In less than two months, a religious festival takes place that is so fantastically crowded and celebratory that it seems unreal. Officially listed as the largest human gathering in the world, the northern Indian city of Allahabad at the confluence of the Yamuna, Ganges and Saraswati rivers will witness as many as 100 million people participating in an ancient Hindu festival known as the Kumbh Mela. The pilgrimage, which dates back millennia, attracts a staggering 10 million people in a single day, who congregate by the Ganges’ banks to ritually bathe in its sacred waters.
The Atlantic’s Quartz website places this event in an easier-to-understand global perspective: “Imagine the entire population of Shanghai—about 23 million—camping on a 4×8 kilometre field. Add to that mass of humanity every last man, woman and child in New York City and you’re getting closer to the Kumbh’s expected attendance.”
Some 3,000 miles away at nearly the same time, the world will also witness the biggest annual human migration, known as Chun Yun (or Spring Festival Migration). Some 700 million Chinese, or roughly half the country’s population, are expected to make 2.85 billion passenger trips during the 40-day period to celebrate Chinese New Year with their families.
What is it that drives hundreds of millions of people, an ocean of humanity, voluntarily through unimaginable hardships—sickness, disease, loss of life even—every year? On one side, the biggest “act of faith,” while on the other the biggest need to just “be back home.”
These two events define for me the spirit and tenacity that is Asia—the need for inspiration, the need to define oneself in a community, affecting in turn the way lives and health are managed.
A recent new study revealed that the average Singaporean has a particularly high desire for inspiration, albeit on a more material scale. Indeed, 69% of Singaporeans want to be inspired when they shop/read/surf, compared to only 49% of Europeans and 51% of Americans—but then the “kiasu” Singaporean culture is what keeps it so vibrant.
In a separate study, in Tier One China cities, when comparing the cost of a critical vaccine against pneumococcal infection vs a new iPhone 5C, it’s no surprise that Jobs’ inspirational device won hands down. The seemingly everyday contradictions with which Asia works start to become a way of life for us who call this part of the planet home. It doesn’t seem unusual, just the way it’s meant to be, really…
How, then, do we apply the norms of behavioural-change communication in an environment as diverse and fragmented as Asia Pacific? Where religion, environments, languages—along with budgets and regulations—are both simultaneous drivers and barriers, be that to an oncologist in the Philippines or a midwife in Indonesia, a GP in Beijing or a regulatory official in Sydney.
Asia forces you to innovate, to find a new way, to uncover an insight that is universal in application and precise in its expression. In a way, Asia offers us a sort of social petri dish in which we can incubate ideas/tactics/strategies in ways not thought of before. Big ideas with small budgets, with the ability to change or save the lives of millions…now isn’t that a challenge worth waking up to?
The formal launch of Ogilvy CommonHealth Asia Pacific in a way is representative of everything we see, hear, feel and smell in this region. From many brands operating as one; from 6 different countries working in unison; from Med Ed & PR to Branding & Creativity. We’re looking ahead to 2014 with hope, promise and most importantly the chance to help define Asian health communications in ways not thought of before.
Join us in this journey, as we rediscover Asia Pacific through the lens of health behaviour change. Reach out and offer your thinking, your ideas. Tell us whenever you’re making a visit: you have a place to call home across the region—India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Sydney. The closer we become, the sooner we’ll realise just how small the world really is. Even the taste of Balut or Durian won’t seem so bad (well, maybe those are two things that just cannot make sense any which way you look at it).
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