Anyone with an ounce of business sense or a valid subscription to
CNN will rea-dily confess that within Asia lies the future of global
Yet if you actually ask the average American what they really know about
Asia, they’ll tell you it seems like a fine country. Ask a Brit and you
may hear about the good old days or about the joys of cheap back-packing
holidays. As for Australians, they know it’s there but are too cautious
to take a proper look.
But while the rest of the world dips its toe into the Asia of today,
Asia is quietly taking on the world. Everyone knows the Japanese make
great television sets, but did you realise they also create some of the
world’s funniest TV ads (if not the strangest)? You’ve probably driven a
Korean car - but have you ever seen their ads?
And, if I could think of any products that they had actually
manufactured in the region, I’d ease my way into mentioning some of the
great ads coming out of Singapore.
Spend just a short time in Asia and you’ll almost certainly be struck by
two overwhelming truths.
First, the region is more culturally diverse than Europe and offers at
least twice as many opportunities as North America. To compare India
with China or Thailand with Vietnam is pointless. In London, an art
director’s biggest challenge is to hide the client’s hideous logo on
their layouts. In Vietnam, the art director’s biggest challenge is to
hide from the police during one of their random and frequent raids.
Advertising is deemed propaganda in Vietnam and is therefore illegal.
(Is this a sign of things to come?)
In China, consumer research takes on a whole new dimension. With a
population of around 1.2 billion, there are more than 350 million people
in the middle classes. If these numbers aren’t daunting enough, the
countless dialects they speak should be. Although for every headache you
endure you can be sure someone else is battling a migraine.
Apparently, at a recent car launch, the city streets were lined with
billboards proclaiming: ’It’s even better than before.’ The locals’
reaction must have exceeded the client’s expectations. It turns out that
when it was translated they read: ’It’s even better than a piece of
shit.’ And who says that truth in advertising is a thing of the
In Japan, the largest single agency has billings in the vicinity of
USdollars 11 billion - and it just happens to handle three of the
largest car accounts out of the same office. Seemingly, ’client
conflict’ is an English problem.
Now, while you and I may be living in 1998, in Thailand they enjoyed
their millennium celebration years ago and they are currently in the
year 2556. As hard as it is to book media, imagine trying to get refills
for your Filofax.
In Singapore, both chewing gum and oral sex are strictly forbidden (not
necessarily in that order). I know that this last example has nothing to
do with advertising but I thought it worth a mention ...
Some of these examples may seem like little more than dinner party
trivia, but they do serve as a reminder that countries across Asia each
operate with their own unique rules.
John Naisbett, the author of Mega Trends Asia, wrote: ’Asia isn’t
becoming westernised, it’s modernising.’ This is true - and it’s
happening at a breakneck pace. And, despite recent economic turmoils in
South-east Asia, it will continue.
For example, there are currently more construction cranes in Shanghai
city than there are across the entire United States. And, of course, for
every new building that goes up in the city, in moves a prospective
This could be a client that needs an ad on air in three months - a
client that doesn’t yet have the layers of red tape found in the more
mature markets. They simply want to get an ad on air before their
In the UK, teams usually have up to three months to work on a single
brief, sometimes longer. In Singapore and Hong Kong, the average
creative teams work on up to five new briefs a week, with deadlines
anywhere between two days and three weeks.
Certainly, this pace is unrealistic but, on the other hand, with each
new brief comes a fresh opportunity.
The standard of advertising across Asia might not yet be at the level of
the UK, but the margin is narrowing. Flick through Archive or fast
forward through your next Shots and you’ll see more and more ads
creeping in from Asia.
Gone are the days of Third World production values and one-off ads for
hair salons. Instead, you’ll find agencies forging their own identities
with large multi-national clients. If advertising is a genuine
reflection of society and culture then it’s really only a matter of time
before people look to the East for creative inspiration and, if I’m
right, Westerners such as myself will be looking for new jobs some time
The art director’s biggest challenge is to hide from the police during
one of their random and frequent raids
For every headache you endure,you can be sure someone else is battling a
The largest single agency just happens to handle three of the largest
car accounts out of the same office
Both chewing gum and oral sex are forbidden and creative teams work on
up to five new briefs a week.