PHNOM PENH: Brands must prioritise product education in Cambodia if they want to build consumer trust for new categories, a senior agency executive has said.

Multinational companies are investing in the frontier South East Asian market and local consumer habits are maturing, according to Anthony Keck, Managing Director of Havas Riverorchid in Cambodia.

But, he told WARC in an exclusive interview, in a country where 70% of the population lives rurally, brands must take it upon themselves to build trust in new categories with long-term investment, rural activations and product education. (For more details, read WARC's report: Cambodia emerges as a new frontier for multinational brands.)

"The companies that come in and advertise purely and simply on TV are doing themselves a disservice. They need to take the product out to the people. It builds trust," Keck said.

"These are very poor areas. But we are seeing the growth – and a lot of our clients are doing it – they are taking products to the people, as opposed to just relying on mass media," he observed. Not only is it more rewarding, he added, but budgets have increased. "There's a general optimism," he said.

Unilever is one business that has long followed this path – educating women about facial powders, for example, or explaining why brushing one's teeth is important. "Obviously they are trying to sell those products as well, but all this education is starting to take effect, and those people are (now) invested," Keck reported.

For marketers willing to stay in Cambodia for the long haul and do the work required to successfully build a brand in rural areas, there will be big rewards, he believes.

"Companies who actually say, 'All right, part of our budget needs to go to mass media and part of our budget needs to go to activation', are the ones who have got the marketing model right," Keck stated.

"You can actually go and talk to Cambodians about a product, and they love the fact that you're actually doing it. They've not got this cynicism of the Western world where people say, 'I don't want to know about your washing powder. Go away'. They want to know. They want to be educated. They want to be entertained.

Data sourced from WARC