Kreingkrai Kanjanapokin
Creative Director for the concept and the management of the Thailand brand at Expos in the past decade

Before people throughout the world can see Thailand through their own eyes as a country blessed with pristine seaside destinations, flavoursome cuisine, a truly-beautiful culture, and the Thai hospitality reflecting the country’s famous nickname, “The Land of Smiles”, it requires effort and dedication to communicate our stories. Multifaceted tales about Thailand, such as our culture and arts, our talk-of-the-town happenings, our country’s milestone projects, as well as our Thai livelihood, should be shown and told to the world in as many ways as possible. A fruitful way to promote the Thailand Brand is to take the centre stage at Expos. These extensive International Exhibitions have been serving as an extraordinarily impactful platform for Thailand to communicate with people from around the world and to gain massive brand exposure for over a century until now.

 

Concept initiation & fine-tuning the strategy

For each Thailand pavilion, we do not give weight to the structure or any particular component in the thinking process of conceptualisation and in the management of exhibitions. We view our work at Expos as an expressive means of communication for visitors to learn about the origins and historical milestones of Thailand from each period. It is ultimately the country’s branding that needs different concept ideas reflecting the different themes of each Expo.

In order to craft a journey for visitors who will spend an average time of 15 minutes at the Thailand pavilion, we have integrated the ‘Theory of Experiential Marketing’ to create an experience for people around the world to learn and experience the uniqueness of Thai culture, to understand and to be impressed with different aspects of Thailand – evoking a brand experience through the Total Communications method.

"We communicate ‘Thainess’ through a well-rounded multisensory experience"

To illustrate, in the interpretation of the country’s branding in Thailand pavilions, we communicate ‘Thainess’ through a well-rounded multisensory experience derived from physical forms, taste, smell, sound, and touch. The experience is simulated through the Thai people, Thai food, Thai hospitality, and Thai-style architecture presented with its unique look and feel.

Architecture: A distinctive and truly Thai essence

Architecture is a primary element that is considered one of the most important parts of Thailand’s pavilions, creating the first impression for visitors. The architecture should reflect the brand essence of our country and be eye-catching enough for people to instantly recognise a remarkable Thai structure right from the first glance.

We are cracking the challenge of branding through an architectural structure; therefore, we need to put forth a Thai identity that is instantly recognisable by people from all over the world at their first glance. This has been a customary tribute that our designers strive to achieve and why we have incorporated components which are unique to Thai-style architecture, such as triangular gables, Thai kanok patterns, the wai gesture and the Thai pavilion, into Thailand’s pavilion at each Expo. Nevertheless, simply bringing Thai identity into the design does not guarantee success to the nation’s brand building, without first deciding on the concept and appearance of the pavilion. We need to have a profound understanding of each Expo’s context, as well as its target visitors.

A good example of the conceptualisation of the country’s branding through Thailand pavilions is the one applied at World Expo 2010 Shanghai, themed “Better City, Better Life”, where the country had an exhibition space of 3,267.9m2 (equal to just over 2 rais).

"The tremendous success of Thailand’s pavilion at Expo 2010 resulted in Thailand becoming a dream destination for Chinese people"

Identify the circumstances and be different

Expo 2010 Shanghai was held when China was beginning to open its doors to the world. There were still several restrictions and limitations to be addressed in the work process. From a preliminary study of pavilion from other countries, we found that the designs were trending towards modern styles. In addition, the design trends of many countries were mostly similar, such as the design of a double-skin building and a circular shape, reflecting a popular architectural trait at the time.

As a result, Thailand decided to break all the rules by creating its brand differentiation with the conceptual design of Thailand’s pavilion in a traditional Thai style, nestled among other countries’ modern architectural structures. The execution of this idea made Thailand’s pavilion at Expo 2010 distinctively unique amidst over 240 pavilions from international participants coming from across the globe.

Insightful design down to the details

With China’s population of over one billion, the main target audience of Expo 2010 Shanghai was Chinese visitors. In order to succeed in this Expo, it was essential to catalyse the design and presentation of Thailand’s pavilion by gaining a deep understanding and insights into China.

We conducted research to find brand insights from the main target group, all consisting of Chinese people. Part of the studies showed that Chinese people at the time recognised only Thai temples. Therefore, we used the insights to help interpret what would be quintessential ‘Thai architecture’ to best convey Thai identity and create differentiation at first sight.

The architectural design of Thailand’s pavilion at Expo 2010 championed very clear objectives of presenting Thailand and expressing Thainess to Chinese visitors. As a country blessed with uniqueness and a rich cultural heritage passed on from generation to generation, Thailand’s pavilion was presented under the theme “Thainess: Sustainable Ways of Life”, illustrating sustainable Thai livelihoods through a combination of iconic architectural structures, Thai arts, and its unique culture. Inspired by the traditional Thai architecture of Phra Yuen Temple in Uttaradit Province, Thailand’s pavilion featured the national structure of Sala Thai, which became a sensation at Expo 2010.

The distinctiveness of the Thailand pavilion, uniquely constructed in the heart of Shanghai, impressed the audience with its collection of storytelling about the traditional wisdom of Thai arts and culture, as reflected in the exterior architecture down to the exhibition content inside the building. The storytelling technique was a perfect blend of ancient history and modern technology, underlining Thailand's readiness in its national development to keep up with the pace of the transforming modern world.

Thailand’s pavilion was viewed as one of the most popular destinations at the event and ranked in the top seven most visited pavilions among over 240 international participants. The tremendous success of Thailand’s pavilion resulted in Thailand today becoming a dream destination for Chinese people, welcoming more than 10 million Chinese tourists per year.

From that point on, Thailand has always held on to the concept of ‘Architecture for Outstanding First-Sight’. For instance, Thailand’s pavilion at Specialised Expo 2012 in Yeosu, Republic of Korea, featured a uniquely Thai façade instantly recognisable at first glance, while at World Expo 2015 held in Milan, Italy, the pavilion design followed the concept of a traditional Thai farmer’s hat, or ‘Ngob’, a symbol of agriculture. The building reflected the main idea of Thainess and of Thailand’s importance as an agricultural country supplying the world markets with a myriad of food products and raw materials. Furthermore, Thailand’s pavilion once more championed a stunningly remarkable Thai design at Specialised Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan, where the traditional Thai style was reflected in the doors at the pavilion’s entrance.

Content & exhibition: concise, coherent & recognisable

The next important element is the exhibition content, which is comparable to the ‘Brand Story’ of the nation’s branding strategy. We found that an effective way for the presentation within the pavilion is to give an overview of the country in a short, concise, and easy format that can be instantly recognised.

Concise, coherent & recognisable

An example to demonstrate challenges in the selection of content and presentation was the case of Thailand’s pavilion at Specialised Expo 2017 Astana, held under the theme “Future Energy”, in which Thailand participated with its own theme "Bioenergy for All" to show off the country’s potential in the development of renewable energy and progress in the development of bioenergy.

The presentation within Thailand’s pavilion at Expo 2017 aimed to communicate the country’s branding through concise and recognisable mediums, sprinkled with an element of fun in the presentation. We decided to portray an overview of Thailand in an ‘Edutainment’ style with a journey through three main exhibition rooms displaying creative content under the theme “Bioenergy for All”. 

Based on gathered data and research, at Expo 2017 we employed a strategy to reach young family groups as the main target. According to the country’s demographical information at the time, the population structure in Astana mostly consisted of families with young children and youths. This growing new generation has more purchasing power than before and is generally interested in alternative energy. We paid utmost importance to the content creation that conformed well to the target group’s behaviours. We studied what they like and what may be appealing to their interest, and found that young Kazakhstani families are fond of music, fun activities and entertainment. The study also shown that dark, dull colour tones were not popular among Kazakhstani people. As a result, Thailand changed the design colour inside the pavilion from black, as was originally planned, to white, as well as the structural design and the content that essentially provided both knowledge and entertainment at the same time.

Storytelling that connects the dots

The storytelling style is crucial in delivering a single message about Thailand and establishing brand recognition among visitors. We created a fun and unique way of telling the stories through modern presentations and a variety of techniques that could involve everyone. An example of this idea can be illustrated by the ‘interactive exhibition’ rooms where concise and uncomplicated knowledge about nine types of biomass and bioenergy were presented in the pavilion’s ‘Energy Creation Lab’. Another example was the 3D movie room featuring a story narrated by the pavilion’s mascot. The corn-shaped mascot, named ‘Pa-Lang’ (Power), was created as a key storyteller to connect with the content, starting from the front of the pavilion to the last exhibition room.

The success was also a result of our marketing strategy, which was rolled out beforehand in order to draw the attention of the target group through ‘Total Communications’ channels. Before the opening of the Expo, we made use of the mascot in our marketing communication channels. Gradually introducing ‘Pa-Lang’ through several public relations activities, a road-show campaign was organised in several key attractions around Almaty and Astana in order to offer people a sneak preview of Thailand’s pavilion using advanced virtual reality (VR) technology. Moreover, social media was a very powerful channel of communication to raise awareness among Kazakhstani people, which resulted in Thailand being able to increase public awareness of Thailand’s participation in Expo 2017 ahead of time.

In addition, our methods of selecting storytelling content also covered all aspects of presentation best practices, including attention to cultural sensitivity.

"The storytelling style is crucial in delivering a single message about Thailand and establishing brand recognition among visitors"

These components enabled the effective communication of a meaningful single message to visitors in a memorable way. As a result, Thailand’s pavilion at Expo 2017 Astana was graciously awarded by Astana Expo TV as the 2nd runner-up for the most popular pavilions for children and families, as voted by Kazakhstani visitors, and it ranked in the top four most visited pavilions among the 115 international participants. The positive impression about Thailand could yield a long-lasting benefit to our country, especially as the good feelings among our young family targets will have an impact on the children who will grow up to become important decision makers one day.

Within a short timeframe of only 15 minutes, the exhibition content needs to be differentiated and recognisable. Being concise and fun, and using storytelling, are key parts of an effective presentation of content for our country branding, because enjoyment during the visit is the best way to let the pavilion’s visitors experience real ‘Thainess’, since being happy, having fun and being welcoming are seen as traits of Thai people.

Live performances: Activities stoke the target audience

Live performances are the third most important element for the country’s branding at Expos. This element should be weighed as a main method of brand engagement that helps connect passers-by in the reception areas of the Expo to come and visit Thailand’s pavilion.

In some Expos, live performances had been leveraged as a vital and integral part of the branding strategy from the start of the design conceptualisation. As a good example, Thailand’s pavilion at Specialised Expo 2012 Yeosu integrated live performances as the main element of brand engagement from the design process.

When wearing a brand builder’s thinking cap, insights from research about target groups became an extremely powerful tool in tackling the challenges. We found that Korean people are enthusiastic audiences of live performances, so since the beginning of the design process, we decided to allocate a dedicated space in front of the pavilion as a stage for cultural performances. In doing so, Thailand was one of only two countries to have a stage clearly visible in front of the exhibition buildings at Expo 2012 Yeosu.

"Live performances help connect passers-by in the reception areas of the Expo to come and visit Thailand’s pavilion"

The live performance format was far from an ordinary traditional Thai style. Exuding a modern and sensually contemporary feel, the performances were designed to be presented in a grand fashion, backed with advanced multimedia (large LED screens) technology to create a sensational impression for viewers.

The daily scheduled shows highlighted four sets of cultural performances including Khon, in a contemporary style with magnificent scenes created by astounding multimedia backdrops, the legendary Love Story of the Ocean, the Harvest Dance, as well as the Thai martial arts of sword fighting and Muay Thai. During the intervals, the ‘Actoid’ (Android + Actress), the world’s first android mermaid, came to interact with spectators and informed visitors about epic literature stories displayed in the pavilion’s exhibitions. The sensational robot was manufactured from special-grade silicone materials, enabling a natural skin-like appearance similar to that of a human. It could move its lips, neck, arms, legs, and swaying its tail to impress visitors. Complementing the mermaid ‘Actoid’, the ‘Humanoid’ named ‘Maiyarap’ depicted a demon ruler of the underwater world from Thai literature.

Mascot troop: When the star of the stage comes alive

Once it came to responding to the Korean preference to watch live performances, every country’s pavilion faced the same problem of how to garner attention from visitors who spent a fairly long time watching a myriad of performance activities provided by the host country in the reception area.

Expo 2012 Yeosu was centred on the theme “The Living Ocean and Coast”, and Thailand’s pavilion featured the concept of “Colors of Diversity: Capacity of Thailand”.

The concept was determined through research insights that Korean people are generally interested in cartoons and animations. Thailand’s Pavilion at Expo 2012 portrayed the stories of Thai seas with graceful designs of foamy waves and Thai culture. Three leading characters from Thailand’s epic literature, Phra Aphaimani, including ‘Sutsakorn’, the Dragon-horse, served as the pavilion’s hosts and mascots to take visitors on a journey through spectacular seascapes showcasing the richness and beauty of Thailand’s seas.

Not only storytellers inside Thailand’s pavilion, the adorable mascot characters were also designed to act as the master of roadshow activities taken place outside the pavilion area, leading visitors into the exhibition and altogether conveying the message of Thailand’s abundant tourism potential, fishery and food security, as well as ways of preserving the seas and the coastlines of Thailand.

A number of visitors to Thailand’s pavilion posted photos and shared stories on social media, instantly becoming viral among Korean people. The Thai cultural live performances and the mascot characters earned a place in the hearts of locals and gained loyal fans in a short period of time. Each morning, visitors stood in a long line at the pavilion’s door in order to get their turn to take photos with the lovely mascots. Understanding the positive impact of social media, the staff of Thailand’s pavilion helpfully supported the arrangement of photo sessions each day. The result of this dedication meant that Thailand’s pavilion ranked third of the most visited pavilions at the Expo, among 110 international participants.

Tangible Thai touch: Impressive sensory experiences

The final element which reflects the entire picture of our experiential marketing method is to incorporate a well-rounded multisensory experience5 derived from the five physical senses of sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch in the visitors’ journey at each Expo.

Uniquely eye-catching Thai design

In order to impress visitors, Thailand’s pavilions at Expos are the epitome of eye-catching architectural forms that are recognisable at first glance. We want people to be stunned and drawn to view the exhibitions inside our pavilions. From the old days, the looks of Thailand’s pavilions were designed to reflect the country’s identity, which clearly raised the awareness and recognition. These included the Siam pavilion at Expo 1889 Paris, Expo 1904 Saint Louis, Expo 1958 Brussels, and Expo 1967 Montreal.

Thai scents & music

Scents and melodies are two other senses that we pay importance to when it comes to the details of the pavilion. Quintessential Thai scents such as jasmine and the charm of the Thai traditional music can create a sensory experience for visitors. We often incorporate Thai musical sounds into our Expo theme song.

Thai Taste, nation branding through delicacies

Thai flavours are well known throughout the world thanks to the country’s tasty cuisine. It has become one of the most anticipated elements that international visitors yearn for as part of an iconic Thai experience in modern-era Thailand pavilions. The Thai taste component in World Expo 2020 Dubai will be elevated by the collaboration between the Thailand pavilion and one of the most famous Thai restaurants in Dubai, ‘Little Bangkok’, to present Thai flavours at Expo 2020. The Taste of Thai Restaurant will be located on the first floor of Thailand’s pavilion, within a 160m2 area, using contemporary decoration to emphasise Asian cosiness.

Looking forward to 2020

Embarking on its participation at World Expo 2020 Dubai, Thailand is preparing to write a new page of history for itself by considering the importance of Thai DNA, to be reflected in the upcoming Expo. To create a charming atmosphere and to make the Thailand pavilion stand out, the design of a Thai garland is the centrepiece, in order to communicate Thai hospitality and our welcoming friendliness to people from around the world. The exhibition concept follows the theme: “Digital for Development”, highlighting the presentation of the Thai identity through outstanding digital technologies. The pavilion is located on the country’s largest ever exhibition space in the history of its participation at World Expos – covering an area of 3,600m2 (or 2.25 rais) within the Mobility District under the display topic “Mobility for the Future”.

"At Expo 2020 Dubai, Thailand will stand out by communicating Thai hospitality and our welcoming friendliness to people from around the world"

Conclusion

Up to the present, Expos have undoubtedly played a crucial role for our country to communicate directly to the world without traditional boundaries. Expos have served as international platforms for Thailand to deliver our peaceful, impactful, and meaningful messages via various types of participation. The global exposure of these events has helped strengthen Thailand’s national branding in many aspects, such as economics, politics, international relations, tourism and so forth.

Experiential marketing tactics are among the emerging trends in today’s transformational age of digital technology and social media. The synergy between experiential marketing and the power of social media could accelerate any country’s branding efforts to achieve more benefits in both the short and the long term. While visitors to a pavilion will receive a good impression that results in long-term appreciation in their hearts, most of them also like to share nice stories they have experienced through their personal social media channels and by inviting their followers or friends to come and visit the pavilion. To brand our nation via Thailand’s pavilions at the next Expos, in the digital world, the exposure of Thailand can go beyond traditional boundaries which are restricted to the numbers of visitors or flight tickets available to those who attend the Expo.

Thailand’s Expo pavilions will continue to play an important role as means of presenting ‘Thainess’ to people around the world. Visitors can enjoy well-rounded aspects of Thailand and be immersed in the charms of the ‘Land of Smiles’ during their visits to our pavilions.

 

This article is adapted from a text that was first published in the 2019 edition of the BIE Bulletin entitled “Image of a Nation: Country branding at World Expos”.

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