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Cannes-Like Event Emphasizes Need for New Creative Thinking

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PATTAYA, Thailand ( -- The new emphasis being placed on creativity by global marketers such as Procter & Gamble Co. and McDonald's Corp. is a major theme of the eighth-annual Asia Pacific Advertising Festival, currently under way in this beachside city south of Bangkok.
Photo: Normandy Madden
AdFest 2005 opened yesterday in the Pattaya Exhibition and Conference Hall.

The AdFest event, which has become known as the "Cannes of Asia," is a three-day awards gathering largely modeled after the much older Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. This year it has drawn more than 1,000 attendees from advertising agencies and marketing companies across a broad swath of Asia from Japan to India. This year, several agency networks, such as Omnicom Group's TBWA Worldwide and Leo Burnett and WPP Group's JWT, even took advantage of the gathering to organize simultaneous management meetings.

Tsunami region
AdFest 2005 is optimistically titled “Fear No Change,” despite the recent tsunamis that devastated coastlines across South Asia, including southern Thailand, and a current bird-flu scare now sweeping across Southeast Asia.

Among the most anticipated speakers on this second day of the conference were top marketing executives from McDonald's operations in China and P&G's in Southeast Asia, Australia and India. The marketers discussed the new importance of breakthrough creative ideas and executions across all their advertising platforms, as well as the need to expand the use of nontraditional media to build sales and brand awareness.

Giorgi Minardi, McDonald’s vice president and chief marketing officer

Photo: Normandy Madden
Rohini Miglani, P&G's associate director for advertising in Southeast Asia, Australia and India, and Giorgi Minardi, McDonald’s vice president and chief marketing officer for Greater China, were speakers at the festival.
for Greater China admitted that "18 months ago, our brand had lost its touch. We needed to make it relevant again, we needed to change as the world was changing." He explained that the burger giant's new moves to integrate its brands into music, sports, fashion and entertainment is the result of those changes.

Rohini Miglani, P&G's associate director for advertising in Southeast Asia, Australia and India, said, “We cannot bore our consumers into buying us. Our advertising used to be predictable, so P&G got a reputation for not being a favorite client among creatives, but [these days] there is no more passionate believer in creativity than P&G.”

Branded entertainment
Ms. Miglani noted that P&G is looking at ways to use music to connect with mass audiences in Asia. Last year in the Philippines, for example, a catchy tune in a Rejoice TV spot, created by Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett Worldwide, Manila, was developed into a music video that became a hit on MTV’s channel in that market, followed by a popular music CD and mobile phone ring-tone download. The idea, jointly developed by P&G and Publicis’ media arm Starcom in Manila, “snowballed into a success that even surprised us,” she recalled.

Another AdFest speaker, Mike Schalit, creative head and founding partner

Pattaya is a coastal resort city on the Gulf of Thailand.
of Omnicom's BBDO Worldwide in Johannesburg, screened successful ads from South Africa while pointing out the common challenges that his continent shares with Asia.

“Things aren’t as neat and perfect here and in Africa as they are in the first world, the same rules don’t apply. Problems force you to find positive solutions. We can learn from our mistakes, and from each other,” Mr. Schalit said.

“Thai TV ads are mad,” he joked of Thailand’s notoriously offbeat advertising humor, while Singaporean print work “is powerfully produced," Mr. Schalit said. "I’ve been struck by the strong use of visual images here, that’s something I’ll take back home. They really help get the message across in countries where consumers speak different languages, which is true of South Africa as well as many Asian countries.”

Breakthrough Japanese work
Kenjiro Sano, an art director at Hakuhodo in Tokyo, also offered examples of breakthrough advertising in his country that can inspire and entertain even jaded consumers in a cluttered media world: “Maybe Japanese get bored easily, maybe we just like new things, or maybe we are scared of being anonymous. For whatever reason, Japanese art direction today is about disruption.”

AdFest has a particularly strong following among Japanese creatives at agencies such as Hakuhodo and Dentsu, and with good reason: Japanese cultural icons like Hello Kitty and Astroboy, as well as the nation's music and fashion trends, permeate advertising throughout the region.

Photo: Normandy Madden
Jonathan Harries, global director of Interpublic's Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago, and FCB's regional Hong Kong creative director, Rob Sherlock, outside the conference center.

While a lot of North Asians may only be looking for a legitimate excuse to visit Thailand’s balmy coast at the end of winter, the festival gives Asians a rare opportunity to see work from the rest of their region. It also gives them a chance to vet their best ads at a festival before submitting them to global competitions, namely Cannes. As this year’s festival wears on, speculation is mounting about who will take home AdFest's Lotus awards.

Thailand a creative stand out
“The overall level of the work is amazing, but, as usual, Thailand really stands out compared to the other countries here,” observed Todd McCracken, executive creative director at WPP’s Grey Worldwide, Auckland, New Zealand, who is also a member of the outdoor jury at AdFest 2005.

But some of the ads widely predicted to emerge as prize winners this weekend -- and perhaps also at Cannes later this year -- were developed in other markets, such as the Adidas Impossible Sprint extreme sports contest that took place last August in Osaka and Hong Kong.

The Adidas event, created by TBWA, Tokyo, brought to life its “Impossible Is Nothing” global marketing platform and also capitalized on enthusiasm in Asia for the Olympic Games in Athens. Forty athletes climbed eight-lane vertical tracks 328 feet long on skyscrapers in both cities in several rounds over a two-week period.

Ogilvy & Mather
Another front-runner is a print and outdoor campaign for Singapore’s Anglican Welfare Council, created by WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather.

Photo: Normandy Madden
Relaxing after the day's sessions are (left to right) Eveline Robijns, group account director at Leo Burnett, Kuala Lumpur; Rock Klinfelter, regional account manager, Asia/Pacific at Leo Burnett Hong Kong; Charles Cadell, president, Asia/Pacific Arc Worldwide of Kuala Lumpur; and Trudi Harris, corporate affairs director for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia/Pacific at Leo Burnett, London.

“Certainly, the work from Thailand seems to be going through the roof, it’s so visually interesting and clever, but the ad that stood out for me is the Anglican Church campaign,” admitted Chicago-based Jonathan Harries, global creative director at Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Foote Cone & Belding.

The campaign, which destigmatizes bipolar disorder by highlighting histories of three sufferers -- Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and Isaac Newton -- “was so successful in Singapore that Asian judges look at it now and they know it has earned the right for consideration and glory. And stuff that wins here is going to be known about and highly considered when it gets to Cannes,” said Rob Sherlock, FCB’s Hong Kong-based regional creative director for Asia/Pacific.

Asian-based execs from more than 400 agencies in 39 cities around the region submitted 4,027 entries in this year’s competition, including 1,011 film commercials, 1,346 prints ads, 1,128 outdoor ads, 188 film craft entries, 185 direct mail entries and 183 interactive works -- a 33% increase over the previous year. The increase can partly attributed to the addition of two new categories -- direct mail and interactive -- but the print and outdoor categories both saw double-digit increases in entry submissions.

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