The World: Insider's View - Asia

Advertising should not desert Asia in a panic over a possible bird flu pandemic. Recent history shows that the worst predictions won't come true anyway, Keith Smith argues.

Pity the poor chickens. They aren't half getting a bad press at the moment with stories emerging about the threat from bird flu every day.

First it was chickens, then ducks, then any migrating bird and even the humble parrot.

I don't want to belittle the possible effects of a pandemic, but the issue of bird flu is something that those of us in Asia have lived with for a long time. It was in 1997 that Hong Kong reported its first case of a death caused by bird flu.

Since then, of course, it has spread to a number of other Asian countries (particularly Vietnam) and has now reared its head in Europe.

I'm not an expert in treating avian-borne diseases but I do know one thing for sure. The last thing that we need to do right now is panic.

And that is something that we are already beginning to see in the way that the rest of the world is behaving when it comes to dealing with the marketing and advertising communities in this part of the world.

Agencies have already been cancelling conferences and meetings in Asia, particularly in Vietnam.

It is hard to reconcile the Western views of Vietnam as the "new China" if no-one is going to visit the place to find out what is going on and what the opportunities might be.

At the same time, this part of Asia doesn't have too many Vietnamese chicken farmers travelling in Upper Class, spreading diseases among the unsuspecting agency and marketing communities.

Believe me, this is not complacency but an honest desire to keep things in perspective. Now, I'm not sure how much more serious avian flu is than Sars, but I do seem to recall that in 2003, people were talking Armageddon and the potential economic paralysis of Asia economies.

After the first flurry of activity, and once we got over the fact that China had not been telling the truth about the number of cases on the mainland, life got back to normal fairly quickly and the natural economies continued to grow at their customary 6 to 9 per cent.

We must all obviously be very concerned about the spread of bird flu and do everything in our power to combat and beat it.

At the same time for a whole host of reasons, not just economic but social and political as well, we need to make sure that we continue to support and nurture our clients' business and our colleagues in the Asian region.

They not only provide one of the true future growth areas for our business but also provide some of the most interesting creative work that is currently being done, anywhere in the world.

Staying away won't help and it certainly won't stop the spread of bird flu elsewhere in the world.

In the meantime, I wouldn't cancel the Christmas turkey.

- Keith Smith is the regional chairman of TBWA\Asia-Pacific.


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