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Thierry Halbroth on Adfest Judging



From story-tellers to story-makers … McCann ECD takes us behind the scenes

 Thierry Halbroth on Adfest Judging


And so on Thursday 14 March, 3am, I reach the Royal Cliff Resort in Pattaya… Adfest’s home. 
Lucky me, I get to arrive three days earlier than all of the delegates. Unlucky me, the jury assembly call is at 9am. 
So after a mere three hours of sleep, I stumble along in a herd of others to the jury briefing room. Introductions are made, briefing is done, rules are spelled out, and pressure is applied by Jimmy Lam, master of ceremonies. Needless to say, I’m having a hard time recalling much of what came out of his sharp, cunning mouth except that he would ‘kick our ass’ if we break the rules (ironic when you think that we’re here to reward all those who are breaking the rules of advertising). Graham Fink, acting as Jury President, then asks us to stay true to ourselves and be ourselves. With this in mind, I will give you a glimpse of what happened behind the scenes of Adfest 2013, through the bleary eye of a Direct & Promo Lotus judge, and try to explain why Adfest is a staple creative event in Asia Pacific.
Upon entering the Direct & Promo Lotus jury room, we are immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of entries. Close to 700 of them are laid out in a hangar that would fit a Gulfstream. And then the shocking news: 18 hours of case studies! With three days of judging, we all look at each other and wonder what we’re going to do. Fortunately, as we are all incredibly experienced and seasoned (and familiar with some of the entries), we quickly agree on walking the hall the old-fashioned way and reading the boards first (hence the importance of having good presentation boards!).
Let me break here for a sidebar observation:
There are way too many entries duplicated in sub-categories. While some are thought through and legitimately belong there, many are the equivalent of throwing a bucket of ice cubes on the barbie to see which one doesn’t melt. It pisses the judges off.
And way too many case studies are totally irrelevant. Many enter an awards competition with one case study, not tailoring it to the sub-category they enter and selling the totality of a campaign instead of the particular piece/element entered in that category. Two scenarios are possible: your case study is so good you manage to drown the fish, or your case study is not so good and you get crucified on the spot. Either way, we are not that stupid and we always keep in mind the category and sub-category we are judging. Again - it pisses the judges off!
Case studies are a disease. Please don’t do a case study video for a letter, a film or a print ad unless you have a really good story to tell, in which case it’d better be quick and it’d better have the work featured, otherwise … it pisses the judges off!!
With this in mind, there’s no doubt that we, the members of the Direct & Promo Lotus Jury, might now be known as the ungrateful bastards. But, with our diligence, I truly believe that we certainly put back the value of winning ANY metal on the table, not just gold.
Let’s get back to the work, shall we? This year’s theme was “Connect the Dots”, aiming to link and converge strategic knowledge and experiences with creative innovation and ideas. And there’s no question that the connector is called technology. Technology is changing the way we look at advertising and it was present in most of the work seen at Adfest, sometimes dominating an idea, sometimes enabling an idea, sometimes being the idea itself. 

We saw things that were designed for the greater good of humanity (Rapid Rescue/JWT Singapore and Liter of Light Project/BBDO Guerrero). We saw things that were so immersive they were mesmerizing (Mobile Rescue/George Patterson Y&R). And we saw things that were beyond comprehension (SGTK: The Super Great Toilet Keeper by Toto). 
We simply couldn’t escape technology. But that doesn’t mean that everything was hi-tech. When lo-tech cut through, cut through it did. McDonald’s Indonesia’s small currency campaign had everyone nodding in approval in less than 15 seconds and a Bayer’s Healthcare DM letter reassured us that an email is no substitute, and certainly not more efficient, than a good old-fashioned letter.
And we were certainly impressed by the big names that were popping up in our categories: NRMA Insurance, McDonald’s, Lux, Pepsi, Samsung, Virgin Mobile, NAB, Google, and others.
So I think that everyone at some stage had to remind themselves that the idea should prevail, and that in a lot of cases simplicity was key to having a clear, effective message.
This was expressed and illustrated perfectly in the promo category with the 51.8647% discount campaign for Top Charoen Optical (who the heck managed to come up with that one and, more importantly, sell it to the client!?!) and in the direct campaign with Minewater’s Barcodrop or Smoking Kids for ThaiHealth.
Without going into vast detail for the print category, I’d just like to say ‘WOW’. Art Direction and Craft is just mindboggling and there’s certainly no lack of good work. But like all good things, the cat is out of the bag when it comes to digital manipulation and craft; Illusion Bangkok cleaned up most of the awards, along with all the agencies that contracted them. The paradox of print is simplicity with extremely intricate (digital) manipulation. I always thought that craft was a very strong force in this part of the world and it has just been elevated.
So, with an increase in entries this year, there’s no doubt that Asia Pacific does not want for work. Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, India and Australia lead the charge, while Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines followed suit. But is it good? 
I’m happy to report that it is! The results of the Intercontinental Advertising CUP 2012 are massive proof of Asia Pacific’s firepower – 13 entries from Adfest were among the CUP out of 36 CUPS awarded (across four award shows – ADC*E/Adfest/FIAP/Golden Drum), including the Grand CUP. 
Let’s just hope that technology doesn’t make us lose focus on the fact that, to make a good story, you need to be able to tell a good story – a subtle difference, but a very important one.
PS: No, you will not have a report on Walking Street and the person who got pranked and saw his business cards stuck on all the go-go bars, or the individual who found himself crying his eyes out after their intimate contact with soap, or another individual flexing his creative muscle to sell a 3-for-1 delegate deal, and … well, I said I wouldn’t. While this may be a lot more entertaining, I will protect the innocent for a change and suggest that if you want to know more, you should attend your own Adfest because, this year, it definitely connected the dots...
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McCann Asia Pacific, Tue, 19 Mar 2013 16:10:51 GMT