In the rapidly developing ad industries of Asia, the offices of top multinational agency networks are changing into creative hotshops. Richard Cook looks at four examples

In the rapidly developing ad industries of Asia, the offices of top

multinational agency networks are changing into creative hotshops.

Richard Cook looks at four examples

Batey Ads

Batey Ads was founded by Ian Batey in 1972 for the launch of Singapore

Airlines. The resulting ‘Singapore girls’ motif, which was devised for

the first campaign, is still running today.

Although Singapore Airlines remains its largest single client, Batey has

grown to become the eighth biggest agency network in South-east Asia,

billing USdollars 225 million, with 554 staff and offices in Malaysia,

Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Taiwan and Australia.

Its outstanding creative reputation has helped fuel its expansion and

the Singapore office continues to pick up awards with a zeal that

borders on the greedy. It received 50 in the first four months of this

year alone and took the only gold to be awarded at this year’s Singapore

Creative Circle Awards.

‘Ian believes in long-term campaigns that build brands,’ Batey’s

executive creative director, Jim Aitchison, explains. ’He also believes

in putting art before profit, which means the agency is ruthless about

its own creative standards.’

Aitchison has won more than 500 awards in the past six years, although

the creative department in Singapore is currently under the control of

two joint creative directors, the Briton, Andy Clarke, and the

Australian, Tony Redman.

Aitchison contends that it is the agency’s strength at visually led

advertising that sets it apart, not just in Singapore but other Asian

markets. The agency’s current work includes the launch campaign for the

E-class Mercedes-Benz cars, which has been accepted into the

cinematography section of D&AD this year, a series of ads for Sony and a

‘treat water with respect’ campaign for Asian Pals of the Planet, which

took the form of commercials co-directed by Graham Fink and free ad

spots donated by Time, Newsweek and Asiaweek.

‘Because we were born in Asia, our roots are here and we have a very

strong intuitive gut-feel for what will work,’ Aitchison comments. ‘Asia

is not one market. It is dozens of different markets, each with its own

culture, language, social and religious traditions, and each at its own

individual stage of development. That is why we believe that visually

led advertising has a better chance of transcending these barriers.’

An informal poll of top management at other Singaporean shops placed

Batey as one the state’s top three agencies in terms of creativity, as

probably befits an agency that garnered more than 100 awards in the last

year and can now claim to be the largest shop in state.

Saatchi and Saatchi

Singapore is rapidly emerging as the creative battleground for top-

flight agency networks, as Saatchi and Saatchi, which has an outstanding

recent creative record in the region, has been quick to appreciate. The

agency is the second largest in Singapore and earlier this month it

brought in the hotshot Australian, Dave Droga, as the office’s new

executive creative director and the regional creative director for all

of Saatchis’ shops across ten countries in the region.

Droga was the founding partner at Australia’s Omon agency. He started it

up at the age of 19 and in the his last five years there won15 of

Australia’s Award Pencils - the highest individual haul during that

period. Now 28, he has sold his shares in Omon, which bills Adollars 90

million, and now has big plans for the Singapore shop. Just three years

ago it became the first agency outside the UK and US to win a gold

Pencil from D&AD.

‘My priority is to make sure that the agency is the creative epicentre

for the region,’ Droga says. ‘Generally, there is a very high standard

of creative work coming out of Singapore at the moment, but it has what

I would call a Singaporean style - it’s very print and headline-

orientated. My strengths are in very visual campaigns and I would like

to try to build the TV work and get TV campaigns off the ground.

Everything at the moment is very short term, and the very best creative

work - the award-winning stuff - is for smaller clients. We have to

convince the blue-chip clients to accept the same sort of creative


Saatchis’ Singapore office started life in 1964 as Lash Advertising and

was embraced by the Compton Advertising network as long ago as 1967. It

become part of Saatchis in 1982. Its cosmopolitan creative department

includes Singaporeans, Indians, Australians, Canadians and a Greek. Last

year it had claimed billings of USdollars 78.4 million, and it employs

122 staff. Its clients include Tiger Beer, Lexus, Samsung and the

Singapore Tourist Promotion Board.

‘The great thing about the creative opportunities here is that the

market is not just controlled by research like it is in the US and other

mature markets,’ Droga reckons. ‘There is more freedom. Clients have

been keen in the past to make sure they don’t miss out on the region’s

economic growth, but are now increasingly having the confidence to

support more creative work.’

Ogilvy and mather

Ogilvy and Mather has maintained an office in Singapore since 1958. It

is now the second-largest agency in the city state. While it would be

fair to say that its creative reputation has not always matched its

presence in the region, the agency is currently undergoing something of

a creative revival under the energetic creative directorship of Steve


This year O&M picked up the Best Print Campaign prize at the Singapore

Creative Circle Awards for its work on behalf of the Wildlife

Conservation Society. It went on to take the Best Print Campaign of the

Year prize at the big regional awards ceremony, the Asian Advertising

Awards, this time for a campaign for Brooklyn Bagels. Print is still the

dominant medium in Singapore and represented around two-thirds of the

agency’s Sdollars 108 million billings last year.

‘Though generally much more conservative when it comes to really off-

the-wall ideas, Singaporean clients respect quality when they see it,’

Elrick says. ‘Unfortunately, when it comes to TV production they often

simply can’t afford it. Maybe that’s why print is by far the most

creative medium in Singapore.’

O&M employs 162 staff in the state. The agency serves as the hub for

multinational clients, such as American Express, PepsiCo and KFC,

throughout the region.

O&M is increasingly becoming far less dependent on expat advertising

talent. Neil French, who oversees the creative output from all of the

region’s O&M offices, ranging from Auckland to Bangkok, has worked in

the region for 13 years and helped to set up the Ball Partnership in

Singapore. He thinks that Singapore has now emerged as the creative

cauldron for much of South-east Asia.

‘To be honest, I think that the standard coming out of Batey forced

other players in Singapore, such as ourselves, Saatchis and the Ball

Partnership, to raise their game creatively. Clients see good work and

naturally their expectations rise. And because the Singapore consumer is

intelligent and ad literate, there is scope for far more sophistication

in ads than in other Asian markets.’

French says that O&M has differentiated itself by doing sharp

copywriting and using humour and irony to make its ads sophisticated.

The award-winning Brooklyn Bagel campaign features pictures of Chinese

men speaking Yiddish. ‘Because the audience is intelligent, you can use

verbal jokes to good effect,’ French explains, ‘in a way that you can’t

in most of the rest of Asia.’

Mc Cann-Erickson

McCann-Erickson’s Seoul office in South Korea is now six years old. It

was set up to service clients such as Coca-Cola, Johnson and Johnson and

General Motors that were looking to expand into the lucrative Korean

market. The fact that McCanns has gone on to do much more than that in a

fiercely independent marketplace - where the top companies actually own

their own ad agencies - is no mean achievement.

However, it could soon face its stiffest challenge yet when Bartle Bogle

Hegarty opens its South-east Asian office, either in Singapore or Hong


‘We’ve done well to win the rights to handle some of McCanns’ biggest

clients from here - like Johnsons and Levi’s,’ McCanns’ creative

director, Jeremy Perrott, claims. ‘We’ve done good work for both of them

and are especially proud of the work we’ve done for Levi’s that is shown

around the whole region. But, of course, the arrival of BBH will put us

under a lot of pressure.’

The office is likely to put up a stern fight for these prize accounts.

Employing around 80 staff, it has grown to become the 11th largest

agency in a region which is dominated by huge local clients such as

Samsung and Daewoo.

Perrott heads three separate creative teams, each of which comprises at

least six people, together with a group head and a senior copywriter.

Although Perrott and the office managing director are expats, most of

the creatives are Korean, which is important in a conservative society

that is increasingly sensitive about preserving its national heritage.

One problem for McCanns is that it has seen some of its brightest staff

poached by the bigger agencies such Cheil, which is owned by the massive

Samsung Corporation. ‘It’s strange for an agency owned by McCanns to

feel like a hotshop, but that’s the situation over here. It means we are

able to be a little bit more aggressive about pitching for new work, but

also that we have a bit more creative freedom,’ Perrott maintains.

Creative standards are high in Korea, despite the fact that the length

of ads is usually restricted to 15 seconds and production standards mean

that is is extremely difficult to spend less than dollars 200,000 on a

TV spot.

McCanns’ current reel includes commercials for Levi’s, the popular soft

drink, Nestea, and a print campaign for Fruitopia. ‘We just have to go

on producing good work,’ Perrott acknowledges, ‘But the market here is

very strong. Creative standards are high, and that means competition is

increasing the whole time.’