OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - How the West was won over by Asia's pragmatism

A few years ago, when UK agencies were looking for someone who could talk to clients like a grown-up they'd look to America. But then began the procession of Asia-Pacific's finest to our shores.

Saatchi & Saatchi was the first, hiring both a chief executive and creative director from the southern hemisphere. Then came M&C Saatchi, Grey, Ogilvy, Lowe and, most recently, J. Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett. London has employed a seemingly endless array of superstars whose reputations, so vicious legend has it, were forged in the scam-ad capitals of the world where they honed their management skills on a department no larger than two lady- boys and a Filipino maid.

This column, sparked by Richard Pinder's return to Leo Burnett Europe from Asia (Campaign, last week), is an earnest attempt to ascertain what's different about the Asia-Pacific advertising market.

The easy thing to understand is the context. By 2014, two-thirds of the world's population will be located in Asia-Pacific. Asia is no longer a secondary geography. For many global clients it is now the primary focus and on many brands it has become the major slice of revenue and profit.

For advertising agencies, it's a little bit slower, partly because the Japanese market is in the sclerotic grip of the Japanese ad giants.

The emotional differences between London and Asia are just as interesting.

Putting this question to a few contacts produced a fascinating response.

Only one said "Asia-Pacific has everything to learn from us". I admired his brevity but unfortunately it left me 600 words short of a full column.

By universal consent, the biggest difference between Asia and the UK is the mind-set about success. Success feeds off the high growth rates that are typical there and a distant memory here. It manifests itself in a "can-do" attitude.

Why is the feeling so strong in Asia? Perhaps because the Chinese in particular (and the majority of all businesses across the region, bar India, are owned and managed by people of Chinese origin) spend a great deal of time seeking good fortune. Gambling is rife, driven by this. Prosperity is seen to be a matter of good luck as much as anything else. It is demanded in an Asian office that the boss has a bamboo tree that is larger than anyone else's: the flourishing of the tree is seen as a positive sign that the business will grow.

Risk-taking is another aspect of Asian business. There has to be something about societies that have not had business success for long being much more willing to risk it all for even greater success. In Western advertising, conversely, so much business time is spent debating the protection of the existing world that it stifles risk-taking.

All the evidence is that people in Asia-Pacific are very pragmatic. It only takes a trip to Cannes to see that they are too pragmatic at times to produce the highly original advertising across multiple categories that flourishes in some other markets. But there is no shame, it seems, in being in the business to make money for the agency or the client. So while Asia is a region where TV dominates, actually even the smallest agency makes a great deal of its income by doing tasks other than advertising for its clients.

Overall the differences between the markets are vast and fascinating.

But before I get carried away in breathless enthusiasm, reliable contacts confirm that Asia is also the place where you are more likely to get hit by an unlicensed truck, catch avian flu or even be outright lied to by a client.


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