How can Asia bounce back from a poor showing at Cannes 2018? Creatives share the blueprint for recovery

The sharp decrease in awards won by APAC could be pointed to various factors like budgets and the changing culture of creativity

The low number of Cannes Lions that were awarded to campaigns in Asia Pacific in 2018 is a worrying sign and solutions are urgently needed to correct it, according to senior creative executives.

Almost every APAC country brought home lesser Lions than they did in 2017, with Australia winning 56, India and Japan both winning 21, nine for China and only two for Singapore.

With the likes of Thailand, Hong Kong and Pakistan performing admirably by winning more Lions than they did the previous year, APAC as a whole only won 174 Lions, compared to 293 in 2017.

Discussing the issue on a panel on creativity in APAC during Ad Stars 2018 in Busan, South Korea today (August 24), Tay Guan Hin, global executive creative director at J Walter Thompson, Tony Talbot, chief creative officer at Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand, and Woon Hoh, chief creative officer at Hakuhodo Asia Pacific believed that the sharp decrease in awards won by APAC could be pointed to various factors like budgets and the changing culture of creativity in agencies.

Shrinking budgets

Tay recounted how he is getting more calls from clients where they wanted something cheap and fast, but with good quality. “I think the pressures are felt in every industry, especially with digital transformation because things need to be done faster and cheaper,” he explained.

He also lamented the rise of digital and mobile, which has seen the work that creatives used to enjoy crafting in the past, being reduced three to six seconds to fit platfoms like Facebook. “For me, that is one of the great barriers to producing craft,” he added.

Sharing Tay’s sentiments, Woon added: “We are the people's business and when clients shrink their budgets, it affects the agencies because they won't be able to hire good people or attract young people to join. Without young people, there will not be fresh ideas.”

Woon also noted that many young people are now joining startups and tech companies, because to them agencies are ‘boring’. “We strongly believe that we need to get young people in the agency in order to do well,” he said.

Disagreeing with Tay and Woon, Saatchi & Saatchi’s Talbot took more of a contentious stance, asserting that agencies should not use a lack of budget as an excuse because budgets in New Zealand have never been great to produce ‘SuperBowl ads’ and huge productions.

“A lack of budget forces you to think about radical ideas, like is my idea so pure and brilliant, that it does not require Ridley Scott to direct it and a cast in the thousands,” he said. “Sometimes, the industry hide behind this excuse.”

The Kiwi noted that for good ads like Disgusting Stories, which are dark drawings of children who have been abused by families and friends, do not need a huge budget to produce.

“That spot probably cost $20,000 to make and the artists of the song probably gave it for free, because they believed in the cause. It costs basically nothing and it was one of the best spot of the year for me,” he added.

Culture of creativity and collaboration

Responding to moderator Angel Guerrero’s question on whether young people in agencies are not attracted by the prospect of winning awards anymore, which resulted in the drop in Lions won, Tay said: “Awards are still very important for networks to be to attain market share and to spread their credibility as creatives. But for young individuals who are joining agencies, the expression of recognition has been dispersed to many different platforms and channels.”

He goes on to share how he has a bright and talented creative in his agency, who had the passion to create a YouTube channel for kids and wants to be famous for it. When Tay asked the creative if he wanted to win any industry awards, he responded that does not see any value in them anymore.

“How creatives see the value of award shows is very different, compared to previous years, where we used the value of awards to get a new job. However, now he can easily get a new job with a great YouTube channel,” explained Tay.

Talbot meanwhile, stressed the importance of agencies to nurture young people, but also know their limitations by not pretending to ‘know it all’ because there is still an opportunity for young people to come into advertising and be inspired.

“It is a really interesting time and the creative culture is a really important thing to stoke and to manifest within an advertising agency. If you don't feel like you are doing a job that is more than an inbox and an outbox or you don't feel that you are changing the world through the lens of advertising, then it is not going to attract young people,” he said.

“One of the key things is partnerships, which we undervalue because agencies make the terrible mistake sometimes in saying they can do it all and they can't. More clients are open to agencies having a conversation where agencies admit they do not know something and are willing to work with people who do.”

Sharing his agency’s example, Talbot said Saatchi & Saatchi invites Google Zoo to its office to find out things they do not understand. “We seek partnerships, whether its drone operators or AI developers because as long as you are the one having the conversation, own the idea and bring in as many partners as possible, that what keeps young people in the building,” he explained.

Concurring with Talbot, Woon noted that anything that does not capture a millennial’s attention in one second these days, its useless. He added as agencies traditionally looked at sales it makes and awards that it win as markers for success, that mindset needs to change.

“For millennials, their awards is how many likes they get and how many views they can get for their videos. If we can reach out and collaborate together, there will be a whole new horizon for agencies,” he explained.

“We should not just look at the present, but at the future as well. This is the time for agencies to cross into doing amazing things. There are a lot of talented millennials who have fantastic ideas, things that I cannot even imagine. “

Recovering from a poor showing at Cannes 2018

So what should be changed so that APAC creativity can regain the respect and recognition it deserves on the world stage? Both Woon and Tay believed agencies should start fighting back against clients and learn to say no.

“Learn how to say no and learn not to compromise because in our education system, it is not nice to say no. When we start saying yes all the time, we are always compromising whatever we do, whether its the work or the ideas itself,” explained Woon.

“My children are saying no to me when I ask them to do something and when they do that, it opens up different horizons. Learning to say no is the first step to becoming better and pull our weight in the future.”

Tay added: “Fight for what you believe in because as Asians, we try to give into everything that the client wants because we think that the client is always right or the suits are telling us the right things.”

“Actually, as creatives, we have more power than we think and we need to be stronger in the way we voice our opinions and we need to fight for the work.”

Talbot advised more agencies in APAC to create more humourous work, as it is what the judges in Cannes want to see. “I believe that humour like in Thailand advertising, is crucial. Cannes loves humour and in Asia, there is a lot of sentimentality in the works, like emotional stories. Try writing something funny because humour does cut through."

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