Record Number of Attendees and Entries Mark Growing Importance of AdFest

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PATTAYA, Thailand ( -- At Asia's leading creative festival last week, Suthisak Sucharittanonta cemented his status as the king of advertising in Thailand, widely regarded as the region's wackiest but best creative market.
Photo: Normandy Madden
The Pattaya Exhibition and Conference Hall is the center of the annual three-day Asia Pacific Advertising Festival (AdFest).

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Asia's AdFest
Known globally for his award-winning "green worm" ads for Unif Green Tea, the chief creative officer of BBDO Worldwide in Bangkok picked up 20 awards for his agency, the most-awarded shop at the three-day Asia Pacific Advertising Festival, known as AdFest, which ended March 11. His awards included Best of Print for a Maglite flashlight campaign. Three ads -- "XXX Cinema," "Streetwalker" and "A Go Go Bar" -- bizarrely demonstrate the illuminating power of Maglite flashlights with nighttime scenes of prostitutes and drugs and the tagline "See the dark side."

The festival, increasingly regarded as the Cannes of Asia, drew 1,400 delegates to Pattaya, a seaside resort town two hours south of Bangkok, up from the 1,000 in attendance last year. The number of entries also grew, to 4,738 from 4,027 in 2005, largely due to the fast-growing direct marketing and interactive categories, as well as a new print craft category. In a sign of happier times compared to last year's festival, held only weeks after South Asia's devastating tsunami, delegates turned out Friday night for McCann Erickson's "McCann on Fire" party, featuring fire dancing, a hip Bangkok funk rock band called Area 51, scantily-clad dancers and a transvestite show. Stable Asian economies and the absence of an avian flu pandemic also contributed to the cheery mood at the 9-year-old event.

Dentsu Tokyo ranked second
Overall, Dentsu's Tokyo office came in second to BBDO Bangkok, pulling in 18 awards, followed by Ogilvy & Mather, Bangkok (14) and Saatchi & Saatchi, Singapore (11).

BBDO's creative star, Mr. Sucharittanonta, is facing tougher competition these days. The Best of Film award went to Jureeporn Thaidumrong, formerly the exec creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, Bangkok, who set up her own agency last year, JEH United. She won the top film prize for "Love Story," a campaign for Smooth E Baby Face Foam that humorously dramatizes a young Thai woman's transformation from a spotty, unattractive tomboy to a popular beauty.

Another hot rival is Thirasak Tanapatanakul, Bangkok-based exec creative director at Creative Juice/G1, part of TBWA Worldwide's network.

The agency picked up 10 awards, including a gold for a Minery Foot Care print ad that showed a woman holding a soft, smooth foot as if it were a baby, and three golds in the film category for Bangkok Insurance. That campaign, shot to look like scratchy home videos or as images from security cameras, depicts scenarios that miraculously end well, followed by a line about their low probability.

In "Robbery," for instance, a man fires a gun during a stickup that bounces off other objects and ultimately ends up in the thief's foot. In "Twister," a tornado pulls apart a house then puts it back together to the amazement of its owners.

One of most popular spots
One of the most popular spots was the Carlton Draught "Big Ad" by George Patterson Y&R, Melbourne, which picked up a gold during the gala dinner Saturday evening. The beer ad spoofed big-budget epics like "Lord of the Rings" and was widely circulated on the Internet.

India, Thailand, Singapore and Japan once again led the pack with the most entries. The countries, the creative powerhouses of Asia, contributed 2,794 of the 4,738 total entries from 19 countries spanning from the Middle East to Japan to New Zealand. (A full list of winners is at

Apart from a few standout countries with growing creative reputations like Thailand, Asia's ad industry remains scarred by its fame for scam ads and less-than-inspiring creative output.

Globalization and the decision by many Asian creatives to create mainstream ads that are more likely to win awards at international festivals "are diluting Asian values and blurring the region's diverse cultures at the expense of our unique heritage and viewpoints," warned Mumbai-based Prasoon Joshi, regional creative director, Southeast Asia at McCann Erickson, and chairman of the film jury at AdFest this year. "We should focus more on developing the creative language of our own cultures."

John Merrifield of TBWA
Raising standards and moving Asia higher on the global stage is part of AdFest's mission. The theme of this year's festival, "What's next?," was addressed by one of the biggest names in Asia's creative community, John Merrifield, chief creative officer of TBWA, Tokyo. His agency won the Best of Outdoor prize at AdFest for the past two year with executions for Adidas.

"Advertising is [increasingly] entertainment, by doing things that are talked about and covered by media," Mr. Merrifield said. "That demands doing new things, which is why Adidas now sets aside part of its budget in all markets for experimentation, even though sometimes coming up with the idea is the easy part, making it happen is the nightmare."

In the direct marketing and interactive categories, only one gold was awarded, to DDB, Auckland, for its work on the integrated campaign for NZgirl, entitled "Worst Boyfriend."

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