Asian Ad awards highlight need to focus on effectiveness

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This week's column comes from Hong Kong, where the current cover of Fortune captures the insecurity many in the media and ad communities here feel: "Who needs Hong Kong?" it screams.

I am here for the inaugural Asian Advertising Effectiveness Awards, staged by Advertising Age sibling publication Ad Age Global. The luncheon event in the plush Conrad International hotel was a triumph of hope over received wisdom. You will never do it, doubters said. Asian clients will never sanction their case histories being examined; you will never get the entries; no one will attend; we are all awards-jaded.

Sometimes naivete is helpful. Amid support from clients, agencies and media owners (such as our sponsor, Hallmark), we did receive entries; clients, such as Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever and AOL Time Warner, encouraged their agencies to enter. They and others, including Coca-Cola Co., McDonald's Corp. and agencies such as Dentsu, not only participated in the judging, but also attended the event itself.

The number of senior client executives present put most creative awards to shame. And, far from being jaded, the attendees cheered the winners vociferously, even booing us as the organizers when we did not award gold in two categories. Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, with four trophies, engaged in a refreshingly lively game of one-upmanship with the other agency winners.

WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather won the grand prix with its outstanding work in establishing Unilever's Dove Cream Shampoo across Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Other winners included Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson, Cordiant Communications Group's Bates Worldwide and Dentsu. Winning brands ranged from Time Inc.'s Time to P&G fabric deodorizer Febreze, from MasterCard to Canon.

P&G General Manager Corporate Marketing-Greater China Austin Lally told me at the lunch that it was in everybody's interests to further the fight for advertising effectiveness. Asian marketers not only contend with the worldwide cut in marketing budgets, they have the further challenge of a relative lack of transparency in the wider business community.

The need to focus on the effectiveness of campaigns from marketers with much at stake was self-evident. China is seeing a brand gold rush. More products are being launched simultaneously there than in any other market at any time in modern business history.

Its willingness to talk about the success of its advertising, argued P&G's Lally, was a part of the new culture at P&G, and designed in part to help motivate its own agencies to feel pride in working on P&G brands and to strive to do better work. The McDonald's senior marketing director, Shantal Wong, on the other side of me, nodded in approval.

So let's hope that next year and beyond the winners of the Ad Age Global Asian Effectiveness Awards might also be the same campaigns that could win at Cannes.

And, with that, yet another example of the curse of globalization was placed before us. The luncheon main course: rubber chicken!

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of Ad Age Global and Creativity magazines.

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