Creative Commonwealth: India, Malaysia and Singapore share their insights into creativity across the Commonwealth

With some of the world’s greatest athletes set to descend on Glasgow this month for the Commonwealth Games, what better time to take a look at the creative industries across Commonwealth countries?

In the run up to the opening ceremony of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games The Drum is sharing insights from creatives from seven member nations revealing all about the scene where they are, and how their country is a centre for creative marketing excellence.

Yesterday creatives from Australia and Canada shared their views.

Today we hear from Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman, Creativeland Asia, Malaysia's Sa'ad Hussein, chief creative offcier and executive director at TBWA\Kuala Lumpur, and Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific & Singapore chief creative officer, Eugene Cheong.

Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman, Creativeland Asia

JWT's 'Make Every Yard Count' ad for Nike Cricket features 1,440 young cricketers

India is a special place. Its 1.2 billion people form a rich tapestry of humankind that brings Dravidian, Aryan, Greek, British, French, Dutch, Mogul, Portuguese and Persian influences to the creative process. Four world religions originated in India; it has a history of being part of one of the world’s most significant trade routes and has the legacy of vast empires that nurtured myriad art and craft forms. India boasts a creative culture that spans more than 4,500 years and is today at the cusp of cutting edge and technology. How could it not be considered a creative hub?

Great creativity is all about the expression of ideas. It has always been this way, from the architectural wonder of the Taj Mahal to the country’s film industry, which produces the world’s most-watched cinema offerings. However, what influences our ideas has changed immeasurably over recent years. We have modernised, become more edgy and become better connected to western culture. As our economy has grown, so too has the ambition of our young people. It is reflected in the music they listen to, the way they dress and their digital appetite.

When once great creativity was rooted in Indian ideas, now great creativity is a global concept with Indian influences. Indian creativity is flourishing and increasing numbers of people are taking notice. The larger agencies such as Ogilvy and Lowe have historically done some nice creative work in India. But young organisations like Creativeland Asia are now also leaders of the pack when it comes to new, cuttingedge


JWT India’s recent TVC for Nike is an ode to the country’s cricket crazy youth. It’s an amazing project and showcases more than 200,000 crowdsourced images of cricketers, capturing all the excitement and action that happens on the field.

'Internet Baby' for MTS by Creativeland Asia has amassed more than 25m views online

Meanwhile, our standout highlight recently has been ‘Internet Baby’ for telecom solutions brand MTS. It’s a fun look at how a new generation has become more digitally savvy at a younger age than previous generations – almost from birth, in fact. In less than three months, it has become the most-watched viral spot from India with more than 25m views on YouTube alone.

At the Cannes Lions, India picked up five golds for three campaigns. Lowe and PHD India gained one and two golds respectively for the ‘Kaan Khajura Tesan’ campaign for Hindustan Unilever across mobile and media. Ogilvy India won a design gold for its ‘Cleft to Smile’ campaign for medical charity Operation Smile.

India’s star is in the ascendant. In a globally connected advertising ecosystem where the best ideas win, Indian agencies are being taken seriously for their creative work. It is a great moment for India – and the best is yet to come.

Sa'ad Hussein, chief creative offcier and executive director, TBWA\Kuala Lumpur

'Tan Hong Ming' for Petronas

‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’ is the slogan for Tourism Malaysia, and it somewhat describes the advertising scene in Malaysia. It is a potpourri of Asian creative professionals from Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, and is now winning its fair share of creative accolades in international shows including Cannes Lions, D&AD, One Show, London International Awards, AdFest and Spikes Asia.

A decade ago, dominant markets such as Singapore and Thailand constantly overshadowed Malaysia. However, in 2006, the world took notice of this inconspicuous nation when JWT Malaysia won the first Cannes Outdoor Grand Prix. Since then, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy, McCann, BBDO and, Naga DDB have all displayed their quality, winning precious metals through their work for Petronas with ‘Tan Hong Ming’, Pictionary’s ‘Quick Draw Wins’, ‘Perspective’, for the New Straits Times, Jeep’s ‘Two Worlds’ and ‘School Photo’ for Nikon respectively.

Through the years, Malaysian award-winning creative leaders – including Edmund Choe, Ted Lim, Ronald Ng, Huang Ean Hwa, Lee Szu-Hung, Mun Tuck Wai, Gigi Lee, Ng Heok Seong and Gavin Simpson – flew the nation’s flag at international award shows, winning Pencils, Lions, statuettes and orbs of all shapes, sizes and colours. While Thailand had funny, quirky and irreverent films that dominated the film scene, Malaysia had its signature ‘Kampung’ style to be proud of. The late Yasmin Ahmad added local flavour and charm through her quintessential work for Petronas. Her film ‘Tan Hong Ming’ won the coveted gold at Cannes Film Lions in 2008.

And how do we define our work? It’s a subtle balance of local flavour and global appeal. It takes inspiration from a multicultural society spread across ultra-modern cityscapes, traditional villages and rustic towns. Day by day, Malaysia’s creative revolution has been making our neighbours to the north and south of our borders nervous and envious. Inevitably, some of our best creative heads have left their motherland for the bright lights in China, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, but the brain drain has not stopped us from producing great work.

Today, TBWA, BBDO and Y&R are the top three agencies winning big at the recent award shows. Notable work includes PaperMate’s ‘Right the wrong’ and Malaysia Society of Transplantation’s ‘Live on’ (both by TBWA), plus Penguin Books ‘More than just the classics’ (by Y&R) and the KFC ‘Phone Stack’ (BBDO). At the Cannes Lions this year, TBWA\Kuala Lumpur won two bronze Lions and Y&R picked up a bronze in the new health category. At Malaysia’s local awards show, The Kancils, BBDO walked away with the Golden Kancil award (Best of the Best), while TBWA\Kuala Lumpur won Overall Agency of the Year.

With the next generation of leaders like Kok Keong, CK Tan, Sathi Anand and Vijay Anand coming to the fore, you’d best be prepared to see the Malaysian flag fly higher in the near future.

Eugene Cheong, chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific & Singapore

MOVIE EMOJI from Melvyn Lim on Vimeo.

SingTel’s Movie Emoji campaign by O&M Singapore

Singapore sits in a geographically advantageous location in the middle of Asia, the new land of opportunity. We are physically surrounded on all sides by emerging markets with big growth stories. Needless to say, the delicate state of the global economy has made being surrounded by booming markets, while living in an English-speaking developed country with a tropical climate, high GDP and first world amenities, a very attractive option for creative talent from around the world.

And they are coming in their droves from the global hubs of the industry, from New York, Sydney and Europe’s capitals – well, actually, they have been coming for many years already. They come because this is where the excitement is, where the hungriest people are and where the business landscape and clients make it possible for us to do more exciting, braver work, which is often agency initiated.

This is now happening around the world, but it really began here – if you look historically, say 20 years or so ago, this is where clients were willing to let agencies just go for it, to take a chance, because back then business was less bureaucratic here compared to the developed markets of the West. Today that has changed, and the world has flattened, but the roots of that change originated here.

Another reason that Singapore has emerged as a creative hub is because of a gradual shift over the past 15 years or so of regional corporate headquarters from Hong Kong and Shanghai to Singapore. This trend can largely be attributed to the country’s forward-looking and business-friendly economic policies, its deliberate competitiveness in the creative and high-tech industries and of course its attractiveness as a place to live for expats. This means we are now working on the front lines with regional decision-makers who have the power to give the all-important green light to projects.

What is more, work commissioned in Singapore is now destined for countries around the region and even around the world – to Europe, the United States, you name it – so the opportunity here to do work that makes a mark on the global and international stage is greater than ever. This attracts the hungriest, boldest talents to Singapore because young people know that if they come here they will have more opportunities at a younger age to do more interesting, and often more experimental work, than they would back home – and there are fewer people on the ladder above them. Of course, this exposure to and mentoring by the world’s best creatives also strengthens the local pool of talent.

That said, Singapore still has a long way to go. The work made here is not yet consistently great. When you compare Singapore to New Zealand, a country with a similar-sized population, you see that work from New Zealand is more distinct, with a stronger local flavour. Overall, Singapore work is still more generically ‘international’, so there is much to be learned.

According to the Singapore Agency of the Year Awards, the top three creative agencies in the country are Ogilvy & Mather, DDB and BBDO. I’d have to agree with that assessment.

From the recent winners in Cannes, my favourites from Singapore are a recent piece of ours, SingTel’s Movie Emoji campaign by O&M Singapore, for its mio TV service on mobile so users can watch movies on the go (which just brought home two Lions); DDB with the ‘offline book’ for Math Paper Press; and BBDO Proximity Singapore’s work for Guinness on promoting GDIB – Guinness Draught In a Bottle.

Check back tomorrow for more Creative Commonwealth insights with thoughts creatives in New Zealand and South Africa.

This interview was originally published in the 9 July edition of The Drum magazine, available to buy in The Drum Store.

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