Ipsos Flair : Thailand 2014 - Preserving its unique versatility

If you search “Thailand” on English sites, you will find more than 1,110,000,000 results. Apart from institutional sites, (embassies, tourist boards, economic analysis agencies, geostrategic agencies etc.) or those relating to disasters such as the 2004 tsunami, few sites portray a “serious” image of Thailand.


  • Yves Bardon Directeur du programme Flair, Ipsos Knowledge Centre
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Recurring words are similar in tone - very flattering, but still superficial. They talk about Thailand’s atmosphere, its geography and its inhabitants : “the land of smiles”, “heaven”, “Eldorado”, “sunbathing”, “luxuriant islands”, “great beaches”, “sun”, “relax”, “patience”, “food”, “caring”, “innocence”, “charm”, “grace”, “sensuality”…

Apart from the “wai” (the traditional Thai gesture of greeting), the words and phrases that visitors should initially learn are : mai pen rai (it doesn’t matter), mai mi pan ha (“no problem”), jai yen yen (take it easy – literally “cool heart”), greng jai (considerate - literally “fearful heart”). In other words, they should focus on quality of relationships and creating balance.

From the outside, Thailand seems to be a unique oasis in the world, an ideal of harmony, tolerance and lightness.

Most tourist guides end on a wistful note so you recall the pang of leaving the country, and how it always feels just like yesterday, for instance: « years after you leave Thailand, pictures and movies will make you remember the monuments, the streets, the markets… But no picture, no word could give you a more wistful feeling about losing this extraordinary peace. »
So, on one side of the mirror, Thailand has a reputation as « a fascinating land, full of contrasts », and Bangkok is « the Venice of the East», which makes everyone forget the tangible realities.
On the other side of the mirror, the international media portray a very negative image of the government, at the time of Thaksin Shinawatra, later of his sister Yingluck, during the demonstrations from November 2013 to May 2014, about the coup on the initiative of General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha, and also today.
To overcome this paradox, we should not project Western value judgments, based on a dichotomous tradition of good and evil. But we must not mistake courtesy, kindness and care, for the needs and desires of « real people ». Thais have real desires, real expectations, real drives, which are often confusing for Western people.

Ipsos Flair is designed to give our customers a full strategic planning tool, as well as a useful decision support tool, thanks to Ipsos experts working in the country.

It looks at :

  • The various opinions people hold regarding brands, ads, companies and institutions.
  • The elements that help us understand messages, and attitudes towards them (favorable/unfavorable, trusting/skeptical, positive/critical etc.).
  • The consequences we should learn, in order to define a strategy of influence (marketing, media, ads, etc.).

All people who have visited Thailand share the same point: Thailand is a unique country, despite its geopolitical problems, ethno-religious tensions, and strategic development choices.

Thailand has suffered some very painful events: the « Tom Yum Kung » economic crisis of 1997, the tsunami of 2004, and the disastrous floods of 2011 that cost over 340 billion baht ($11 billion USD), slashed GDP by 3,1%, and limited growth to 1% in the year. Thailand suffers almost daily attacks by Muslim separatists in the South, which have caused 5,500 deaths in the last nine years.

One might well think that the reality is in conflict with the image, if such events really exist behind the “smile”.
Thailand is like a mirage - a garland of orchids reflected in the Chao Phraya river. But this mirage is very fragile, moving and flowing : that is the reason why we chose this title for our first Ipsos Flair : « Thailand 2014, preserving a unique versatility ».

Of course this versatility is not a new phenomenon. But it intensifies as Thailand strives to retain total control while moving from emerging nation to developed country status in the 21st century. How is it possible to do this, without losing your soul ?
How is it possible to preserve the magnetism of Thailand that all tourists love and to maintain a strong growth?
How is it possible to circumvent the risk of overheating, when the Fitch rating agency raised its grade for Thailand to « BBB + », four years after recommending a decrease, following the state of emergency and the troubles.

As for advertisers and industry - should they lose trust in all those Thailand epithets: “charm”, “welcoming way of life”, “relaxed attitude”, “openness”, “and fun”, “open mind ”,“exuberance”? Ultimately, how is it possible for them to seduce Thai society without imposing a model that is not accurate?

The challenge is for Thais to remain in harmony with their values in the face of economic growth, mounting tourism, western brands and urbanization. Modernization means rapid evolution of the country’s way of life, culture and even its whole philosophy.

This first Ipsos Flair for Thailand is designed for this purpose: exploring, with the help of Ipsos Thailand experts, ways to offer solutions to our customers in a country where “the only thing which is permanent is impermanence”.
And because such sayings are important in the everyday life of Thai people, you will find others in the text…


  • Yves Bardon Directeur du programme Flair, Ipsos Knowledge Centre