For evidence of how heavily environmental issues are influencing the thoughts and actions of people across the world, look no further than the Asian Advertising Awards, otherwise known as the Spikes.
This year's event in Bali saw Leo Burnett Australia's "Earth hour" for WWF take home the coveted platinum Spike, having been awarded gold in the Integrated category, and one of two inaugural green Spikes in recognition of outstanding creativity in promoting an environmental cause.
Highlighting the need for immediate action in tackling global warming and climate change, the initiative led more than two million Sydney residents to extinguish their lights for an hour.
Other gold award winners included Leo Burnett Malaysia's "Tan Hong Ming" TV commercial; Ogilvy Thailand's "tree" print campaign for WWF; Colenso BBDO New Zealand's "self-destruct" outdoor drive for Deadline Express Couriers; and TBWA for its own commemorative direct marketing campaign The Book.
The consensus among the judges - led by the chairman Jeff Goodby, the co-chairman of San Francisco's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners - is that print remains Asia's trump card. The category generated a total of eight silvers and one gold.
"In Asia, ads don't have many words in them," Goodby observed. "The work has to carry wordlessly across different cultures. Print is perennially the best part of the show. The graphic design and intricacy of visuals is very intriguing here - as intriguing as anywhere in the world. Many of the print ads are almost like TV ads on a page: very spontaneous. The level of visual accomplishment is very high."
David Guerrero, the chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO Guerrero Ortega, agreed that "the great strength of Asia is in press and outdoor", but confessed his disappointment at the TV, Integrated and Radio categories.
While certain examples of TV work stood out, the momentum built up over recent years seemed to have slowed, particularly in Thailand. Despite taking home four silver awards, Thai agencies were denied a gold by Leo Burnett Malaysia's "Tan Hong Ming" spot for Petronas, which was praised by the panel for its touching snapshot of inter-racial friendship. JWT Bangkok's deputy chairman and chief creative officer, Pinit Chandraprateep, described it as "simple, real humanity".
Directed by Yasmin Ahmad, the agency's executive creative director, the spot emerged as one of the most successful of 60 interviews with Malaysian schoolchildren about their friendships with classmates of a different racial background to their own. The spot ends with the line: "Our children are colour blind. Shouldn't we keep them that way?"
The standard of entries from Japan showed improvement, with Dentsu's "non-blinking woman" campaign for Morinaga and Hakuhodo's "fireman" work for Suntory both winning silver in the TV category. Noting an "attractive naivety" in Asian advertising, Goodby described the Japanese entries as "big, iconic and playful - more so than in Western cultures".
In other categories, the judges were heartened by digital's progress. "We set high standards and we kept to them," Mark Cridge, the jury chairman and chief executive of glue London, said. "The work had markedly improved on last year, where there was a gap between work that had a good idea and work that was well-executed. This year we were seeing them come together."
Meanwhile, the newly introduced media category was strongly represented by creative agencies, which made up between 65 and 70 per cent of the entries. JWT, Leo Burnett and the Japanese digital agencies GT Inc and Adex all picked up awards along with the media agencies OMD and Carat.
JWT Indonesia was awarded a silver and a green Spike for its work for WWF's "my baby tree" environmental initiative to counter the illegal destruction of rainforests. The campaign's website encourages visitors to plant a virtual tree online for a donation of $5.50, which funds the planting of a real tree in the Indonesian rainforest.
Mark Patterson, the chief operating officer of Group M Asia-Pacific, cited presentation as the main area in need of improvement. "Media agencies need to get much better at writing awards," he said. "The packaging was lacking. The story needs to be told in a compelling, succinct manner. Media agencies tend to overcomplicate and go for quantity over quality. But if the entry is too cluttered, you miss the 'wow' factor."
This year also saw the introduction of Young Spikes, a competition led by the TBWA creative-at-large, John Merrifield, designed to promote and acknowledge creative talent among newcomers to the industry. This invited a total of seven two-person teams to develop a campaign to drive awareness of water scarcity and promote the TapWater conservation project in Bali, an island where, according to the brief, "tap water doesn't exist".
The winning entry, developed by a team consisting of Douglas Hamilton from Bartle Bogle Hegarty in Singapore and Hezal Weisman from DDB Indonesia, proposed encouraging the donation from tourists and affluent locals of $1 to use the island's public conveniences and putting the proceeds towards improving water sanitation. The campaign was praised by the judges for its simplicity, viability, and its professional presentation.
Calvin Soh, the vice-chairman and chief creative officer at Publicis Asia-Pacific, thought the work generated by the event was a strong indication of Asia's potential talent. "They thought about ideas, rather than just execution," he commented. "If they could handle a brief like that at such a tender age, then it bodes well for our industry."
- David Blecken is a reporter for Media magazine in Hong Kong.