Post-Quake Japan Efforts Earned Big Nods at Asia's Adfest

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A year after Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami, two of the most talked-about campaigns at regional Asian ad festival AdFest this week in Thailand were about helping Japanese cope.

Both were by Hakuhodo Kettle, a creative affiliate of Japan's No. 2 agency, Hakuhodo. The two-minute film "Dear Japan, from Phuket" won the Grande Lotus Roots prize and consumed the attention of AdFest jury members. In the film, natives of Phuket, a Thai beach town devastated by a powerful tsunami in 2004, offer support, sympathy and hope for the future to the Japanese. Striking a chord with the AdFest audience, it was filmed by the agency's creatives while they attended last year's AdFest, held in Phuket just days after the catastrophe in Japan. The film, which was created for the internet, was widely picked up by Japanese media.

"The film is both local and international," said Grand and Cyber Jury President Bob Greenberg, CEO of R/GA.

"Only Phuket could have sent this message," said Prasoon Joshi, McCann Worldgroup's chairman and CEO, India and ECD, Asia-Pacific and jury president of the Press Lotus category. "There are many out there who feel that you need to create work that's very international, instead of local, to stand out. But think about it. Work that stands out tends to deeply connect with the consumer, so how better to connect to the consumer than through culture."

Hakuhodo Kettle also won the Grande Innova Lotus for a Google campaign, "Memories of the Future," in which the internet giant called on Japanese to share photographs and videos of places and events on its site to help people regain memories lost when their towns and homes were destroyed or washed away.

AdFest was back in its usual home in Thai beach town Pattaya after being held in Phuket in 2011 and canceled in 2010 because of political unrest in Thailand. This year's event drew 2,857 entries, down from a high of 5,148 in 2008, but a solid increase from recent years.

The festival also introduced some Asian campaigns, from pizza to pawn shops, that may win at international festivals in the U.S. and Europe this year:

The Best in Show winner in the outdoor category, "The Keyboard of Isolation," encourages family members to spend more time together and less online. Figurines were placed in glass jars in the shape of a giant keyboard, illustrating the isolation of real-life family members. The outdoor campaign by DDB China Group is for China's Family Care for Grassroots Community.

A Japanese pawn-shop chain owned by Zeniya Honten Corp. won the Best of Show Film Lotus award. In the campaign "Samurai/Gentleman/Madame/Rocker," a diverse group of people sitting on shelves hold conversations reminiscent of Samuel Beckett's absurdist play "Waiting for Godot." They represent beloved objects eventually redeemed by former owners. A hip rebellious young Japanese guy clad in red leather, for instance, once redeemed, turns out to be an electric guitar.

Another favorite with AdFest jury members was a short film from South Korea's Mr. Pizza chain called "True Origins of Pizza," which won a Film Craft Gold Lotus. The spoof ad, produced by fictional company Gumshoe Pictures, poses a conspiracy theory that Marco Polo didn't just "steal" noodles from China, he also stole pizza, another Italian staple, from the country that originally invented it: Korea.

The Mr. Pizza campaign, actually produced by Addict Media Films in Seoul, was also significant as a breakthrough campaign from an increasingly competitive Korea at a festival usually dominated by Japan and China. Last year, Cheil Worldwide won Korea's first Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for a virtual store in the subway for grocer Homeplus.

"Their ads were too serious, rigid and humorless in the past," said Vinit Suraphongchai, chairman of the AdFest steering committee. "Now Korea is really becoming visible and is coming of age as a creative market."

Normandy Madden is senior VP-content development, Asia/Pacific at Thoughtful China, and Ad Age's former Asia editor.

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