Special Report: Asia - An Asian Private View

A merry band comprising a confusing lady boy, Elephant Man incarnate and cuddly firebrand quintet helps provide two of the region's experts with another reminder of the exciting work currently emanating from the East.

I was staying at the Charlotte Street Hotel a couple of months ago; I went down to breakfast and there at the next table was Tim Delaney. We had a chat, then suddenly Tim dropped the bombshell on me that he'd contracted CRAFT. "Oh no," I said. "Yes," he replied, "It affects the brain, makes work seem almost impossible and, at our age, only gets worse." I had vaguely heard of CRAFT, knew it was some sort of mental condition, but wasn't exactly sure what it stood for. With a sad smile, Tim told me: "Can't Remember a Fuckin' Thing."

So why am I telling this story? Er, well, um, oh yeah, that's it - Thailand Yellow Pages (3) and its new campaign. A great, simple idea: "Yellow Pages, easy to find." So, the guy in the bath towel clearly needs a plumber, he finds one easily in the Yellow Pages, but spends the whole 30 seconds talking on the phone to his girlfriend trying to find his mobile. Wait a minute, he's trying to locate his mobile while talking on his mobile - this boy's got CRAFT.

Also elegant in its simplicity and charm is a Bose (5) car stereo campaign by Bartle Bogle Hegarty China. In one ad, a set of grinning cuddly toys beam out of the back window of a car holding their lighters up like a rock concert crowd. But, for my money, the prizewinner is an overhead blueprint of a concert hall which, on closer examination, is actually a top-plan of a car. Take off the Chinese copy, it wouldn't look out of place on BBH London's wall.

TBWA\London needn't reserve a place for its Malaysia offices' Samsonite (2) ads. The line reads: "There's only one way to open a Samsonite." The pictures are of people being interrogated. I've no idea why these interrogation scenes appear in almost every student book you see. I've also no idea what real relevance these admittedly well-taken shots have to do with a suitcase. But I'm pretty certain it isn't what David Ogilvy had in mind when he coined the phrase: "Interrogate the product." Talking of Ogilvy, the agency's Philippines offices have avoided the trap of ambiguous analogies and hit the spot for Ponds (1) facial cleanser. We don't see the spot of course, it is hidden behind a real piece of poster pulled up over the model's face. A simple headline - "Pimples?" - wisely directs full attention to the idea.

Aware (4). A grotesque humanoid casually ironing in a black-and-white setting that could easily be a still from David Lynch's Eraserhead is also an unarguably arresting image. It's therefore all the more disappointing that a strong visual start is consistently sunk by a leaden anchor of a line: "No child should have to live with a monster." This Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore campaign is a descendent of the famous charity campaigns from Charlotte Street. What made the NSPCC ads remarkable was similar art direction, but they were always counterpointed by some of the most delicately penned and emotionally measured copy.

And finally, from Bangkok, a ring ding, rootin' tootin' award-gobbler from JEH United for Smooth E (6). A four-parter (that I assume was originally on the web) wherein our feisty tomboy heroine, Joom, finds love courtesy of another skin cream. It is a collision of the high school modernity of Boy Meets World and the Chinese Western tomfoolery of Hong Kong Hustle. The best character is the presenter, who occasionally freezes to a grinning rictus of a pitch woman in the middle of the action, and who oddly tries to reassure Joom of her success by revealing her old driving licence that shows she is, in fact, a lady boy.

It is tremendously heartening to see such excellent work from Asia; it reminds me of one vital thing - we must always remember about the East. What was that again?

So I get an invite to write my opinion on some work from the region, and the first thing that goes through my mind is to grandstand and spout off at the expense of others' hard work.

I'm not falling into that old trap ... but I do appreciate what it takes to get work in to print, and have it run with an idea intact.

So I thought I would give both my gut and professional reactions just to show I am not a bitter, twisted wanker ... yet.

Aware (4). Gut: Scary pics, must be for a charity ... ooh, I'm scared.

Professional: It's not easy doing different work for this subject. Scare or shock tactics are the norm, whether in real-life scenarios or depicting the moments or situations in graphic ways. But to have an idea that captures the essence of the problem and get it bought while still in its true state is an achievement in itself. Strong art direction, clean layout and vivid imagery. I can't help, however, feeling that the visual has somehow overpowered the subtlety of the copy, which for me is the strength of these ads. I think, left to the imagination, the copy would have conjured up more stirring feelings and images.

Samsonite (2). Gut: Christ, not another big picture, hidden copy visual with overly clever message format.

Professional: I like it and love that it engages me to search out what is being said. I was quick to criticise the lack of product, but there it was cleverly placed and not so obvious as to kill the idea. Thank god no corny product demos, lock shots or pack shots. It was all in the clever execution. Times like this, we should recognise a good client who sticks with an idea without watering it down. 'Nuff said.

Bose (5). Gut: Hmm, yeah, so what?

Professional: There's some pretty cool stuff out there for this category, most of it very simple. It has to be, since the product is experiential, so print has to work very hard and inspire. Classic clean art direction - which is expected here in Asia - keeps the campaign together. But two of the ideas are a little generic, if not cute. Bose isn't a cute brand.

Ponds (1). Gut: Not sure. Looks good, but is it?

Professional: Looks good. Seems simple. Is arresting. Makes good outdoor. Client must be happy; so is agency. Just doesn't do it for me. Can't tell you why ... maybe it's just too obvious.

Smooth E (6). Gut: Shit, that's good.

Professional: Years ago, "Bellybutton Face" came out and poked fun at cosmetics advertising by using humour and engaging us all in the story of a bad facelift, when all she had to do was use this skin-tightening cream. So here we see yet another brilliant Thai execution for a beauty cream, told with all the charm and humour you come to expect from Thailand. Except, this is more. It shatters the mould of the category and treats the consumer with intelligence by engaging them, both male and female, with confidence in production, acting and filmic style. It has covered off the beauty shot, the obligatory babe and product demo effortlessly. I said it before. You really have to admire a client who stays with and commits to a great idea. The rest of the world can learn from this.

Yellow Pages (3). Gut: Just misses.

Professional: A simple human insight made this a potential winner, but somehow it just tripped at the end. Couldn't quite put my finger on it; I got the message loud and clear - I guess it came down to just not being funny. I'll bet it was in the creation and all the pre-sell ... but on the day it left me flat.

So, finished. At the end of it I know why Asia is so cool and why I love the work produced here. After reading this you may have two reactions. Gut: Wanker. Professional: He's right.

Project title: Ponds hiding billboard
Client: Unilever
Brief: Reposition the brand as best in category
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Philippines
Executive creative director: Gavin Simpson
Writers: Gavin Simpson, Pia Roxas
Art directors: Mike Sicam, Lito Gemora
Photographer: Ruben Dela Cruz at Visual Camp
Exposure: Outdoor

Project title: Secret code
Client: Samsonite
Brief: Tough bag. The bag is so tough the only way to open it is to get
the combination
Agency: TBWA\Malaysia
Creative director: Bas Moreu
Writer: Ong Shi Ping
Art directors: Ong Shi Ping, Giap How Tan
Exposure: Magazines

Project title: Baby/phone
Client: Yellow Pages
Brief: Create more usage of Yellow Pages among consumers who have
forgotten about the book
Agency: Creative Juice\G1
Writer: Prangthip Praditpong
Director: Thanonchai Sornsriwichai
Exposure: TV

Project title: Living with monsters
Client: Aware
Brief: In homes where spousal abuse takes place, the children become
victims too. We need to raise awareness of their plight
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore
Creative director: Andy Greenaway
Writers: Jagdish Ramakrishnan, Justine Lee, Roger Makak
Art directors: Jae Soh, Richard Copping, Robin Tan
Photographer: Jeremy Wong at Calibre
Exposure: Press and bus shelters

Project title: Bose Automotive launch campaign
Client: Bose Automotive
Brief: Launch Bose Automotive Experience in China
Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty China
Writers: Steve Elrick, Leo Zhang
Art directors: Johnny Tan, Kelly Pon, Jeffrey Sun
Exposure: Print

Project title: Love Story 1,2,3,4
Client: Smooth E Babyface Foam
Brief: To sell, while poking fun at the category
Agency: JEH United Bangkok
Creative director: Jureeporn Thaidumrong
Writer: Jureeporn Thaidumrong
Art director: Jureeporn Thaidumrong
Director: Thanonchai Sornsriwichai
Exposure: TV

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