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7 Days Out: Yangon, Myanmar

Planners in advertising embark upon all sorts of quests to uncover the truths about our audiences, learning about people through data and focus groups— eXploring, as we call it at Y&R. But rarely do they attempt something as ambitious as a recent Y&R project: seven days of literal exploration in Myanmar, a country that’s a mystery to the outside world.

Through the pains of early British colonization and decades of military rule, today’s Myanmar is finally emerging from isolation. We wanted to understand this wildcard of a country—and potential new market. Rather than researching from a distance, we explored the country. The result is a new VML, Y&R, VICE Media collaboration: an adventurous, groundbreaking new feature called “7 Days Out.”

The collaboration was the brainchild of VML Singapore planning director, Rahul Chawra. Vice Media sent VML Planner Siddharth Seth to Yangon, the cultural capital of Myanmar, where he immersed himself for seven days in its culture and uncovered unexpected and inspiring insights. In “The New Faces of Yangon” Seth met with modern day artists, spiritual leaders, business innovators, and trailblazers like Thazin Nyut Aung from the female rap group Y.A.K.

Read more and watch the feature produced with VICE Media here:

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7 Days Out: Yangon, Myanmar

  1. 1. Myanmar I April 2016
  2. 2. The following report is the synopsis of the maiden weeklong journey into Yangon, Myanmar as a part of the 7 Days Out project. It is an attempt to uncover the truth hidden beneath the hustle-bustle of everyday life, in a nation still coming to terms with its first civilian government since 1962. It is also an effort to unlock meaningful opportunities for businesses and the people of Myanmar as they go about dealing with this new reality.
  4. 4. 1. RELIGION INWARD ~ OUTWARD Despite years of junta rule and oppression, religion has managed to maintain its stronghold over the people of Myanmar. As the society opens up to the world now, there is an interesting mix of people upholding their traditional religious beliefs while embracing a modern lifestyle. They constantly look inwards for the answers without giving up on what the outside world has started to offer.
  5. 5. “It is a custom for boys to enter monkhood at the age of 20. It is a period that parents eagerly look forward to and something that fills them with pride.” - Daw Pyin Nyar Mala, 45 Runs a monastery for nuns
  6. 6. “Modern day technology and the use of social media by some of the younger monks should not be frowned upon. It should be accepted as a reality of life. What is important is that one knows where to draw the line. There is nothing wrong in watching Korean dramas. But one should know to not follow them blindly.” - U Nan Di Ya, 50 Monk of 27 years
  7. 7. Opportunities for marketers Embrace and reflect the religious values of the society in your DNA
  8. 8. SHARE. DON’T EXPLORE. Opportunity #1 While the temptation to exploit religious codes and rituals is huge, the real opportunity is for brands to internalize them and make it a part of their core.
  9. 9. APPEAL TO THE SELF Opportunity #2 In a society that believes in looking inwards for answers, marketers can take an approach that goes beyond the frills of the external and appeal to the inner essence.
  10. 10. HELP SPREAD THE INFLUENCE Opportunity #3 Brands can help by celebrating and enabling the spread of good by empowering the ones who live up to the values.
  11. 11. 2. GENDER MATRIARCHAL NORMS ~ PATRIARCHAL REALITYThere is little that remains of the traditional matriarchal society except in the form of certain customs and practices. The equation has tilted more in favor of the men leading to repression of women in the last few decades. However, the recent times are seeing a shift where the balance between the genders is being restored. Women today enjoy far more freedom and a sense of equality. What remains is having the freedom to choose one’s role in society even if it doesn’t line up.
  12. 12. “To this day we have no family surnames in Burma and a woman keeps her own name after marriage. Because of our family system, there are nearly always cousins or sisters or aunts or other relatives who live in the household. This means that there is always someone in the family to take care of the children and the mother is free to have a job or profession outside the home. The children, meanwhile, are taught at an early age to help in the house and in their mother's work outside. You will, for example, often find a girl of seven or eight sitting with her mother in a shop, learning how to sell the goods or helping out during a busy time.” - Daw Mya Sien theatlantic.com/archives/wom en of burma
  13. 13. “Even today, there are several women who willingly and happily give up their careers after marriage to take care of the family and raise their children.” - Ma Su Su Wai, 43 Ex National lever cyclist, Gold winner at SEA Games
  14. 14. “While there is greater freedom for women today, I wish women had the freedom of choice to do what role they want to play. I don’t drink beer that much but when I feel like drinking, I don’t want to listen to anyone about how much I should drink or if I should drink or not.” - Thazin Nyut Aung, 30 Rapper (Y.A.K)
  15. 15. Help restore the social balance and look beyond traditional role definitions Opportunities for marketers
  16. 16. BRING BACK EQUALITY Opportunity #1 Marketers can play a role by empowering the transformation towards a more balanced role definition.
  17. 17. THE HOMEMAKING MAN Opportunity #2 Amongst the men, there are many who believe in a more balanced social dynamic between the two genders. Such stories can become precedents for modern social structure.
  18. 18. EXPLORE WOMANHOOD BEYOND STEREOTYPES Opportunity #3 There are more aspects to women than the traditional home-maker and the modern multi-tasker. Brands can assist the cause by bringing alive the various other unspoken facets to womanhood.
  19. 19. 3. ACTIONS AND OUTCOMES SELF BELIEF ~ FATALISMThere are many who have challenged the status-quo during difficult times. They are the ones who have relentlessly pursued their passion despite all odds. Even with things being much better after the recent changes in the political scenario, they haven’t stopped or slowed down with their efforts. However, their concern is limited to their actions irrespective of the outcomes. After a point, the element of fate kicks in and outcomes are surrendered into the hands of powers beyond their control.
  20. 20. Even during the height of the Junta rule, he did not find a reason to sit quietly and be a bystander. In fact, it was motivation for him to load his art with indirect and subliminal messages in an effort to mobilize people. - (Name withheld)
  21. 21. “When we started, people would call me names. They would call me ‘psycho’. I used to sing traditional Burmese songs but I tried over and over again and finally we got a rap group together. My dream, however, would be to some day go to the US and, if possible, watch my idols Snow Tha Product perform in Mexico.” - Triple A, 30 Rapper (Y.A.K)
  22. 22. Enable the transition from actions to outcomes Opportunities for marketers
  23. 23. CELEBRATE THE HEROES Opportunity #1 There are countless accounts of relentless pursuits in the severest of odds. Brands can celebrate these heroes for the contributions they have made.
  24. 24. FACILITATE THE CHANGE Opportunity #2 Marketers can play a dual role – directly facilitating people and efforts to bring change and helping build the culture of transformation amongst the citizens.
  25. 25. EXTEND SELF BELIEF TO OUTCOME Opportunity #3 Marketers can help people dream once again by helping convert the dreams of a few into reality.
  26. 26. 4. MODERNITY TRADITION HOLDS YOU BACK ~ TRADITION MOVES YOU FORWARD While there is a whole generation that is rushing to adopt the new, there are many who find these as superficial, addictive and wasteful distractions eroding people’s minds. There are many who worry that this blind adoption endangers some of the good that has been a part of the society – old heritage structures, religious practices, human interaction over tea, living with fewer desires, etc. There is also a worry that real change for the better is still far off.
  27. 27. “I don’t want Yangon to be concrete jungle with sky scrapers and modern buildings. I want to keep it simple with historic buildings and monuments. In social life, I don’t like some technological progress. For example, when we meet at the tea shop, we don’t talk much and spend our times using Facebook. I don’t like it. But it doesn’t mean I want to change it as it’s their rights. I don’t want to be big changes in ancient cities like Bagan and Pwin-Oo-Lwin and I don’t want much development. I want to keep the colonial building as same as before. I want to maintain every monument as it was.” - Ye Ngwe So, 30 Founder of No U-Turn & Jamit Magazine
  28. 28. “I used to have 40-50 employees quit at regular intervals without saying a word and I could never understand why. When I finally realized that they need a bit more security with their job, I reworked on my contracts and employment benefits so that they can feel empowered. I also gave them a career plan for 5 years, post which, they could start their own business” - Htet Myet Oo, 26 Founder, Rangoon Tea House
  29. 29. A local telecom company Ooredoo has recently launched a new campaign targeting the social network adopting youth of Myanmar What makes this interesting is ‘Phalan Phalan’ – a traditional Burmese phrase used to describe hyperactive teenagers
  30. 30. Bringing the best of Myanmar forward so that brands not only have an opportunity but a responsibility to help society Opportunities for marketers
  31. 31. BE IN FOR THE LONG HAUL Opportunity #1 There are enough opportunities to earn short term wins as everything new is being accepted as good. However, marketers should try to look at building a long-term success story by bringing in change for well- intentioned people.
  32. 32. CELEBRATE THE TRADITIONS Opportunity #2 Not by invoking nostalgia but by taking traditions that are right and innovating in order to create modern, meaningful relationships.
  33. 33. RING IN THE NEW Opportunity #3 There are areas where the old is in fact, holding the society back. It could be hygiene habits or belief systems. Brands should challenge these areas sufficiently to motivate people to want to shake off these shackles.
  34. 34. 5. A NEW NATION REVOLUTION ~ EVOLUTION There is a lot of optimism in the air with the new government taking charge of the nation. However, despite the optimism, people are realistic in their expectations from the new regime. While there is hope, people are also practical and believe that real transformation takes time. While they expect a lot from the government, they believe that change is not just the agenda of the government; it needs to be initiated by the people themselves in their own little ways as well.
  35. 35. “I have been watching the change in Myanmar and I am hopeful that the new government will actually make all those changes. The level of cleanliness is something that is changing already. Even the police are now helping people instead of harassing them. However, the government still has to do a lot in the field of education as we are miles away from where we should be.” - Moe Satt, 33 Visual artist
  36. 36. “Although a lot of responsibility falls on the new government, the responsibility of change also lies with the people. People should stop spitting betel nut on the streets, they should obey traffic rules and feel like a part of this new time in the country.” - May Brawni Zaw, 24 - Pyuthor Sow, 26 Media professionals
  37. 37. Driving transformation with purpose Opportunities for marketers
  38. 38. DEFINING THE WAY Opportunity #1 There is a role for brands to help people cope with the changing Myanmar. Our job shouldn’t be limited to showing the way, but also help in adopting a better way.
  39. 39. BE THE CATALYST Opportunity #2 For many, this change also comes with a blankness of what to do next. Brands can empower people by enlightening them about the various essentials of life like education and human rights.
  40. 40. EVOLVE IN ANTICIPATION Opportunity #3 While Myanmar is still a new country in many ways, the speed of change is something marketers need to anticipate.