I am not averse to attending festivals and forums. In fact (and I am not proud about this), I end up attending most events that are even remotely connected to the marketing and advertising industry and have some kind of scale to them. After all, forums do provide a great platform for people to meet, learn new things and gain newer perspectives.
AdAsia was the first industry forum that I had heard of when I had joined the business in 2003. It was being held in Jaipur in India that year and had become the talk of the industry for its grandeur and scale. This year, which marks the 28th edition of the advertising congress, it was held in Vietnam from November 11, 2013 to November 14, 2013. Being designed to take place every alternate year, AdAsia is 56 years old and probably one of the first conference/festival formats of the region.
To truly represent Asia, AdAsia took a lesson from Olympics and allowed different regions to bid for playing host to the forum. AdAsia hence has travelled to different Asian markets including countries such as Japan, Indonesia, India, Korea and now Vietnam. Clearly an event that had made it to the calendars of many important industry officials. But for me, despite my event attendance record, this was only the second time that I was attending the forum. And it was the first time I was visiting Vietnam.
Hence, as much I was looking forward to the Congress for its legacy, I was not really sure what I was heading into. Four days and countless cups of Vietnamese coffee later, I can however say that I am sure to attend this forum in 2015 again, when it is taking place in Taiwan. This is not the coffee speaking – I have some very clear reasons on why that is the case…
Marrying the spirit of advertising with the culture of the region
Many regional marketers spend significant time in understanding nuances of a market that matters to them. But not everyone is Sir Martin Sorrell, so not everyone can know most of the things (if not everything) despite the efforts. AdAsia does not just present the status of advertising in the region but the organisers spend considerable energy in giving delegates a sense of the culture of the region.
For instance, women contribute to over 52 per cent of working population in Vietnam. Or that there are perhaps more scooties and bikes in this market than in India or Pakistan (there are bike taxis here!). Vietnamese Dong can be extremely perplexing (100 SGD is over 1.6 million VND). Vietnam drinks tea and is one of the few countries in the world, where the tea market is as big as the carbonated drinks market. Red is an auspicious colour here and that space is taken by Unilever’s detergent brand OMO and not Coca-Cola. Government of Vietnam is careful about the advertising message in the country and cautions for advertising to be ethical and honest. The Vietnamese cuisine is inviting (Had not heard of vegetarian beef and vegetarian chicken before now!)
If you asked a more personal takeaway, the youth in Vietnam is ambitious and wants to prosper. People are warm and friendly though it may not be a good idea to get into the marketplace without doing adequate homework. Vietnamese women love bright colours and their children do not shy from saying Hellos to visitors.
Shifting of power to the East
There is barely a forum where the East Out trend is not discussed. Creativity and power is shifting to the East. When the Asian advertising industry gets together, and it was no different in Hanoi, one cannot help but be motivated and feel proud about belonging to a power market. For years, the industry has seen and learned from the experiences of the West but the age today is not just about growing up together but also about Asia exporting ideas, tools, technologies, concepts and more to the rest of the world. The industry does not really sit back and take full measure of what is happening – and there may not be enough reason to do so – but at AdAsia, even if it is in the last 15 minutes of a closing address, there is a moment of reckoning – that the Asian advertising industry is coming of age and that this is where the future lies.
The sense of belonging to a fraternity
The 1000 strong delegation found enough reasons to branch off in groups and go sightseeing or shopping but they spent more time in meeting delegates from other countries and striking conversations that they could both benefit from. For some, it may look like a holiday on company’s time and money but no one can escape the joint thrill of discussing sessions that exceeded, or were not as per, expectations. Or betting on which country would win the bid for hosting the next AdAsia.
When people who have worked hard to gain respect of aspiring professionals go on the stage, and make a comment, not everyone is cynical. One cannot ignore or discount the attempts that AdAsia makes to bring advertising and related professionals together to exchange learnings and experiences. If nothing else works, Asian hospitality seals the bond. Advertising may not be an industry sector of scale but it is a community of likeminded professionals who are facing similar challenges and moving towards a common goal.
Being reminded of the industry positives
Every alternate year, the advertising business deals with observations of slowdown, recovery, slowdown again, not enough recovery and so on… Advertising has taken more than its fair share of beating for creating messaging that is not true or perceptions that are misleading or creating a culture of dissatisfaction. But at a forum like AdAsia, where delegates did not refrain from tabling such hard issues, the Asian culture of looking for the silver lining also could not be missed. Industry leaders do not just focus on the challenges but also on the opportunities that come with those challenges and how the industry can cope with them.
If the culture of the entire region had to be spun into a single fabric, it would have bright colours, distinct character and a texture that would drape well on anything. The AdAsia organising committee also believes in taking home the positive. One of the key takeaways for AdAsia 2013 was the conscious effort to create advertising that people would trust, that would attempt at transparency and be genuine. Most of the speakers of the forum not only explained why this was important but also how it could be achieved and translate for a company’s growth.
Meeting those whose calendars do not necessarily include trips to Europe
Amongst the 1000 plus that attended, large numbers had poured in from Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and not to mention from Vietnam itself. This is an audience that wants to learn and contribute to the industry but does not really earmark global festivals as one of the ways to do so. These forums are not just about meeting the same people again and again. They are also about creating local relationships and finding new industry friends. Most of these may not eventually turn out to be long lasting bonds, but you never know which ones last and make all the difference.
If the promise that Taiwan made at the Taipei night is anything to go by, and AFAA’s focus on digital does translates into something meaningful, those are just added attractions to be at AdAsia 2015 for me. For those who think that AdAsia is losing its relevance, I would say let’s wait for one more edition – after all, it is the positive nature of Asians that reflects in our bright colours…
Noorings is the weekly column by DMA’s Group Editor Noor Fathima Warsia