Tokyo agencies walked away with the Best of Show award in four major categories—TV, radio, cyber and innovation—at the gala awards dinner March 17 at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort in Pattaya, a beach resort town south of Bangkok. The top TV award went to Hakuhodo's "Humanity" spot for Toyota Motor Corp., which won a Silver Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in the south of France last June. Japanese agencies took grands prix for the Xbox360 cyber campaign by GT, the Jino Forestino radio ad by ADK and the Oxyride Batteries campaign by Hakuhodo, which won the innovation award.
Japan's dominance didn't slow the momentum at this year's three-day event, the largest in the festival's 10-year history, with over 1,600 delegates and 5,012 entries submitted by over 500 agencies in 49 Asian cities.
While the overall level of creative in Asia arguably lags behind more developed ad markets, and the region is rife with accusations of "scam" entries, a buoyant mood at this year's festival was fueled by the strong economic performance of many Asian countries over the past year, and a thankful lack of bad news. Asia has seen a plague of hardships over the past few years, including currency meltdowns, natural disasters and SARS, which dampened the atmosphere at previous festivals.
"Asia Pacific is the place to be both economically and intellectually, this is where growth is coming from," said John Hunt, worldwide creative director of TBWA Worldwide, Johannesburg, who chaired the film jury. "This is reflected in the quality of the work that the TV judging panel saw. The trend for the category overall is upwards, the whole body of work I saw here has improved. If there is one weakness that I noticed here, it is a tendency among Asian creatives to be too dazzled by special effects."
One award-winner at AdFest that could do well at global festivals like Cannes, said Mr. Hunt, is a spot for Perfetti's Happy Dent teeth-whitening gum. The whimsical fantasy spot created by McCann Erickson, Mumbai, demonstrates the gum's whitening performance by portraying gum chewers as human lamps who light up swimming pools and tennis courts with their smiles, using a colorful cast and score typical of Indian cinema.
Despite Japan's strength in the TV category, creative work from Singapore and Bangkok continued to outperform the region in print and outdoor advertising. Leo Burnett Worldwide's Bangkok office won the best of show print award for a Clima Bicycle Lock ad, while BBDO Worldwide, Singapore, won the top outdoor award for a Wrangler poster.
Apart from these few standout ads, "the print work this year looks the same to me," said David Droga, creative chairman of Droga5, New York. He chaired the jury for two new categories at AdFest this year, 360 Lotus, which covers integrated campaigns, and Contagious Lotus for Innovation.
Bangkok was the most awarded city overall, winning 50 of 182 awards overall across eight categories. Singapore was second with 38 awards and Mumbai ranked third with 24 awards.
Reflecting the immense popularity of mobile phones in Asia, where young consumers use them more as cameras, instant messaging devices and music players than mere telephones, AdFest turned to mobiles for a unique contest in its Young Lotus Workshop, which became one of the highlights of this year's AdFest.
"Asia is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to the adoption of new media like the internet and mobile phones," both by consumers and marketers, said Benjamin Palmer, CEO and chief creative officer of The Barbarian Group, Boston, who chaired the cyber jury.
At the workshop, moderated this year by BBDO, 28 young creatives from 14 countries had 24 hours to complete a 60" commercial on the topic "You can do good things in Pattaya," suggested by the town's mayor. Pattaya is best-known as a seedy spot catering to sex tourists, an image local leaders want to change.
The ads, many of which delighted delegates and were shown on continuous loop in the exhibition hall, were filmed with the video camera in a Nokia N931 mobile phone and then edited on laptop computers, "an exercise that shows how fast digital media is advancing and advertising skills are changing," said Suthisak Sucharittanonta, chairman-chief creative officer, BBDO, Bangkok.
The winning effort, by Team Tokyo, was filmed and will be edited into a 30-minute TV program that will be broadcast around Asia on TV stations as well as on MTV's Asian feeds.