It's not often that ads out of tiny Singapore -- population 5.5 million -- go viral globally. But BBH's office there has scored some hits lately, chiefly with its giggle-inducing video promoting Ikea's old-school paper catalog as though it was the latest hot device from Apple. It tallied up 16.4 million YouTube views.
For business as well as creative work, 2014 was a great year for BBH Asia Pacific, as the company's Singapore office is called. Revenues were up 25% from 2013. It was appointed as regional agency of record for Nike and the Dutch Lady milk brand. The office increased its work for Ikea significantly and kept all its existing clients.
BBH Asia Pacific CEO John Hadfield describes the office as a "100-person startup," with success fueled by the talent of its employees, recruited locally and from as far away as South Africa and Peru, and by a commitment to strong content.
"We know we are very good at developing content for brands. More and more, we are doing this for social or other digital channels and then propagating it and optimizing it – this is our focus," Mr. Hadfield said, adding: "Too many agencies have tried to be everything, and unsurprisingly they're average at everything."
Besides the agency's work for Ikea, other strong content this year was a hilarious choose-your-own- adventure Instagram campaign for Chupa Chups, with finger puppets acting out scenes from classic horror movies for Halloween. BBH handles Chupa Chups globally from Singapore.
One challenge for the office is serving markets across Southeast Asia that are incredibly diverse, in terms of development, language, culture and religion. Because of that, the agency finds local go-to people – a small local agency, say, or a specialist on youth. It's important that campaigns are locally relevant and authentic.
When Nike hosted a youth basketball tournament in the Philippines, BBH did a video honoring the grit and fighting spirit of local players, set to a spoken-word version of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."
Also for Nike, BBH "hacked" the jogging-unfriendly streets of Jakarta, Indonesia to get people psyched up for a 10K run, painting racing lanes and motivational slogans right on the street.
There are lots of positives to the Southeast Asia market. "Generally people like brands, they are a sign of progress, and if you come from a Western point of view that's not necessarily the case," Mr. Hadfield said. But there are also challenges that get underestimated. In Singapore, because of its small size, the talent pool is limited. And there's an oversupply of agencies, Mr. Hadfield said: 250+ agencies for 5.5 million people. "That's bonkers, and it drives challenges around pricing and fee levels," he said.
Given those issues, many agencies in Singapore and throughout Asia resort to scam work to chase awards. BBH has a no-scam policy. "From my perspective, scam only undermines the agencies that do it," Mr. Hadfield said. "Ultimately they are avoiding the more important issue of how to improve outputs for their clients."