The World: Insider's View - Korea

With no system for ranking agencies, and award schemes that border on the farcical, the industry needs to grow up to earn a place on the world stage, Wain Choi writes.

Checking out young creative talent in Korea usually means looking through portfolios. It also means checking where those creatives rank on a report card, or ranking, which lists awards won within a calendar year.

This also applies to clients. When they are deciding which agencies to put on a pitchlist, they review agencies' creative standing via a report card that supposedly provides a snapshot of which talent and which agency rank as the hottest in town.

Herein lies the problem in Korea. There is no system that shows which the hottest agencies are. The larger the billings, the better the agency, in the eyes of Korean advertisers.

Sure, there are local award shows every year, but they're not credible in the eyes of creatives. Most feel they are biased and political. The judging panels consist of professors. Now, I have nothing against academics, but shouldn't creative awards be judged by creatives?

Most work rewarded in Korea would not be considered for the finals of the major global competitions. What does this say about the quality of work in Korea? Are we really pushing the envelope to stand out? Are we provoking the emotions of the consumer's mind and heart? Korean ads should be of global calibre, especially as many local brands are world-class products in their fields.

The majority of work is built around celebrities who have no relevance to the product. Most briefs start by asking which actors or singers can be used to leverage a brand, rather than starting from an idea. To me, this suggests not many advertisers have confidence in their brands.

The fact is that consumers will remember the celebrities but not the product. Indeed, many of these so-called celebrities may endorse up to four or five brands. This also creates huge confusion among consumers.

Instead of relying on big ideas to deliver the communication, many ads begin with a formulaic blueprint. This usually involves a famous actor or actress and a catchy song.

The hope is that this work will stand out. Unfortunately, it's usually the opposite, with ads simply adding to the clutter by blending with all the similar spots. Commercials without any ideas will not be awarded outside this country, let alone create memorable images for the brands they promote.

How do we change all that? In reality, it's simple. Have an award show that rewards only the best of the best. Have the best judges, including those with international reputations.

Work should only be about the idea, the execution and about being creative. It should not be based on how much money the advertisers are spending on their campaigns.

By inviting outsiders, we can be honest about the quality of our work without being biased. This will ultimately promote Korea to the global ad scene.

- Wain Choi is the executive creative director of Ogilvy Korea.