If Ad Fests Want to Stay Relevant, They Need to Ask Tough Questions

The Philippine Ad Congress Is a Case in Point

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The word you hear repeated the most right before the Philippine Ad Congress' creative competition deadline is "naghahabol," which means chasing for last-minute ideas. It is common to see made-for-Congress ads days prior to cut-off date in national broadsheets, tabloids or even provincial dailies just to qualify. You'll hear it a lot in coming months because this time next year, ad agencies, marketers, production houses, print and broadcast media, their affiliates, including communication arts students, will be under the spell of Baguio's weather for almost a week. The city of pines, built by the Americans at the turn of the century, and the country's summer capital, will welcome close to 5,000 delegates to the 21st edition of the Philippine Advertising Congress -- its version of Cannes.

The biennial Congress never fails to excite -- from top guns who intend to play golf from day one to the end to the creative bunch of hopefuls who expect to see their agency rise on the award scoreboard, to raffle prize hunters, to trade exhibit giveaway hoarders, all the way down to the tourists.

Philippine Ad Congresses are always a breath of fresh air. The lineup of sessions are becoming more interesting, and topics are better designed, giving party beasts who've had a blast the night before no reason to snore the plenary hall discussions away.

Are ad congresses still relevant? It's a bold question that few ask. If the program addresses current scenarios, then well, yes, they are. If lectures give new perspectives and refocus practitioners to things they often fail to see, provide solutions to challenges that threaten the industry pointblank, then festivals are indeed still relevant.

Questions like these should be asked: How will the Lehman Brothers fiasco and first-world financial disasters affect Philippine advertising? Why can't creative ads be effective and effective ads be creative? When will planners function like real planners and stop imposing their own ideas? Why shouldn't creative brats stop behaving like brats and start thinking about the company's bottom line? Why can't gutter advertising gossip blogs be closed down? Why are broadcast networks cannibalizing creative ad agencies? Why are broadsheets beginning to look like catalogs? Why all so sudden media independents have more billings than creative agencies when the latter did most of the hard work?

If the program directors can bring experts to discuss relevant and other urgent issues, next year's Ad Congress will be a blockbuster. Star speakers on the marquee will be worth the stampede, getting elbowed or breaking a stiletto. And every time Baguio plays host, just about everyone expects to be on the delegate's list. No airfares to contend with, no expensive flashy hotels to foot the bill -- just quaint, homey, old world charm. Nostalgic Baguio, definitely, is it.

Alas, unlike Ad Congresses of yore, when trophies can be had by the sackful, today's story is different. All of us now have to contend with the best of the best. Standards had been reconfigured with the rest of the world. Competition wasn't like it used to be. Bang, you develop cold feet and you choke on your thank-you speech.

Ad Congress gold is gold. Whether you medal or settle for "walis tambo," don't blame it to the "ruthless" judges. Realize that quality is expensive and so are gems, which are harder and getting harder to find.
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