CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/ASIAN ADVERTISING AWARDS: Asia’s creatives still lack bite of western agencies - Attracting young talent is proving difficult for Asian shops

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.

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

week before.

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

Wowow TV.

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?

Perspective, p14.

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