"It's time Asia stood up and developed," said Sir John Hegarty, worldwide creative director of London-based Bartle Bogle Hegarty and president of the film, radio, 360 and innovation juries. (Watch a video with Mr. Hegarty at AdFest.)
"What China has managed to do over the last 15 years is incredible," he added. "I don't want China to ape what we've done in the West. [It] should speak with a Chinese voice [but] I do think China can be about the future of advertising and that's exciting."
Often called the "Cannes of Asia," AdFest is one of Asia's top gathering points for the advertising industry, drawing top creatives from Japan, Korea, China, Australia, Singapore, India and of course Thailand, which has hosted the festival since it launched in 1998.
But it wasn't a banner year for the festival, with entries and attendance down sharply, and largely lackluster creative, an ominous sign for other festivals around the world coming up later this year such as the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.
"China is ready for creativity, mostly for global brands and public services," said Suthisak Sucharittanonta, chief creative officer at BBDO Worldwide, Bangkok, who judged the 360 and Innova categories.
JWT was named Agency Network of the Year for the second year running, largely because of the success of its China offices. JWT, Shanghai won 14 awards in several categories for its "Shan Shui" campaign for the China Environment Protection Foundation, which AdFest named Advertiser of the Year.
JWT's Shanghai office was also named Agency of the Year.
The "Shan Shui" campaign was "the only outstandingly good piece" in the press and poster category, said jury member Farrokh Madon, exec creative director of McCann Erickson, Singapore. "I didn't see that many entries from China this year as I saw last year but definitely China is beginning to come of age." (Watch a video interview with Farrokh Madon at AdFest on YouTube.)
JWT's Beijing office also won numerous awards for its "Bruce Lee" campaign for Nokia Corp.
China "is doing really, really well this year," said Ruth Lee, chief creative officer, DDB Worldwide, Hong Kong, a judge in the outdoor category. Following the success last year of TBWA Worldwide's Olympic campaign for Adidas in China, "two years in a row we are doing quite well, I hope it will demonstrate to the whole world that Chinese advertising is getting if not better equally as good as any other country in Asia." (Watch a video interview with Ruth Lee at AdFest on YouTube.)
In the outdoor category, Ogilvy & Mather, Beijing won the Best of Show award for its New Citizen Program series, which also won two Silver Lotus awards.
Japan Still Winning Top Prizes
A perennial winner at AdFest, Japan again took home some of the top prizes this year at the festival known as the "Cannes of Asia."
Jury presidents singled out a safety awareness campaign created by Dentsu Razorfish called "Melody Road," giving it the Grande Innova award, one of the top prizes at the AdFest gala dinner on March 21. Dentsu's Tokyo office was also named Interactive Agency of the Year and ADK Tokyo won a Gold Outdoor Lotus Award for its IKEA Kansai store launch.
In the film category, judges handed out 37 Lotus awards from a total of 443 entries. The Best of Show went to ADK, Tokyo for its "LaLa Reports" campaign for LaLa, a monthly Japanese manga magazine aimed primarily at teenage girls, which also picked up two Silver Film Lotus awards.
With the developed world sinking deeper into economic recession, Asians are looking inward for inspiration as well as growth, a trend reflected in AdFest's "Made in Asia" theme this year. The organizers also introduced a new category called Lotus Roots, which symbolize a proud heritage in creativity and diversity in Asia/Pacific, said AdFest's president, Jimmy Lam.
Entry and delegate numbers plummet
AdFest entries plunged this year to 3,309 from 337 agencies in 33 cities from an all-time high last year of of 5,148 entries, and 5,012 in 2007. Entries declined in every category, with film and press taking the biggest hits. Film entries fell to 443 entries this year from 761 entries in 2008, and press entries dropped by almost half this year to 443 from 1,205 in 2007.
The number of delegates has also fallen to just 693 people, about half the number of people it drew in the past few years.
"I'm not seeing the numbers I expected. I thought it to be teeming with people," said Andrew Berglund, Cheil's global digital exec creative director in Seoul, a member of the cyber jury. (Watch a video interview with Andrew Berglund at AdFest on YouTube.)
"The recession has had some impact, some agencies did hold back and didn't send delegations to AdFest," said AdFest speaker Tomaz Mok, managing director of McCann Erickson Worldwide's Shanghai General Motors business in China.
"I think this year's work definitely reflects the recession, [resulting in] less entries and quality. [I'm] glad the AdFest organizers could survive the crisis this year," agreed Mr. Sucharittanonta.
Agencies and production houses in Bangkok, Tokyo and Singapore submitted the most entries. The most-awarded agencies after JWT, Shanghai, were Saatchi & Saatchi, Kuala Lumpur, which also won 11 awards, including the only Gold Lotus in the press category for its "Page Numbers" campaign; Leo Burnett, Mumbai (10) and Dentsu, Tokyo (9).
Besides the low turnout and decline in entries, many AdFest delegates noted that the quality of the work was also disappointing this year.
AdFest has been "really quiet compared to last year," said Yang Yeo, the WPP agency's Shanghai-based chief creative officer, China. "I haven't seen anything and thought, 'Wow, that's fantastic.'" (Watch a video interview with Yang Yeo at AdFest on YouTube.)
Adfest moving to Shanghai?
AdFest was flooded with rumors suggesting the festival will be relocated to Shanghai. AdFest organizers currently deny any move is planned, but there is a delegation at the festival this year from Shanghai's local government. Also, the founder of AdFest, Vinit Suraphongchai, was a guest at the China Ad Festival in Qingado in 2007.
Given the rising prominence of China in Asia, and globally, the growing number of entries and delegates from North Asia, the move makes sense on paper. But the festival gained traction early from support in Japan. About one-third of the delegates still come from that country. One of the main reasons they support AdFest so fully is that Japanese creatives really like escaping to the sunshine, sandy beaches and "R&R" opportunities in Thailand at the end of Japan's long winter. It's questionable that they would continue to give the festival as much support if it moved to Shanghai.
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