The economy of Southeast Asia was fueled by several conditions: the confluence of substantial human and natural resources, the region's fortuitous geographic location and the enactment of government policies favoring economic growth. Traditional Asian values emphasizing the importance of frugality and hard work also have been instrumental in spurred economic growth.
Colonial rule in the region set the stage for development of the advertising industry. In the Philippines, the ad industry was dominated by Americans from the 1890s until the 1940s. The first agency in the Philippines, Philippine Publicity Service, was established in 1921 and operated by an American, H. Edmund Bullis. All other operators of major advertising agencies at the time, including F. Theo Rogers, M.W. Jenkins and Horace B. Pond, were also Americans.
In Thailand, which was never a colony, foreign powers also affected the development of the industry. Advertising began in Thailand in 1845 when an American missionary, Dan Beach Bradley, published the first newspaper, The Bangkok Recorder, which carried the first ad in Thailand.
The first modern ad agency in Thailand was established in the early 1950s by an American. Throughout the early years of advertising in Thailand, very few native Thais were employed in the executive or creative ranks of the industry, which instead were filled with U.S., European and Japanese citizens.
Local agencies in Thailand grew rapidly during the "Thai Era" (from 1977 to 1987) and the "Growth Era" (from 1988 to 1993), but the most prominent ad agencies in that nation continued to be foreign-owned.
Foreign products dominated advertising in Southeast Asia as well, and there has been a trend toward using foreign (particularly American) modes of advertising. In Thailand—where some of the most prominently advertised brand names include Vidal Sassoon, Toyota, Johnnie Walker, Nissan and Fuji—advertisers commonly invoke the status of foreign products and cultures, insert foreign words and phrases into ads and use endorsements by foreign celebrities. Foreign advertisers in Southeast Asia also seek to influence consumers by sponsoring programming in the mass media. Procter & Gamble Philippines, for example, introduced radio soap operas in that country in the 1950s.
In the Philippines, centuries of Spanish and U.S. colonial rule deeply affected the political, cultural and social structures of the country. Today, most Filipinos find it important to show concern and support for the well-being of the group as a whole, and they value conflict avoidance.
These aspects of Filipino culture have deterred the practice of comparative advertising: Filipinos consider it offensive to name competitors or make comparisons in ads. Advertising in the Philippines also set out to persuade consumers that foreign products were superior to local ones, establishing a preference for imported goods that is common among Filipinos today. Foreign brands and products are very popular, and white models and U.S. settings are often used in advertising.
Islamic governments in Southeast Asia have exercised considerable control over the content of ads in order to avoid the negative effects of advertising on religious, cultural and political traditions.
For example, the Malaysian government set up regulations concerning the content of advertising. Designed to safeguard Malaysian consumers against the danger of ads spreading foreign (particularly Western) cultures and values, the Advertising Code prohibits the "adaptation or projection of foreign culture that is not acceptable to a cross section of the major communities of Malaysian society either in the form of words, slogans, clothing, activity or behavior." The code promotes cultural sensitivity in advertising aired or printed in Malaysia and is heavily influenced by the government's desire to promote Islamic principles and values.
Similarly, the government of Indonesia formulated that country's Code of Ethics & Practices of Advertising in 1981 to create "correct, healthy and responsible" advertising.
In Southeast Asia, the indigenous ad industry developed much later. In 1972, for example, the Indonesian government helped local ad agencies set up the Persatuan Perusahaan Periklanan Indonesia, or the Indonesia Association of Advertising Agencies.
Despite the growth of indigenous shops, foreign agencies remain very powerful in Southeast Asia. Most of the top 10 agencies in the Philippines in the 1990s, for example, were units of mega-agencies based abroad, including McCann-Erickson Worldwide, J. Walter Thompson Co., Lintas, DDB Needham Worldwide, Leo Burnett Co. and D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles.