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One Tambon, One Product: A Marketing Campaign for Local Thai Goods

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Somsak Boonkam

If you have visited Thailand in recent years and looked for souvenirs to bring back to your family and friends, chances are you had a really easy time finding gorgeous, unique artisan and handcrafted products. Products such as basketry, pottery, cotton and silk garments, and fashion accessories are curated from all regions of Thailand as part of a government campaign called “One Tambon (district) One Product” or “OTOP.” Launched by the Thai government in 2001, OTOP is a nationwide sustainable development initiative, aimed to stimulate local economy by promoting local products from every sub-district (Tambon), to domestic and international consumers.

When I first heard about the campaign, I thought it was one of the best moves by the Thai government in a very long time — I had always aspired to bring folk wisdoms to mass market. This campaign would definitely help spark many new businesses and jobs. Moreover, these locally manufactured products would not only create profit, but also make a positive impact on their respective communities. Since its inception, the initiative has become very popular — everyone in Thailand knows what OTOP is. In every village I have visited, there is some form of OTOP product being promoted — from handbags to tea sets to lampshades.  There were “OTOP fairs” where these local products would sell like hotcakes. To stand out from other Tambons, in these fairs, villagers get creative about how to make their products unique. In many cases, the OTOP campaign has rescued certain handicraft-making skills handed down through generations from disappearing.  It certainly has contributed to improving household income of provincial families.  In fact, it resulted in a 2 percent increase of Regional GDP in Thailand.

However, the campaign seems to have stagnated in the recent years. In this top-down approach, the OTOP National Administrative Committee, the government agency, acted as a middleman, and the villagers relied solely on the government to make deals with non-local buyers. The time-consuming procedures that the agency imposed had made it more and more difficult for locals to understand and grow their businesses.  Without any motivation to battle with these complicated approval processes, the villagers end up being stuck with just one product.

Despite all the opportunity, OTOP has slowly become a brand associated with mundane, boring household products.  The OTOP fairs are filled with same products from the previous years. On the marketing front, even though the OTOP agency has created its own central website to catalog all the products from all the Tambons in Thailand, there was no ability to purchase the products directly from the website. The agency doesn’t even seem to care about their Japanese and Chinese customers (their largest consumer base) by only providing information only in Thai and English. As online transactions become the norm, there is a high possibility that OTOP will lose its place in the market if its online offering stays the course.

While OTOP offers an opportunity for Thai communities to enhance their local economies, I believe that in order to market these local products to global arena, the Thai government has to encourage the producers to be more self-sustaining and motivated. It needs to empower the villagers with knowledge and tools to innovate and market their products, rather than just bringing in profits. For example, the agency could educate them how to use social media to advertise their products. The agency itself also needs to be proactive in reinventing itself to respond to consumer and producer needs.  And even so, will OTOP survive in the long run?  Is there a way for marketing campaigns like OTOP to be truly self-sustaining?

Want to learn more about Presidio and this project? Click here.

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