In the rapidly developing ad industries of Asia, the offices of top
multinational agency networks are changing into creative hotshops.
Richard Cook looks at four examples
Batey Ads was founded by Ian Batey in 1972 for the launch of Singapore
Airlines. The resulting ‘Singapore girls’ motif, which was devised for
the first campaign, is still running today.
Although Singapore Airlines remains its largest single client, Batey has
grown to become the eighth biggest agency network in South-east Asia,
billing USdollars 225 million, with 554 staff and offices in Malaysia,
Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Taiwan and Australia.
Its outstanding creative reputation has helped fuel its expansion and
the Singapore office continues to pick up awards with a zeal that
borders on the greedy. It received 50 in the first four months of this
year alone and took the only gold to be awarded at this year’s Singapore
Creative Circle Awards.
‘Ian believes in long-term campaigns that build brands,’ Batey’s
executive creative director, Jim Aitchison, explains. ’He also believes
in putting art before profit, which means the agency is ruthless about
its own creative standards.’
Aitchison has won more than 500 awards in the past six years, although
the creative department in Singapore is currently under the control of
two joint creative directors, the Briton, Andy Clarke, and the
Australian, Tony Redman.
Aitchison contends that it is the agency’s strength at visually led
advertising that sets it apart, not just in Singapore but other Asian
markets. The agency’s current work includes the launch campaign for the
E-class Mercedes-Benz cars, which has been accepted into the
cinematography section of D&AD this year, a series of ads for Sony and a
‘treat water with respect’ campaign for Asian Pals of the Planet, which
took the form of commercials co-directed by Graham Fink and free ad
spots donated by Time, Newsweek and Asiaweek.
‘Because we were born in Asia, our roots are here and we have a very
strong intuitive gut-feel for what will work,’ Aitchison comments. ‘Asia
is not one market. It is dozens of different markets, each with its own
culture, language, social and religious traditions, and each at its own
individual stage of development. That is why we believe that visually
led advertising has a better chance of transcending these barriers.’
An informal poll of top management at other Singaporean shops placed
Batey as one the state’s top three agencies in terms of creativity, as
probably befits an agency that garnered more than 100 awards in the last
year and can now claim to be the largest shop in state.
Saatchi and Saatchi
Singapore is rapidly emerging as the creative battleground for top-
flight agency networks, as Saatchi and Saatchi, which has an outstanding
recent creative record in the region, has been quick to appreciate. The
agency is the second largest in Singapore and earlier this month it
brought in the hotshot Australian, Dave Droga, as the office’s new
executive creative director and the regional creative director for all
of Saatchis’ shops across ten countries in the region.
Droga was the founding partner at Australia’s Omon agency. He started it
up at the age of 19 and in the his last five years there won15 of
Australia’s Award Pencils - the highest individual haul during that
period. Now 28, he has sold his shares in Omon, which bills Adollars 90
million, and now has big plans for the Singapore shop. Just three years
ago it became the first agency outside the UK and US to win a gold
Pencil from D&AD.
‘My priority is to make sure that the agency is the creative epicentre
for the region,’ Droga says. ‘Generally, there is a very high standard
of creative work coming out of Singapore at the moment, but it has what
I would call a Singaporean style - it’s very print and headline-
orientated. My strengths are in very visual campaigns and I would like
to try to build the TV work and get TV campaigns off the ground.
Everything at the moment is very short term, and the very best creative
work - the award-winning stuff - is for smaller clients. We have to
convince the blue-chip clients to accept the same sort of creative
Saatchis’ Singapore office started life in 1964 as Lash Advertising and
was embraced by the Compton Advertising network as long ago as 1967. It
become part of Saatchis in 1982. Its cosmopolitan creative department
includes Singaporeans, Indians, Australians, Canadians and a Greek. Last
year it had claimed billings of USdollars 78.4 million, and it employs
122 staff. Its clients include Tiger Beer, Lexus, Samsung and the
Singapore Tourist Promotion Board.
‘The great thing about the creative opportunities here is that the
market is not just controlled by research like it is in the US and other
mature markets,’ Droga reckons. ‘There is more freedom. Clients have
been keen in the past to make sure they don’t miss out on the region’s
economic growth, but are now increasingly having the confidence to
support more creative work.’
Ogilvy and mather
Ogilvy and Mather has maintained an office in Singapore since 1958. It
is now the second-largest agency in the city state. While it would be
fair to say that its creative reputation has not always matched its
presence in the region, the agency is currently undergoing something of
a creative revival under the energetic creative directorship of Steve
This year O&M picked up the Best Print Campaign prize at the Singapore
Creative Circle Awards for its work on behalf of the Wildlife
Conservation Society. It went on to take the Best Print Campaign of the
Year prize at the big regional awards ceremony, the Asian Advertising
Awards, this time for a campaign for Brooklyn Bagels. Print is still the
dominant medium in Singapore and represented around two-thirds of the
agency’s Sdollars 108 million billings last year.
‘Though generally much more conservative when it comes to really off-
the-wall ideas, Singaporean clients respect quality when they see it,’
Elrick says. ‘Unfortunately, when it comes to TV production they often
simply can’t afford it. Maybe that’s why print is by far the most
creative medium in Singapore.’
O&M employs 162 staff in the state. The agency serves as the hub for
multinational clients, such as American Express, PepsiCo and KFC,
throughout the region.
O&M is increasingly becoming far less dependent on expat advertising
talent. Neil French, who oversees the creative output from all of the
region’s O&M offices, ranging from Auckland to Bangkok, has worked in
the region for 13 years and helped to set up the Ball Partnership in
Singapore. He thinks that Singapore has now emerged as the creative
cauldron for much of South-east Asia.
‘To be honest, I think that the standard coming out of Batey forced
other players in Singapore, such as ourselves, Saatchis and the Ball
Partnership, to raise their game creatively. Clients see good work and
naturally their expectations rise. And because the Singapore consumer is
intelligent and ad literate, there is scope for far more sophistication
in ads than in other Asian markets.’
French says that O&M has differentiated itself by doing sharp
copywriting and using humour and irony to make its ads sophisticated.
The award-winning Brooklyn Bagel campaign features pictures of Chinese
men speaking Yiddish. ‘Because the audience is intelligent, you can use
verbal jokes to good effect,’ French explains, ‘in a way that you can’t
in most of the rest of Asia.’
McCann-Erickson’s Seoul office in South Korea is now six years old. It
was set up to service clients such as Coca-Cola, Johnson and Johnson and
General Motors that were looking to expand into the lucrative Korean
market. The fact that McCanns has gone on to do much more than that in a
fiercely independent marketplace - where the top companies actually own
their own ad agencies - is no mean achievement.
However, it could soon face its stiffest challenge yet when Bartle Bogle
Hegarty opens its South-east Asian office, either in Singapore or Hong
‘We’ve done well to win the rights to handle some of McCanns’ biggest
clients from here - like Johnsons and Levi’s,’ McCanns’ creative
director, Jeremy Perrott, claims. ‘We’ve done good work for both of them
and are especially proud of the work we’ve done for Levi’s that is shown
around the whole region. But, of course, the arrival of BBH will put us
under a lot of pressure.’
The office is likely to put up a stern fight for these prize accounts.
Employing around 80 staff, it has grown to become the 11th largest
agency in a region which is dominated by huge local clients such as
Samsung and Daewoo.
Perrott heads three separate creative teams, each of which comprises at
least six people, together with a group head and a senior copywriter.
Although Perrott and the office managing director are expats, most of
the creatives are Korean, which is important in a conservative society
that is increasingly sensitive about preserving its national heritage.
One problem for McCanns is that it has seen some of its brightest staff
poached by the bigger agencies such Cheil, which is owned by the massive
Samsung Corporation. ‘It’s strange for an agency owned by McCanns to
feel like a hotshop, but that’s the situation over here. It means we are
able to be a little bit more aggressive about pitching for new work, but
also that we have a bit more creative freedom,’ Perrott maintains.
Creative standards are high in Korea, despite the fact that the length
of ads is usually restricted to 15 seconds and production standards mean
that is is extremely difficult to spend less than dollars 200,000 on a
McCanns’ current reel includes commercials for Levi’s, the popular soft
drink, Nestea, and a print campaign for Fruitopia. ‘We just have to go
on producing good work,’ Perrott acknowledges, ‘But the market here is
very strong. Creative standards are high, and that means competition is
increasing the whole time.’