The World: Asian advertising finds an indigenous voice

John Hunt reports from the Asia-Pacific Adfest, and finds an industry experimenting while the West vacuum-packs ideas.

The theme for the 2005 Asia- Pacific Adfest was "fear no change".

After looking at a lot of the work, I began to wonder if "fear no body part" might not be more appropriate.

I have to admit, though, my sensibilities began to tilt even before I entered the festival hall. My hotel went by the catchy name of Cabbages and Condoms. My fluffy bedside mat loudly proclaimed in gothic type, "Condom University", and my bowl of flowers, on closer investigation, turned out to be brightly coloured rubbers twisted around wire stems.

Later on, I discovered the hotel was owned by Thailand's ex-minister of family planning, Mechai Viravaidya, a man who single-handedly did away with the taboo status of wearing a hat in bed.

I digress. But not really. Because Mechai "no glove, no love" Viravaidya understands instinctively what many of us have forgotten - making a memorable statement is often just a case of stating the obvious in an unexpected way.

And that's what the best of Asian advertising seems to do. Yes, there probably are too many dismembered body bits in Asian ads, and an over-fascination with the area between the navel and mid-thigh. And the logic of that pig's head stuck on that horse's body might escape you. And, admittedly, nature does supply a lot of analogies - the soya-bean moon, the weeping willow made of spinach and grandad's pupils of sliced carrot which give him incredible eyesight.

But 80 per cent of ads around the world are lousy, and Asia reflects this statistic. It's once you turn your attention to the other 20 per cent that it really gets exciting.

Asia is happily experimenting while the rest of the world is vacuum-packing.

The ad community also appears less jaded and bored with itself than anywhere else.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on Thai TV. It's funny.

Genuinely funny. And somehow the work seems to be talking to humans, not targeted groups. It has a style that's all Thai, yet very accessible.

A Yellow Pages commercial has a child kidnapper phoning in and demanding a ransom from a wrong number. The guy on the other end happens to be a Rambo-style policeman. The kidnapper demands he write down the address and time of the drop. Rambo obliges, and asks his wife for his rifle.

Another example is a government "drink responsibly" campaign. The revellers prepare for their wild night in advance. They glue down their chairs, hand fly- swatters to their partners and cover their beer bottles in bubble wrap. They get wasted, but are unable to throw the furniture, frustrated when they try to smash their bottles, and the girls beat off their unwelcome attentions.

The Philippines, too, has done some great TV. Small budgets often mean that lush production doesn't get in the way of ideas. And though there's not that much evidence of it yet, I'd back India to start making more and more breakthrough TV.

The great print work seems to be much more broadly spread. In Asia, art direction is still a craft rather than a computer program. Old-fashioned things, such as composition and type, still matter.

If I have a criticism, it's that that all the good ads appear to be one-offs. There have been no great ideas that generate memorable work year after year. In Asia, an idea that creates more than one ad is a coincidence rather than a campaign. And to be honest, the level of scam in award-winning work still feels a tad too high. As rewarding as it is to do a terrific piece for Uncle Wang's Body Piercing Parlour, creatives in Asia are too talented to be spending so much time there.

The really big news, though, is that from Shanghai to Beijing all the way down to India and Sri Lanka, the work seems to be finding its own voice. There's less aping of often dull and formulaic US and European advertising. Watch out for a kind of spicy pan-Asian fusion about to infiltrate the bland logic of the West. It happened to our food, our advertising is next.

- John Hunt is the worldwide creative director of TBWA\Worldwide.

BEST OF THE ADFEST

Four gold-winning campaigns were awarded "best of best" prizes at Adfest

TV

"Husky girls", Ajinomoto Stadium - Dentsu Inc. Tokyo

- Print and press

"Frog", "watermelon", "light", Tamiya Assembly Toys - Creative Juice\GI,

Bangkok

- Outdoor

"Impossible sprint", Adidas - TBWA\Tokyo Direct marketing

"Gear up!", Republic of Singapore Navy - Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore

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