British advertising had a problem - it was too creative. For five consecutive years in the 70s, British agencies won more awards at Cannes than any other country. Why was that a problem? Because, to quote Jeremy Bullmore, they were "doing work designed just to win awards, not to sell products".
There are parallels between the British agency scene then and the Asian scene now. Asian creativity is often world class. The most awarded commercials directors in the world are Thai, according to The Gunn Report.
Ogilvy Singapore was one of the three most creative offices in the world in the 2007 Cannes Lions ranking, after Saatchi & Saatchi New York and DDB London.
Steve Henry, one of the outstanding UK creatives of his generation, came to Asia in 2007 to judge the Spikes, Asia's own creative awards, and commented: "The quality of creativity here is stunning." But then added waspishly: "Though I'd like to see it done with clients that we're working on every day."
He was referring to work designed just to win awards. But, to be fair, Asia has not had to worry about effectiveness as much as the West. Asia's economic miracle is well known. For instance, the Chinese economy has grown in real terms by 9 per cent a year since reforms began in 1979. On current trends, it will overtake the US some time in the early 2030s to become the largest economy in the world.
Its advertising market has grown even faster. Chinese adspend grew by 1,200 per cent from 1997 to 2006. China is likely to overtake Japan this year, becoming the second-largest ad market in the world, and will overtake the US market in the 2020s - a seismic shift in the balance of global advertising power.
In the circumstances, one can see why effectiveness has not been Asia's top priority. Sales and adspend have been growing anyway. However, things are changing fast. Effectiveness is becoming more important in Asia and Asia is becoming more important in effectiveness.
Media magazine, Asia's version of Campaign, carried out a survey of Asian marketers a couple of years ago. Asked for their "priorities for improvement" next year, "measuring the effectiveness of your campaigns" was top of the list. "Coming up with creative marketing solutions" came second. Many Asian clients now think effectiveness is at least as important as creativity, if not more so.
Agencies and organisers have responded. Entries to the China Effies have more than tripled in the past three years. Ogilvy & Mather entered a dozen papers into the Asia Marketing Effectiveness Awards in 2006; this year we entered 110 papers.
And new effectiveness competitions are being created too. Last year saw the launch of the first Pan-Asian Effies. This year, Malaysia joins Hong Kong, Singapore, India, China and New Zealand in running its own Effie competition; Sri Lanka plans to do so next year and WARC is considering the launch of a new regional effectiveness competition next year.
A sign of Asia's growing importance in the effectiveness world is that the first World Effie Congress was held in Singapore this year, with speakers of the quality of Laurence Green (Fallon), Nick Kendall (Bartle Bogle Hegarty) and Lucy Jameson (DDB London).
However, there is still some way to go before Asian effectiveness cultures reach British levels. One barrier is the relationship between clients and agencies. Rather than partners, agencies are often seen merely as vendors of creative products.
For instance, there are more than 60,000 agencies in China, and few local agencies have strategy or research functions. Most are not given sales data and wouldn't know what to do with it if they were.
Effectiveness is of little interest to Asian agencies like these. They compete on low price, speed of response and, yes, creative awards.
Other countries have different barriers. The Japanese advertising market is dominated by Dentsu, which works with multiple clients in the same category.
Many of the giant industrial conglomerates in Korea use in-house agencies which do not compete for business in the same way as independent agencies.
One thing Asia has going for it is a greater willingness to experiment and change. This year saw Asia's first entries in the IPA Effectiveness Awards, and both papers won prizes: a silver, best international single market and a bronze. One for Motorola from Ogilvy Beijing and the other about a safety campaign about motorcycle helmets from Ogilvy Vietnam.
These cases have enormous value for agencies and clients whose growth now depends on these countries. Asia's agencies want to be judged against the best in the world and, in time, they'll be teaching us Brits how to do evaluations better, faster and cheaper.
- Tim Broadbent is the regional planning and effectiveness director at Ogilvy & Mather Asia-Pacific. The above is an extract from the IPA's Advertising Works 17, published today.