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Agency A-List

BBH Singapore Is Ad Age's 2018 International Agency of the Year

By Published on .

A black sheep going against the herd was BBH's first ad, done for Levi's, and inspired the agency to make the animal its icon.
A black sheep going against the herd was BBH's first ad, done for Levi's, and inspired the agency to make the animal its icon. Credit: courtesy BBH Singapore

BBH Singapore has been creating indelible, original campaigns for brands like Ikea and Nike. And though it's located halfway around the world from Madison Avenue, the agency's knack for sparking social conversations means its work gets attention way beyond Asia.

Take the annual Ikea catalog launch. BBH Singapore's campaign last year tapped a woman with an extraordinary memory to learn every detail in the 328-page book, then grilled her on the details. Ask her what's on the carpet on page 138 and she could list the items, down to the color of the crayons scattered on it. The campaign was aimed at only three markets—Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand—but it went viral globally.

"We're finding more and more of our thinking and ideas have social at their heart, and that provides a focus for our thinking and approach," says John Hadfield, BBH Singapore CEO.

With a staff of 120 (who hail from more than 20 countries), the office has averaged double-digit year-on-year growth for the past four years, with 11 percent revenue growth in 2017. Business wins last year included Uber Singapore, plus the regional social and content remit for Uber, as well as Red Bull's Asia content studio and global social newsroom. It also was named lead agency for Singtel, Singapore's biggest pitch of 2017.

The agency, which raised its profile at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity in 2017 with 15 Lions for Nike's "Unlimited Stadium," followed up that work with connected basketball courts in the Philippines where players could access Nike training drills on their phones without using smartphone data, in partnership with Google. The surfaces underfoot were also giant works of art, with portraits of NBA stars by artist Arturo Torres.

Even a campaign for a Singaporean insurance program got a lot of attention globally. To promote insurer Income's new benefits for women, the agency crafted a folk song that carried an inspirational message about how women could break the cycle of expectations and pressures for their daughters. The music video, released in May and sung by local pop artist Tanya Chua, tapped into the zeitgeist and was picked up on Facebook by AsianCrush, getting 28 million views.

Singapore, a tiny city-state that's home to just 5.6 million people, "has not been the hub of the agency world," Hadfield says. "We're the outsiders. There's also opportunity in that. The flip side is the agency isn't encumbered by the past. We feel quite positive and excited about the future. Our past doesn't define us, and that's quite an Asian perspective on the world."

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