It is not often that Procter & Gamble wins best of show at an
advertising awards ceremony. Or that the top prize at any event goes to
a shampoo, let alone Head & Shoulders.
But that is what happened at Campaign’s sister title Media magazine’s
Asian Advertising Awards in Hong Kong last Friday.
It is also not often that a Japanese commercial takes an international
advertising Grand Prix, especially not two years in a row. But that was
the coup scored by Dentsu for its Wowow satellite television client at
the Asia-Pacific Advertising Festival in sleazy Pattaya, Thailand the
Two Asian awards shows inside a week: one in the ASEAN region, one in
Greater China. What do they tell us about the overall standards of
creativity in the world’s key growth advertising region, and whether
that region is bouncing back from recession or not?
The obvious thing to say is that entries and delegate/attendee levels
were up at both shows. In its 14th year, the Media awards filled the
Grand Hyatt Hong Kong’s ballroom with 450 guests. And, judging by the
level of shared activity in the men’s loos, creatives in Hong Kong again
have as much disposable income to burn as their Grosvenor House
In only its third year, the A-P Ad Festival, now firmly ensconced in the
international class convention centre which is about the only pristine
thing in Pattaya, is becoming a mini-Cannes. Although some of the
platform lectures were sadly just that, the event had a discernible buzz
about it, of which the organisers can be rightly proud.
The quality of work entered at Pattaya was a rather hit or miss affair,
with much of the best Japanese work not present and leading agencies
such as Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore not entering at all. However, the
best work was very good and very varied.
The chairman of the judges, BBDO Brasil’s Marcello Serpa, lamented the
sheer volume of work there was to wade through but praised the standard
of television work from Thailand and the coming new force, India, as
well as print work from Singapore.
To a first-time western observer, the Thai TV work in particular was
remarkably fresh and quirkily humourous. But western judges should
beware thinking things are fresh simply because they are seeing them for
the first time. Thai television advertising has a long pedigree of
originality and humour which the Pattaya event only served to
The same can be said of print work from Singapore. Because of the
relatively small size of the budgets in this three million population
state, and the predominance of English as a common language, a print
tradition has evolved. The novelty here in the work of agencies such as
Saatchis was to transmute that written tradition into strikingly
arresting art direction.
The overall TV winner, Wowow’s ’running lady’, proved a popular
A man gives a woman a watch which appears to make her think of another
lover; she then sets off on a madcap run across town to meet him.
However, when she reaches him she smashes him aside as she pursues the
real object of her endeavours: getting home in time to watch a show on
Beating off an excellent McDonald’s campaign from Leo Burnett Bangkok,
it was a worthy winner, original and funny - if perhaps not quite as
bizarre as last year’s Wowow award-winner, the birdman who had ’got to
get back to Japan’, an ad that featured at Cannes last summer.
The most original ad in Pattaya symbolised the arrival of India as a
creative force in TV commercials. The Times of India spot featured the
cricketing superstar Sachin Tendulkar being constantly interrupted by
advertising men dragging him away from the crease to fulfil his
commercial endorsement commitments. Truly an original.
One would come away from Pattaya with the belief that creatively Asia
was dominated by two agencies: Leo Burnett and BBDO. At Hong Kong a week
later that duopoly was shown to be a gang of four, which also included
Saatchis and Ogilvy & Mather.
Although BBDO Hong Kong and Thailand and Leo Burnett Thailand also
scored well, the Media awards were dominated by Saatchi Singapore. The
outstanding single agency in Asia has come under the spotlight this past
year with questions being asked as to whether it can maintain the
standards set first by Linda Locke, now Burnett’s regional creative
director, and Dave Droga, now Charlotte Street’s creative supremo.
Not only did it win almost three times as many awards as any other
agency, Saatchis took the television Grand Prix. This was for Head &
Shoulders, a very simple commercial in which a Bruce Lee lookalike
looking for trouble in a hall of mirrors is distracted by how beautiful
his own hair looks.
It was sweet, simple and remarkably refreshing for P&G. However, it’s
not the kind of Grand Prix winner that will set pulses racing at Cannes
or D&AD - a fact recognised by several of the jury.
’It is a fine little commercial, and it’s done for a major
client ... and I guess that’s difficult,’ Barry Owen, regional creative
director of Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific, said. His remarks were typical
of a jury, headed by Burnett’s Michael Conrad, that was underwhelmed by
much of what it had to judge.
’If light-heartedness and a sense of humour is the essence of Asian
advertising, then the winners of the TV category definitely reflected
that. I am a bit disappointed with the print work though. They were very
nicely crafted and art-directed (most of them), but I saw little
breakthrough in terms of concept and idea,’ J. Walter Thompson’s Hong
Kong creative director, Christine Pong, said.
Nevertheless, there were signs that Hong Kong is beginning to produce
challenging work again after two years when creativity was stifled in
the recessionary climate. The BBDO Sunday Telecom work was probably the
most interesting, despite - or perhaps because of - its casual attitude
to violence. Strangely, the biggest audience laugh in both Pattaya and
Hong Kong went to a Sunday ad in which a man smacks a blonde around the
back of the head.
So, were these awards shows proof that the Asian crisis was
Yes and no. There were the first shoots of a renewed bravery in
advertising but, in truth, the industry is being kick-started because of
another more familiar source: the dotcom revolution.
In Asia - particularly Hong Kong and Singapore - the major growth
categories are telecom and dotcom, the latter emerging from nothing in
the past 12 months. These sectors will infuse the ad industry with
confidence, not least because alongside the increased income comes
greater creative freedom. Hong Kong in particular is diving head first
into the dotcom frenzy.
And it’s clear that Asian agencies have to recover their creative
As in the western world, they are having to fight for young talent in
particular in the light of severe competition from dotcoms. However,
unlike in markets such as London and New York, there is no long
tradition of advertising being a sexy industry. It is a real battle to
attract and retain talent - one which only a few agencies are
’You can see the emergence of India, and Hong Kong making a comeback,
but the real story is that BBDO, Saatchis, O&M and perhaps Burnetts lead
the pack, and the rest are being left behind,’ David Guerrero, creative
director of BBDO Manila, said.
In Asia this is not the disaster it might otherwise be, however. Three
years ago BBDO, for example, was in a dreadful state. It has since
thrown money at the problem, reaping some reward. There is little reason
why another network - such as DDB - might not achieve the same gains,
except for one key problem. Where will they find the talent to transform
a network’s fortunes?