All eyes on Asia Pacific

22nd September 2017

No longer the (perceived) poor cousin in the creative communications stakes, the Asia Pacific region is emerging as a powerhouse of innovative brand work. In the run up to Spikes Asia – the sister Festival of Creativity to Cannes Lions, eurobest and Dubai Lynx – we chat to Festival Director Andrea Hayes, Lydia Lee, our Chief Strategist, China, and Tim Sutton, Chairman of Weber Shandwick EMEA and Asia Pacific, about what to expect in Singapore this year.

Q: Why is Spikes such an important event now?

Andrea: Asia is such a diverse region, and Spikes really demonstrates its richness, raises the creative bar for the region, and showcases its creativity, including new technology and platforms. Agencies and marketers who come to the Festival can also see first-hand that creativity has a value, and can yield a real return on investment in terms of business results. It may not be on the same scale as Cannes yet, but people do really want the accolade of winning a Spike.

Lydia: Asia is the growth momentum engine for the global economy and Asian consumers have real purchasing power, so as a Chinese who has lived all around the world, Spikes is exciting because it brings all the disciplines together and spotlights Asian creativity and innovation. And it’s not just for the marketing community: the Chinese media are starting to pay attention to Spikes as somewhere where they can see how Chinese brands and marketers are performing.

Q: How has the event developed, and what’s new this year?

Andrea: Spikes Asia is nine years old this year and it’s the biggest creativity festival in the region. It’s grown to three full days and this year the respected Tangrams Effectiveness awards and programme are part of the Festival for the first time. Our sister festivals don’t yet have that solid focus on results as well as ideas, so we are leading the field in that respect. We’ve added a fourth stage so we have an expanded programme that will be more inspiring than ever before, including a new Market Focus series that looks at individual markets, from China to India. There are also facilitated Meetup sessions on specific themes, and a Makers Lab where delegates can attend hands-on workshops and come away with practical skills and knowledge to take home and implement with their teams.

Q: How is creativity evolving in the region?

Tim: In the past, there has been a lazy assumption in the West that London and New York were the global creativity centres, but I was based in Asia for eight years and I soon learned just how rich and fertile creativity is in the region. It was a real eye opener. It’s a crazily challenging region, geographically, with so many different cultures, languages and systems of government. This obliges and drives people to think in ways you wouldn’t do in other regions. There’s also the huge appetite of folks in Asia for mobile-led social media engagement. The Chinese market, for instance, has content-to-commerce applications on platforms like WeChat that we simply don’t have in the West. I’m not sure that creative work like our much-accoladed Daughters of Mother India campaign would have happened in any other part of the world.

Lydia: To echo Tim, the region is definitely becoming bolder in terms of ideas, and that, coupled with our traditional Asian focus on detail in execution, is exciting. At the same time, we’re seeing creativity coming from unusual places. We might think that consumer brands carry the creative flag, but in Asia, partly because of that complex NGO, government and market ecosystem, we are seeing smaller companies and social causes embracing creativity and using the power of communications to carry a message that might be region-specific but has a universal humanity.

Andrea: If you look at some of the results from over 50 countries at Cannes this year, Australia is ranked third for awards, with over 100 Lions, India is ninth with 40, and Japan is in tenth place, with 38 Lions. That’s a phenomenal achievement. These countries are not only powerhouses in this region, but have significant impact globally. The top-ranking agency was from Melbourne, and the sixth was from Thailand. Asia is not a backwater of creativity, it’s absolutely bubbling over and starting to have global influence.

Q: What value does attending Spikes have?

Andrea: Our goal is to be the centre of inspiration for those who work in the industry in this region. Spikes brings everyone in this ecosystem together – we don’t have the opportunity very often to meet and talk to people who do similar things to us. People come away from Spikes with new ideas and discoveries. You already know your own work but you don’t know what other people are doing.

Tim: The irony is that the people we’re competing with the whole time are also the most like us. It’s less lonely if we understand how others are dealing with the same issues. Those of us who are privileged enough to attend in person work really hard to feed back to our colleagues around the world about what we have learned from other people’s work, and new ideas and insights.

Lydia: There’s a word in Chinese, qi, which roughly means “force” or “energy”. At Spikes, there is so much creativity, courage and curiosity, and that qi is contagious. Three days of inspiration recharges you, you make connections and breakthroughs and bring back that energy and passion. If we’re not passionate about the brands we communicate for, or their beliefs, we’re probably not doing our best work.

Q: What do you expect to be the main themes of the award-winning campaigns this year?

Lydia: This is a unique region with 200-odd languages, and different cultures and religions. I think we’ll probably see a lot of work that reflects each market’s own wave of creativity and innovation, but with the deep sense of universal humanity I mentioned earlier. Great cases that touch our hearts, with a local flavour, that solve local problems but inspire other markets. We’ll also see work using mobile and new technology to engage consumers in a more experiential way.

Tim: I think we’ll see work that reflects concerns about how organisations can build trust and authenticity in today’s world, as well as brands making political (with a small “p”) comments on controversial themes to reflect their own values.

Andrea: I’d add that the awards are the foundation of the Festival: if we didn’t start with a rigorous and respected process and a neutral jury (we have 98 jurors this year) then they wouldn’t be held in such high esteem.

Q: What are the main themes of this year’s speaker programme?

Andrea: We like to have as broad a range of topics as possible in the speaker programme, rather than one overarching theme, but one of the biggest themes will be effectiveness, since we’ve brought in the Tangrams programmes and awards. As I mentioned, we’ll also be focusing on specific markets for the first time.

Lydia: I’ll be speaking as part of that Market Focus Programme, with a spotlight on China entitled: “Eastern Promise – How China Is Transforming Global Communications”. It’s my attempt to give non-Chinese marketers some cultural, political and historical context to why China is the way it is, to explain the nuances of the Chinese market, the development of its innovative digital, social and e-commerce universe, and why campaign ideas, or copy, or visuals will or won’t work. I’ll also be showing that creativity is possible in China without stepping on red tape!

Q: Any other observations?

Tim: The growing importance of Spikes for the industry reflects shifting geopolitical tectonic plates. Asia has grown in confidence over the past ten years, in terms of its capabilities and engagement with the global picture, and Spikes is a microcosm of those huge forces. I would absolutely back up what Andrea said: there are – perhaps unexpected – hotbeds of creativity across Asia. The European equivalent is the astonishing quality and quantity of creative work that comes out of Sweden. Ten or 12 years ago, the assumption was that the best creative stuff came from London and New York, and the rest of the world followed. Increasingly, Asia isn’t waiting for the West, it’s generating its own original thinking.

You can find details of the Weber Shandwick session featuring Lydia Lee, scheduled noon local time, Wednesday 27 September on the Spotlight Stage, here.

Spikes Asia Festival of Creativity runs from 27-29 September.