Table-top advertising man Kelvin Hong is no believer
in the ordinary. Most of all, he doesn''t believe in wasting time. He
joined the advertising industry in early 1995. Joined agency AP:FCB as
a junior account executive where filing and tear sheets were the call
the day. He worked himself up the ranks to account director within 5
years. Then had a short stint in Bozell Worldwide working on the
Carlsberg account. He jokes that his increasing waistline due to all
the beer tasting was the reason he left Bozell to join Interface
Advertising. Then came the ?Eureka? moment, as they say, when he made a
decision to follow a new direction for his career. Today Kelvin
''commandeers'' the tabe-top advertising medium and is bent on taking
it across Malaysia with his dedicated taskforce in tow. Sledgehammer
caught up with him at Shakey''s, which is one his clients.....
S: Why table-top advertising?
Don?t want to sound like a broken record but everybody wants to know
how it all began. Obviously, the ?eureka? moment happened at one of the
?mamak? restaurants (can?t remember which one though). I was enjoying
my favourite ?teh halia? (ginger tea) with my partner, observing
strange antics of others when the idea suddenly hit us. Initially, we
wanted to incorporate jokes and riddles on table tops to reduce the
boredom of lone drinkers and those who were experiencing a lapse in
conversation. Stretching our brain waves further, we thought it would
be an even better idea if we were to convert the table tops into
advertisement space. So Tableview was born!
S: What were your initial doubts and fears?
Every advertising medium has its own set of worries during inception
stage. For us, I wouldn?t call it ?fear? but the initial worry was to
source for a material that could withstand all the possible ?torture?
i.e. vandalism (graffiti), curry gravy, coffee spills, weather
uncertainties (sun & rain), itchy fingers (trying to peel the ads
off) and cigarette burns. Well, after some intense R&D, we managed
to find a solution to most of the potential problems. Our table top
materials are weather-proof, heat-proof, water-proof and scratch-proof.
To be really honest, we?ve had our fair share of failure and
frustration trying to find the most suitable materials. We also need to
ensure the ?hard-bond? glue we?re using didn''t damage the table tops.
And that was just the beginning....
S: What is your personal view of table top advertising?
Definitely optimistic. Otherwise I won?t be leaving my steady job in
one of the top ad agencies in town to do this. I would say having a
confirmed job provides one security, fixed monthly wages, blah, blah,
blah. But I was seeking satisfaction and the feeling of fulfilling a
dream. That''s different. When opportunity knocks on your door, you
better answer it!
The TableTalk concept came
from understanding the lifestyle and habits of Malaysian consumers.
TableTalk is about merging common sense and creative marketing. Why do
Malaysians enjoy the mamak stall environment? What are their common
topics of conversation? TableTalk advertising does its job as long as
customers sit at the table. This is advertising that is intrusive.
Advertising that gets noticed. And gets talked about. And advertising
that gets talked about enjoys higher recall.
have a long list of advisors to whom I am extremely grateful. I
wouldn?t want to make it sound like the academy awards but special
thanks goes to my mentor, Mr. T Renganathan (better known as Nathan),
the MD of Interface Advertising. If it weren?t for Nathan, I may not
even be in advertising today. He opened the door to advertising for me
in early 1995 and from a Junior Account Executive (I didn?t even know
that position existed), I work my way up to an Account Director. His
level of tolerance and calmness in handling problems never fails to
Back home, my wife, Eileen, has been
my constant pillar of support. At first I was pretty uncertain about
leaving a great job because it seems like a big sacrifice for me but
she was the one who has been there whenever I needed advice and
What sort of reactions were you expecting from clients and friends?
Wasn''t it strange talking about table top advertising for the first
few times to new recipients of the idea?
Kelvin: In the
beginning, I thought it would be a breeze convincing advertisers to
adopt the table top advertising concept. In no time, I was proven
wrong. Even though they find the concept extremely unique and
interesting most of them took a back seat when it came to allocating
advertising budgets. Immediately it struck me that it was going to be
an uphill battle to convince advertisers to part with their money.
put on my cap both as a ?consumer? and ?advertiser? and started looking
for answers. Why are they not biting? Isn?t it the perfect medium to
reach most target audiences? Are the rates too high? I finally realised
that being a ?new medium on the block?, most advertisers will be
sceptical and would rather wait for the medium to be proven positively
first before committing any budget.
paid off and Panasonic came on board as the first advertiser taking
advantage of the World Cup Fever in July 2002 to feature their ?Gila
Gila Bola Consumer Campaign?. It?s a Malaysian culture to gather in
groups at their favourite ?mamak? restaurant to enjoy live World Cup
matches. I can?t think of any better way to capture their attention
especially during half time. They committed a 3-month campaign and that
was a significant enough to jumpstart our level of confidence again.
From then on, ad agencies and media specialists started jumping onto
the bandwagon and began to incorporate table top advertising as part of
the integrated communications plan for clients.
S: How do you manage your time? What takes top priority in your list?
I?m already searching for more than 24 hours in a day. There isn?t just
enough time to do everything. We started off in the Klang Valley as a
great percentage of sales are generated here. Majority of decision
makers from big brands are still based in the Klang Valley. Then we
realized the potential and need to expand into other major town centers
such as Penang, Johor and Ipoh. We did exactly that. Some of the
advertisers who have ventured out of Klang Valley with this concept
include Tourism Malaysia, Sigmatrix Worldwide Phonecard, Telekom
Malaysia and Listerine. At the moment, top priority remains in
strengthening our coverage in Klang Valley especially in colleges,
universities and independent cafes.
S: What?s next for Tableview? From ?mamaks? to hotels?
Building a niche medium from scratch is no small feat. It takes a lot
of enthusiasm, commitment, passion, determination and most importantly
patience. Hats off to Bills Gates who retained his position as the
world?s richest man for the 10th year consecutively. I read somewhere
he was declared a bankrupt 13 times before finally striking it big.
This is the beginning of a very exciting journey for us. The ultimate
satisfaction for Tableview and those who pioneered its operations is to
see the business grow into a prominent ?outdoor? ad medium and to see
table tops ads in every little corner of the country.
S: Let me cut to the chase, how many tables are we talking about?
In Malaysia alone, there are about 7,000 ?mamak? restaurants with an
average of 30 tables each. That would equate 240,000 tables
conservatively. And that?s just ?mamak? restaurants. TableTalk is an
alternative communications channel available to advertisers that is
extremely effective if used properly. When we first started, we only
?TableTalk?ed approximately 200 tables. Now, there is an average of
1,000 TableTalk ads out there every month. We''ve also had some good
feedback from advertisers and consumers. Interactive table top ads
where those who participate get rewarded has generated overwhelming
response. TableTalk ads have converted non-users into users for certain
products. Consumers have spoken highly of this concept. I''d say we?re
on the right track.
S: What?s the most creative thing table top advertising can do?
I leave to the creative people in the business to figure that out. I am
sure the coming "Turning The Tables Creative Awards 2003" will be a
good opportunity for the creative boys and girls to do justice to this
new medium. Experienced creative gurus from the advertising industry
will assist us in the selection of winners and the ?Best-Of-The-Best?
TableTalk ad. There will be a grand prize of an all-expense paid trip
to the Asian Advertising festival in Pattaya next year!
suggested crazy ideas to some potential clients such as lighting up
their TableTalk ads, creating ads that pops up on a click on a button
and ?scratch & sniff? ads for food and fragrant-related products.
I?d like to urge creative people to enter this competition and express
your talents. Even advertising students can enter. The closing date is
Information on the Turning the Tables Contest is available at http://www.tableview.com.my