Japanese Delegates Stay Home but Japan Is AdFest's Big Winner

Dentsu Named Agency of the Year; Wieden & Kennedy, Tokyo, Wins Interactive Agency of the Year Award at Asian Ad Show

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PHUKET, Thailand -- Two-thirds of the Japanese delegates skipped Asia's premier advertising show last weekend in Thailand, but Japanese agencies still managed to dominate the 14th Asia Pacific Advertising Festival.

Dentsu was named Agency of the Year at the three-day festival, better known as AdFest, while Wieden & Kennedy, Tokyo won the Interactive Agency of the Year award. Tokyo agencies took home 58 awards in total, more than any other city, led by Dentsu, with 14 prizes. Hakuhodo was close behind with 11 awards.

Attendance fell as a result of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11. Japanese agencies such as Dentsu, Hakuhodo and Asatsu-DK, or ADK, have been major supporters of the festival from the start. At this year's event, held March 17-19, the 800 registered delegates included about 130 executives based in Tokyo, but "two-thirds of registered delegates from Japan decided to stay home this week to be with their families," said Jimmy Lam, the Hong Kong-based president of AdFest.

For those who did attend, such as ADK Creative Director Mutsumi Ajichi, it was a hard decision. "I didn't want to leave Japan," Mr. Ajichi said, "but I also didn't want to miss the opportunity to be a jury member at AdFest."

In the past, AdFest has been held in Pattaya, a two-hour drive south of Bangkok. Last spring, violent factions supporting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra turned Bangkok into a hotbed of politics, prompting the organizers to cancel AdFest 2010. Eager to avoid a repeat of that scenario, the organizers relocated this year's festival to the Movenpick Resort & Spa in Phuket, a peaceful resort island in southern Thailand.

Mr. Lam said AdFest's organizers have not decided whether next year's festival will remain in Phuket or return to Pattaya, but this year's venue was welcomed by many delegates who prefer family-friendly Phuket to seedy Pattaya, even though the smaller venue limits the number of delegates to 800. Before the global financial recession hit in late 2008, AdFest attracted up to 1,500 delegates. Entries also dropped this year to 2,758, down from 3,309 in 2009, and an all-time high of 5,148 in 2008.

Two Gold Lotus winners, for Shangri-La hotels and 3M Post-it notes, may offer a clue about which Asian work will do well at the Cannes Lions ad festival in June. While jury members found little to rave about this year, some entries did stand out, such as the "It's in our Nature" campaign for Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts by Ogilvy & Mather Group, Hong Kong.

Cheil's high-speed 'Sticky Train' heads to a temple.
Cheil's high-speed 'Sticky Train' heads to a temple.

"This year there were less new and exciting things to watch because I think the rise of digital advertising has reduced the number of films entered into film awards. It's a trend affecting every country as brands invest more money in online and digital media," said Film and Radio Jury President Jureeporn Thaidumrong, executive creative director and founder of JEH, Bangkok.

Campaigns that engaged consumers were also popular among the judges, such as "Sticky Train," created by Cheil Worldwide, Seoul for 3M's Post-it Super Sticky Notes. The campaign was geared toward young Koreans, as 3M Post-It notes are widely used by students prepping for stringent exams. When the train reached its final stop, none of the Post-it notes had been blown off the high-speed train, demonstrating their strength.

Train passengers at Seoul station write down New Year's wishes on Post-it notes attached to a train.
Train passengers at Seoul station write down New Year's wishes on Post-it notes attached to a train.

The 3M campaign is a "live demo with two stories going on, one about the stickiness of the new 3M Post-it, but it has a parallel cultural context. The word for "sticky" also means "to pass" in Korean. When students make a wish about their exam results, they try to stick a coin on a rock -- if it sticks, that means they will pass. 3M took that idea into this campaign," said Lo Sheung Yan, JWT's executive creative director, Northeast Asia, and president of the outdoor jury.

But the tragedy unfolding last week in Japan dampened the festival's mood for many delegates.

"We canceled the AdFest event last year because of the political turmoil in Thailand, and moved the judging sessions to Tokyo. This was made possible by the generous help of so many organizations in the Japanese advertising industry, so this week's tragedy is especially sad for us all," said Vinit Suraphongchai, chairman of the AdFest working committee.

Normandy Madden is senior VP-content development at Thoughtful Media Group. Until January 2011, she was the Hong Kong-based Asia editor for Advertising Age.
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