CAMPAIGN REPORT ON ASIA: Aspects of Asia - The changes that are happening in Asia are likely to continue, thanks to the lightning pace at which the region is developing

Things happen fast in Asia. Blink, and you'll miss that airport being built or that hotel being developed. Yet despite all the major advertising and media networks having a presence in the region, it has taken a long time for one of the big holding companies to get a foot in the door in the biggest market - Japan.

Yet when Publicis merged with Bcom3, things changed straight away. Advertisers in Japan, traditionally the hardest of all the Asian markets to crack, found they had Publicis' networks within easy reach, on account of Dentsu's stake in Bcom3. And, as well as a good choice of networks for clients in the world's second-largest advertising market, Dentsu's ability to plan strategically could be improved by Starcom's media research capability.

A French holding company with the potential to change working practices in Japan demonstrates how far things have changed. When western agencies entered Asia, there was a trend towards what one agency head describes as "that colonialism bollocks". But now it is clear that local markets are able to produce high-quality creative work, even if there are other stumbling blocks that need to be surmounted. These include attracting and retaining experienced staff and developing an understanding of the role of media specialists.

Jim Bell, the managing director of Results International Consulting, who spent 20 years in the region, believes that there was a good deal of leapfrogging in terms of progress: "In Asia, we skipped 20 years of development. Consumers grew up fast and now you find that the agencies in, say, China, operate like their western counterparts."

"Western

no longer means American. The brands in the lives of the Asian population are as likely to be European as American. Danish beer Carlsberg and Alpenliebe candy from Italy are huge in China, and queues regularly curl out of the door at the Delifrance sandwich shops in Singapore.

Pan-regional advertising for established international brands, such as Visa, is a reality, although it is difficult for other brands, not least because Asia is so massive. The region is home to more than a third of the world's population and two markets alone - China and India - are populated by more than a billion people.

Yet there is concern that investment in the region has been focused on northern parts of Asia, such as China, Korea and Taiwan to the neglect of southern Asian territories, which include Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. Indeed, Adrian King, the director of research at MediaCom Asia-Pacific, believes that over-emphasis on investment in China is having a profound effect on the rest of the region: "China is basically a huge vacuum that is sucking all the investment in Asia Pacific into it,

he says. As China is the fastest-growing market in the world and it was recently agreed that it should join the World Trade Organisation, it is hardly surprising that it is attracting so much attention, although investors should be warned that payback could take a long time.

King Lai, the chief operating officer of Initiative Media Asia Pacific, also reports that this investment has extended to "Greater China", embracing Hong Kong and Taiwan. Academics at a recent conference in the region even suggested an underwater tunnel to link Taiwan with mainland China, despite the slim prospect of reunification.

From a media point of view, the newsstands are full of international magazines with growing numbers of affluent and educated subscribers. The Economist Group has just launched CFO China, in addition to CFO Asia, and all the key international titles, such as Forbes Global, have extended their coverage of the region. Pan-regional TV channels include the likes of Discovery, MTV and CNBC, all with varying amounts of locally produced content.

This summer's FIFA World Cup Finals in Japan and Korea, as well as the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, will attract international attention to the region, swelling the economy and boosting marketing activity. Bell says the World Cup is "propping up everyone's hopes, particularly after the dotcom bust affected Asia so dramatically".

Yet media owners will have to work to break even, says MediaCom's King. He notes that the tournament broadcasting deals were struck before the Asian economic crisis, although those with local and regional broadcasting rights had a "golden deal

in terms of ad revenue.

The 2008 Olympics will have long-lasting significance. As Initiative Media's King Lai says: "The 2008 Olympics in China is embraced by China's leadership and her people as a public display of China's performance on the world stage.

Infrastructure, housing and transport in the area are already being improved breathtakingly fast. So, in six years' time, you can only imagine what a tour de force will exist in the east.

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