China, Sept 25, 2015 – In recent years, brands have been falling over themselves trying to get consumers to participate in online and social media campaigns.   But just because technology creates new avenues and opportunities for consumers to participate with brands online doesn’t mean people want to.  


In a report, “Participation – Beyond the Hype”, J. Walter Thompson and Kantar TNS present the argument that the hype around participation, an often-used buzzword in marketing,  is based on flawed assumptions on the level of interest consumers have in engaging with brands online.  Many marketers look at participation as an end in itself, focusing on amassing likes and shares.  That’s been a distraction.


“Participation hype has distracted us from the real opportunity. The game changer isn’t participation – it’s content that sparks a connection.  And the value is in that connection, not the participation that may or may not follow,” said Josie Brown, APAC Director of Digital.   “Participation is not why people connect. It’s a response when people make a connection.”


An analysis by J Walter Thompson, based on a study of online behaviour and attitudes of 5,600 people across seven countries in Asia Pacific co – including China - conducted by Kantar TNS, shows consumers are hesitant, or even suspicious, about engaging with brands online, and resent doing anything that appears to benefit the brand more than it benefits them.  


Among Chinese respondents, the study found over 95% are online content consumers as well as interactors and creators, switching effortlessly from passive reading and watching, to more active liking, sharing and commenting, to more pro-active behaviours like, creating & reviewing.  Yet that level of engagement doesn’t extend to brands.  


Indeed, the more brands ask of consumers, the less interested they are in participating.  Just over half of Chinese respondents say they are interested in consuming brand content, but only 38% are open to interacting with brands online and just 12% of those surveyed have any interest in participating in campaigns from brands that ask them to do create content. And this is among people who are already considering a purchase, and are therefore predisposed to the category.  The interest level is far lower among people who aren’t looking to buy.


The majority of respondents in China – 63% - are more likely to engage with brands online only if ‘it’s really easy and asks nothing of me’, and 53% say they’d prefer it if brands would just entertain them rather then ask them to do something.  What’s more, many consumers actually resent being asked to participate: 45% feel like they “are doing the work for brand” when they are asked to participate in online marketing campaigns. 


Campaigns that do generate lots of likes, shares and positive buzz don’t necessarily deliver real results. Consumers who do participate with brands online are often existing consumers, so campaigns that spark interaction sometimes fail to actually generate new sales.


“We need to stop assuming interest in participation and create interest with content,” said Brown. 


Content should be user-centric, created to interest people first, planting brand ideas in their lives rather than expecting them to opt into the brand’s world, the report advises.  Content should also be purposeful, designed to change behavior from sharing to buying.  And it should be bound by the brand idea, relating back to the brand without overtly ‘selling’.


Grace Liu, CEO of Kantar TNS & Kantar TNS Sinotrust, said: “For years the marketing community has been focused on how to generate maximum number of ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ – how far has your campaign gone and who has seen it. But we need to ask ourselves what this participation is delivering. True brand advocacy and preference? Or just a weak form of awareness? The results of the study have a clear outtake for brands – stop asking too much of people. Focus on creating great content and compelling, relevant campaigns and you will see greater benefits, both in terms of short-terms sales uplift and longer-term brand equity.”


For a copy of “Participation – Beyond the Hype,” click here


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The findings are based on a study into participation, conducted by Kantar TNS. We surveyed over 5,600 people across seven markets: Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand. Fieldwork took place in June 2015, and was conducted online.




J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, the world’s best-known marketing communications brand, has been making pioneering solutions that build enduring brands and business for more than 150 years. Headquartered in New York, J. Walter Thompson is a true global network with more than 200 offices in over 90 countries, employing nearly 10,000 marketing professionals. The agency consistently ranks among the top networks in the world and continues a dominant presence in the industry by staying on the leading edge—from hiring the industry's first female copywriter to developing award-winning branded content today.


J. Walter Thompson opened its first office in the Asia in 1929, and today employs over 3,800 people in 53 offices across 18 countries in the region.


For more information, please visit and follow us @JWT_Worldwide and @JWTAsiaPacific.




Kantar TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and customer and employee relationships, based on long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presence in over 80 countries, Kantar TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understands individual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world.


Kantar TNS is part of Kantar, the data investment management division of WPP and one of the world's largest insight, information and consultancy groups. Please visit for more information.

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