“I think Busan has that opportunity to be bigger and better and just look out there at the beach there. It makes Cannes look like a sardine can!”
Ted Lim, Regional CCO of Dentsu Aegis APAC, has just wrapped his duties as one of four executive judges at Ad Stars 2019 – and the organisers’ charm offensive is having an impact. The global advertising award show and festival, based in Busan, South Korea, enters its 12th year. With 20,645 entries from 60 countries, there’s no doubting the government-funded show’s global ambition.
Appropriately enough, the theme of this year’s festival is ‘Influence’. It’s a reflection on the growth of the influencer trend, sure, but it also encapsulates the industry’s current battle to retain its influence and the Ad Stars journey to grow its influence as a global show to be reckoned with. The city of Busan, too, is hoping to grow its influence as a cultural capital – the prestigious film festival and the growing advertising festival are just two events in a packed annual calendar at the beach-side city.
“We have been striving to extend the diversity of cultures from all over the world, not only limited to regional Asian cultures,” explains Hwan Jin Choi, chairman of the Ad Stars executive committee. “We are transforming to a more technology-adaptive festival, not just a creative celebration, so compared to the traditional marketing which uses mass media we have more micro influencers in this level, so that’s why we chose the word influence as our theme.”
The festival officially kicked off today (Thursday), though judging finished up on Wednesday. While the winners are under wraps, the range of winners is truly international.
In terms of content, the first day sought to understand the industry’s role – or influence – on society in terms of the debate around purpose and ‘for good’ advertising. The AFAA’s Bharat Avalani talked about the transition from ‘marketing to mattering’, sharing case studies of Unilever brands that had seen growth through adopting a purpose and social mission and pointed to recent articles where global business leaders have begun to argue that long term sustainability is more important than short term shareholder interests.
D&AD’s Tim Lindsay picked up the baton in feistier form. In his ‘Creativity for Good’ address, he argued that, at a time when the world’s political leaders have all but abandoned their sense of stewardship of the planet and the people resident on it, it now fell to business to protect their long term existence by supporting causes such as fighting the climate crisis. And, in turn, the creative industries held the key to unlocking the solutions.
The theme of ‘influence’ could also be felt talking to jurors and organisers as they pondered the role of award shows and how the festival might adapt and evolve in future to better serve as a not simply a benchmark of great work but a signpost to the future.
For Publicis Sapient Nordic’s Paul Collins, for example, there was not enough service design or business transformation work among the entries – though it may be that current award show formats and the omnipresent three-minute case study are not sufficient to explore and explain more complex, longer-term projects.
“We’re in the most innovative country in the world so I’m guessing that it’s [that kind of work] is out there, it’s just not the kind of thing that they would historically enter. ‘Ad Stars’ signals that it’s about advertising. I struggle myself. When it comes to the award circle, a lot of the work that’s moving the needle is work that’s in business transformation and a lot of award shows don’t have the categories to cater for that, so it can’t rise to the top,” he reflected.
What’s been interesting to observe over the past three years of attending the festival is that jurors have become more aware of and conversant in Korean culture – the unavoidable global K-wave, of which Ad Stars forms a ripple, has swept round the world.
Ad Stars’ status as the only global show based in Asia gives it a different flavour to the other international shows based in Europe and North America. It’s been interesting to see a presence from Western-global shows The One Show and D&AD, who have been building a relationship with the Ad Stars committee. And Western jurors I’ve spoken to have mentioned how the large number of jurors from the APAC region compared with other shows means that work from the region is given a fairer shake and there are more voices in the room able to provide context.
“I saw a lot of entries from Asia, compared with Clios,” says Kumuda Rao, group ECD at Leo Burnett India. “But some of the local stuff which popped up here from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, I hadn’t seen before. It’s a very different kind of aesthetic in Asia, a different perspective. So you get over-the-top stuff from Thailand, always great to watch – and Japan you get a different kind of aesthetic altogether.”
With a packed schedule ahead, including keynotes from leading Asian social networks LINE and Tik Tok and discussions including both global and local brands, such as Dyson, Nokia and Lego, there’s plenty to look forward to. And plenty of influential content.