or am I supposed to just follow the roar of the sound system until I get closer? 

You’ve gotta love it, even if it is mind-numbing. If I was totally drunk and had two broken hands for typing, could I get it that wrong? No ticket information or where to get them. No start time, just a date. Food and drink included, really? Is that a cup of sugarcane juice and a banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich)? Or is it some kind of lucky dip?

Social club marketing also fascinates me. What exactly do they do? Ambitious claims of fun, weighed against the likelihood of being stuck in the corner chatting to a nervous industrial sewage consultant have me worried. ‘Make new contacts’ or ‘learn new business skills in a non-threatening environment’ is so intriguing that I might go to one of these things to find out if the participants are threatened by people like me who might suddenly shout out ‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!’ or ‘I’m sorry but I find you socially incompatible with my belief systems’.

Online food marketing also attracts a lot of attention, if only based on the excessive use of capital letters posted by restaurateurs who take grimy, out-of-focus pictures and believe they’ve discovered the next big thing in culinary history.

With food safety a major Vietnamese preoccupation, marketing exotic food makes Monsanto look your friendly local baker in comparison. ‘Try our avocado, mint and bacon sandwich smothered in honey and mustard sauce with boiled goose eggs and cinnamon curry!’ I must remember to factor in the cost of the ambulance ride to get my stomach pumped.

House marketing is great fun, too. With a picture of a mansion taken when newly built and surrounded by picturesque rice fields, you can be forgiven for being genuinely interested until you discover it’s now surrounded by karaoke bars and the local gas supply shop, which also happens to be occupied by chain smokers. Prices can often range from unrealistic to the cost of a mile of Vietnamese highway and a year’s deposit upfront. Why do some Vietnamese think we foreigners need a Jacuzzi on every floor, not to mention the world’s smallest rear courtyard? 

To be fair, Vietnamese marketing is still in its infancy as a tool for fueling the private sector’s economic growth. A lack of ethics and unsubstantiated claims put me off, although they do seem to pull in the punters - people willing to take a risk. 

I love the video ads for health clinics, toothpaste and pills too. You can usually see them while you’re waiting for that plane at the airport. They’ll make your child a genius within weeks, don’t you know? Usually fronted by an unconvincing, acne-ravaged doctor in a green or pristine white lab coat, the commercials are interlaced with stunning and frequently terrifying graphics of what the pills do to your body. I feel like ringing up and screaming, ‘I’ll buy a dozen boxes!’ then give a false credit card number and a phony address just to punish them.

So, dear marketers, keep those marketing gimmicks coming! I love a good laugh and I promise faithfully to share your thrilling products with my friends. Then again, I must just scroll down to the next ad. Happy reading!

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