Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marketing Predictions 2009

From deep in the epicenter of the marketing brain-trust, right here in Vietnam, come my predictions for the industry in 2009. And how, you may ask, might I be equipped to delve deep inside the world of marketing from the vantage point of this very developing market? Because this is where I believe the immediate future of the business lies, not necessarily in Vietnam, but in markets like Vietnam, who can provide a petrie dish for embrionic business ideas before they are launched into larger markets. And I have not been the first person to have this idea. That credit goes first this year to Sir Martin Sorrell, who, aside from possibly being the most creative man in contemporary marketing, due to his Dell project and other WPP initiatives, has made no secret of his intention to focus his company's growth in emerging markets as opposed to the developed ones who are most certainly at the beginning of a global recession that will last anywhere from ten to eighteen months, depending on who you listen to. Developing market growth in advertising and marketing has been forcast for 25% whilst mature markets like the States, Europe and Japan will most certainly clock in well below ten percent, and could even reach into the negative numbers in some sectors, automotive and banking included.

Aside from the more obvious growth projections, working in a market like this provides a window into consumer behaviour and insights that will be the future of marketing engines for at least my lifetime in the business and a blueprint of how the Asian market, and I mean the Asian market alone, will be the salvation of global business in any great number of ways over the next 50 years. Before I launch into the predictions phase of this post, lets rewind to a few of my past entries and collect a little data: In February, my post,
"Are The Boggerati Missing The Market" began to point out the importance of Asia on the Internet with Korea, China and Vietnam playing major digital roles. In March, I followed up with "Old Numbers: Good Morning Vietnam", a post that pointed out, quite simply, Asia's Internet dominance in the world - currently, and for the rest of the future as anybody living will know it. I'm including a graph here showing Asia's Internet penetration superiority. But it wasn't until June when the pieces began to fall into place for me with the post "Martin Sorrell and The Siliconmunists Storm Saigon" where the link between traditional advertising and digital became blurry and started to seem like almost the same thing - because the company that Sir Martin bought into in Vietnam, is as much a media company as it is an advertising agency - not disimilar to the kind of company Dentsu in Japan was after being forged from the remnants of the ministries of information and propaganda after WWII. SocialJulio on Twitter furthered my thinking in this area with a flip/flop speculation that Google will buy Publicis, just days after Sorrell did his Vietnam deal. At virtually the same time as all of this, the US banking failure started to unfold as Fannie, Freddie and Lehman all represented by Dewey, Cheatham and Howe began to go belly up as illustrated by Brian Romero in my post, "America: Land of the Free, Home of the Slave" and continued with the mass bailouts requested in September as chronicled in my "Billion Here/Billion There" entry. All the while I continued my social marketing education with eclectic posts like, "Attracton vs. Conversion - How To Power Your Blog", a mix of exotic street observation, social theory, marketing and business speculation, that propelled The Wild Wild East Dailies to a Technorati rank well inside the top 1/2% of blogs worldwide - clearly there was a convergence of all this disparate thinking waiting in the wings. By fall it was beginning to hit me. Watching the Vietnam Advertising Association stumble through a quietly launched Advertising Institute and a mysteriously promoted awards show I began to wonder if they had ever heard of the Internet, much less thought of it as a means to promote their initiatives - but then I realized that this was not just a Vietnamese phenomenen but a global one when the local BIG SHOW, a distinctly multinational event, managed their advertising show without a digital category or even a website to show for it - all on the heels of a more than successful first BarCampSaigon, a digital non-conference held at RMIT University, the picture became crystal clear: If traditional advertising and digital didn't converge, they would kill each other, because neither one will be going very far without the other.

And so now, without further adieu, even though I've sufficiently let parts of the cat out of the bag - my Marketing Predictions for 2009:

#1) Traditional Advertising Expenditures (TV, Radio, Print) will shrink by 20% due to world financial contractions + the lack of Olympic and US Political spend - digital spend will more than double. And where do I get these numbers you ask? Well, I read all the industry data I can and then just pull them out of my ass of course. It's nearly as accurate as any Wall Street dartboard technique or the studied predictions of most financial analysts.

#2) Y&R will cease to exist. Or if you don't like that name, say DDB or Leo Burnett or any other once great agency brand that's been marginalized by it's present holding company. Maybe it's Grey or another. The point here is not to get the name right but to predict the end of a once great name. Why? Because when push comes to shove, somebody's going to get shoved out. It's not rocket science. Why did WPP create an entirely new agency to service Dell when they already had three perfectly good ones? Because the nature of the business is changing and some dinosaur needs to die.

#3) Google will Buy Publicis. Because Publicis already bought the search business from Google? Well maybe. And maybe there are enough synergies to have it all make sense. It seems as if this buying business has the possibility of going two different ways. Plan "B" is discussed in the next prediction.

#4) WPP will buy VinaGame. I know this is strictly a local prediction, but let's widen it to include the idea that it makes sense to buy digital delivery systems while they're available at reasonable rates to have waiting in the wings for clients who will want them anyway in the not-so-distant-future. Why not buy AOL? Advertising holding companies buying digital delivery media makes perfect sense because it guarantees that any message can be uniquely targeted right through to the final consumer with no weak links in the chain - and gives the digital company access to creative content providers who can create branded vehicles for clients - like the soap operas became for Procter & Gamble so many years ago.

So those are my calls for 2009. You can rake me over the coals on the financials until the cows come home because I haven't done financials on any of this, that's Sir Martin's job - but if you do that, you're missing the point - the point being is that we have two very complimentary businesses going through two very different trajectories right now - digital on the way up and traditional on the way down. There's bound to be some creative destruction in the middle.

For more information about Brand Marketing Training in Vietnam, go here <.

For more on Creativity, Education and the like, check below:

"Do Our Schools Kill Creativity?" - Sir Ken Robinson
Brand Marketing and Staff Training in Vietnam
2009 Marketing Predictions
The Language Barrier - An Asian Business Conundrum

For more on digital marketing and social networking see:

Xing vs. LinkedIn: Round II
Trial and Error: The New Normal
What's Wrong With My Social Networking? Xing vs. LinkedIn I
Low Tech Germany. Who Knew?
Advertising People and Blogs
How to Write the Best Blog in the World
What If Gutenberg Had a Blog?
If Blogs Are Free Does That Make Them Worthless?
Detri-Viral Marketing II: The Top 10 Social Media Blunders
Bright Lights, Big Internet and the WWED
Saigon Digital Marketing Conference Successfully Avoids Plumbers Convention
A Tale of Many Marketing Conferences
Detri-Viral Marketing I: How Web 2.0 Can Go Against A Brand
Marketing Predictions for 2009
Barcamp Saigon 2008
"Ignore Everybody" is Born: A Plug for Hugh MacLeod
Are the Bloggerati Missing the Market? Asia has Risen,
Into the Gapinvoid - Web 2.0 Social Networking Born 20 Years Ago

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Has Been - What Have I Done For You Lately IV

9/11, CarlsonCreative, Frank Stella, Has-been, Leo Burnett, Our Town, SARS, Thornton Wilder, William ShatnerChristmas began quietly with a fine Special K breakfast and one or more of my more than loved homemade drip coffees, I forget. I lingered, languished and played the holiday boy until boredom set in - besides, it was time to finish the Christmas blog post I had begun the day before - so it was off to the cafe to finish, just in time to hit America aping Santa at his chores. I could have my post in their stockings without making a sound before sunrise. My phone chortled with sprinklets of sound that told me I had text messages in hand: one from Australia, another from a friend and finally one that was rather hard to place. It was a from a guy I would have previously called a friend but hadn't seen in a month. He sent a flurry of cryptic texts to me a month ago and moved from his apartment quickly enough that the owner had asked me later if I knew where he had gone. She wanted to know why he had left so many shirts and other items still in the house. There was no mention of money owed so it's safe to say he paid the rent, but by his rather stealthy escape, was clear he didn't much want to let anybody know where he was going. But the Christmas text message was about as curious as his texts a month ago. Broken words and snippets of clarity revealed that he was not happy with my description in this blog of a person we know who carts around a thousand pills in his cargo pants from a previous post. The text signed off by calling me a "has-been" and that was it. It was quickly followed by another text that said "Merry Christmas cockroach" - and honestly, since I haven't seen the guy in over a month, don't know what the intent of the slurs was. We had no issues before. Between friends these things can roll off one's back pretty easily and even be considered terms of endearment. How many times have guys called other guys dickhead or scumbag just to slap the other on the back and be off to the next topic of locker room discourse. Plenty. But this didn't strike me in that way - a friendly way. Honestly, I'm not sure how it struck me - on Christmas day. Maybe odd would be the best description. I've included a William Shatner song called "Has-Been" in the podcast. It's odd too, but in a good way.

It did, however, dovetail with something the guy with all the pills used to say to me, and he said it more than once. "My how the mighty have fallen", he was fond of saying in reference to my former six-figure corporate life, compared to what some would call simple and others might say pauperly life today. After a few times hearing it, I confronted him, "Why do you say that to me?", I asked him. "Do you think it makes me feel good? Is it a compliment? Or does it just make you feel good to say it?" - My intent here was not to get an answer but to get him to stop it. It was patently rude and maybe conciously insensitive. I had seen him insult his girfriend repeatedly, to her face by calling her fat and criticizing her English, and wanted no part of this part of this person. I knew he had this in him, but I considered myself his friend and outside of his wrath - but apparantly not - so this was no kind of friendship I needed. Maybe he and the text message guy have become friends now.

I've noticed, maybe particularly here in Vietnam, or maybe particularly at this stage in my life, that there are a great number of people who derive some sort of pleasure from the misfortunes of others. And they make a point of pointing it out in social situations. The water-cooler people. They do it because it makes them feel better about themselves, I suppose - or it makes them feel as if the things they haven't accomplished weren't that important anyway - a kind of cognitive dissonance, "See, that guy failed, so it's better that I didn't even try to do what he did in the first place". - This kind of attitude would truly drive me loony, or suicidal, or both, because the one thing I can say about my time on this planet is that I've made goals, accomplished them, and then made more, repeatedly - always on the same cycle - like surfing. If anything I can could be considered by many to be feloniously guilty of trying to do too many things and putting more on my plate at any one time than would be considered do-able by many - many, maybe more intelligent people. But I do it anyway, maybe a little less than I used to, but I still do it. This desire to chase after things that are not whithin my immediate daily grasp has become a pattern over the years - and a pattern I have become accustomed to - like an addiction, but an oddly healthy and profitable one - like surfing. By continually creating and accomplishing new objectives makes one a serial has-been in almost all ways. To succeed you must leave the past life behind - realize it, learn from it, and then put it on the mantle where it belongs, but leave it behind to get over the next wave. Surf safely. Another wave is always on it's way, if you're ready.

Has-Been #1: Actor - Probably the first time I became a has-been was my exit from the world of theatre. At the age of thirteen I had become an unintentional child-star of our local community theatre by accompanying a friend to auditions and then landing the role he was seeking. The Moss/Hart production was trashed but the reviewers had been kind to me and complimented my spirited performance. My role was depicted by a newspaper photo of another actor hitting me over the head with a stick. My character was to be a dickhead and I had apparently executed that quite nicely. I continued with that theatre for a number of years before a role for a coming-of-age young man came up, the role of George in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town". After a good number of auditions I was informed by the director that I should stick with teenage roles as I did not possess the physical attributes to take this character from the ages of 18 to 28 as called for in the script. I became a has-been actor immediately and took the position of assistant director on that production, a position that would serve me well later, in the advertising business - in that job I learned how to organize a cast, crew and put on a show. A has-been actor moves on.
Has-Been #2: Painter - "David, you have no taste." These were the words of my High School painting teacher Mrs. Partridge on viewing my latest Frank Stella imitation. But later at the gallery exhibition I heard people interpreting all sorts of things in my paintings that I certainly had not intended. Good things. The lesson here is that everyone sees something different, so just keep on painting and wait for the people who like your stuff to buy it. Truth was, I was a terrible painter, in the classical sense, but knew my sensibilities would be perfect for the burgeoning field of graphic design. The has-been painter moves along.
Has-Been #3: Student - My first project for the graphic design program at Southern Illinois University drew the attention of Mr. Mahieu, our notoriously persnickety typography teacher, in the comment, "For the first time in my career one student has scored 100% on his first assignment. Mr. Carlson, would you please stand up." That pretty much ended my career there. Everyone immediately hated me and wanted nothing more than for me to fall off the face of the earth and die. I was later nominated for the department award, did not recieve it, and went on to be the only student ever from the program to work for two top ten agencies. The has-been student goes to work.
Has-Been #4: Employee - Over the next 17 years I would work for 6 different advertising agencies with a birth and death and rebirth cycle to each transition. With one, I declined a 30% raise to pursue something that offered more freedom. At another I declined a similar raise and a VP title to pursue the same. I was fired from two and got unbelievably better positions after each. And at the last, I just flat quit. "Dave, you've been with us for eight years and you don't seem to be fitting into the family", said Bud Ujhelyi at the Leo Burnett company in Chicago. I'm quite sure he meant that I had missed some important ass to kiss but honestly, the place was churning senior management so quickly that by the time you kissed any ass it was no sooner being booted out the door. Fucking pointless, so I did very little of that. My last day came on July 4th, 1996 with a more than rude fax in Korea from the home office calling me home because of financial reasons. Independence day. And the has-been employee becomes the President.
Has-Been #5: President/CEO - The formation of CarlsonCreative in Seoul was a whole lot more emotion than logic, but in the end was supported by sensible finance, good business sense and superior work. We chased the big agencies in town like rats to the sewer and managed to place work in international award shows along with making our bucks. At our apex, people were just fucking scared of us. Learning that international events like SARS and 9/11 along with the resulting finacial contractions were well beyond my grasp was not an easy lesson for me. I fought it until I had spent every last dime we had. Would getting out earlier had been a better idea? I remember at the time that we had thirty grand left and saying "Who wants to go back to the US with 30 grand in his pocket? You'll just be a dog people can kick around". To this day, I'm glad I stayed and fought. At least I got to spend the money at my own company. The has-been President/CEO moves into the unemployment line.
Has-Been #6: Teacher - For all of the teachers who set that out as their goal and love to teach, I salute you. For all those doing it because you can't find work or success in your chosen field I say, get the fuck out of the education business and pursue your dreams - I certainly have pursued mine and it's been a mix of catching those dreams along with the emotional and financial viruses that accompany them. Currently I'm teaching and taking in the odd marketing consulting job when it comes along, but I'm much better suited to something other than teaching and it's just not where I plan to spend the rest of my working life. I need to be a has-been teacher and move on, once again.

I can't imagine ever saying to anyone that they are a has-been. Should I meet an actor, an artist, a musician, a pop-star, a mathemetitian, a business person or anyone (and I've met quite a few of the above) who has enjoyed any modicum of success at any time in their carreer, I would say, "good for you". I would respect them and know that they played at the top of their game for as long as their game would have them. I can't see that calling someone a has-been serves much more purpose than maybe making a never-been feel better. Can you imagine two has-beens in a bar insulting each other? That's a damn funny movie scene.

I'm going to stick with the writing for now. Then, when I finish with that, I can be a has-been human, cause I has-been a lot of things in my life but never dead!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noël - Perspective XVII: The Little Things X

Christmas, Vietnam, Saigon, Thorton Wilder, Our Town, Frost/Nixon, Dean Martin, Our Town, Shiraz, Gnochi Gorgonzola, Batman, Catholic Church Scandal,  This Christmas week began with 2 half-hatched eggs (a Vietnamese delicacy of partially developed chicken embryos in shell), a mix of rice cakes and eggs fried together served with spicy sauce, mint leaves and an avocado shake. Frogs were served the next day at a streetside restaurant and were a meal I had been so looking forward to. As a young man, my parents had introduced a tradition to me of being able to choose any restaurant of my liking for my birthday meal each year. My choice, every year that I can remember, was the Plantation restaurant in Moline Illinois. The Plantation was a grand old mansion that had been the residence of Willard Velie, creator of the Velie automobile and maternal grandson of John Deere. By the mid 1960s the home had been sold a number of times and converted into a restaurant with different cuisine themes in different rooms - Continental in the main room, French in the Library and a sort of tea and crumpets affair on the terraces in the daytime. But my favourite, an American phenomena at the time, was the Polynesian affair in the cellar, popularized by the Trader Vic's chain in major cities but represented at the Plantation in Moline, Illinois as the Tahitian Room. In that room they had bamboo tables, grass huts - just two of them, and a piano bar, where wanna-be Dean Martins could sit around the piano and sing if they liked. The huts were known to book months in advance and so at a very young age, maybe eight, I learned to coax my mother to call the Tahitian Room plenty early, so that we were always assured of having a hut for my birthday. I thought it was exotic. But that was only the beginning of my annual birthday adventure. I can't imagine that the frog legs were much of a big seller at the Tahitian Room; in the Plantation restaurant; in Moline; Rock Island county; on the Mississippi; in the Illinois corn fields; in the United States of America; on the Continent of North America, in the Western Hemisphere; on this Earth; in the Solar System; in the Universe; in the mind of God or the mind of Thornton Wilder, pictured above - but they were my favourite menu item in our town and the one reason I had so looked forward to enjoying a pair on the street here in Saigon this Christmas. It was not my birthday, but it seemed like it could have been. For the record, my particular frog didn't exactly have the legs of a Calaveras County long jumper - they were a little skinny - but the idea was the same and I loved it. Shopping for food in Saigon around Christmas is really no different than anywhere else - they are nearly out of everything. The staff at Veggies, the expat hangout for psuedo gourmet stuff, were pretty much out of cheer when I arrived and had had their fill of crabby foreign housewives looking for Christmas goose, foie gras or bread pudding and gave me appropriately crabby service. Finished is the English word the Vietnamese use when they are out of something or just don't have it and it was used repeatedly to respond to my request for smoked cheddar, cocktail onions and a number of other things I thought would spruce up my holiday diet. The onions were for my Dean Martinis. I left with a stash of Coleman's mustard at a 50% discount and an over-priced slab of Gorgonzola. Quite happy I was, even at that. The Frost/Nixon film was my Christmas Eve cinematic fare at a local mini-cinema followed by Batman Returns on Christmas day itself, presumably because it's plot is situated around the holiday season and features penguins. Funny the way HBO programmers see things in Asia - "Let's see, we need a Christmas/cartoon/action film with snow". I had also seen a film a few nights previous that was a documentary on the child molestation scandal in the Catholic Church. An interesting programming choice as well this season, it was quite convincing and a bit sobering to say the least. I was raised Catholic and although I saw through the iconography and politicization of the faith at a reasonably early age had not ever really come to see what was going on behind all the mythologized mystery. This film saw to that. The hymns of the church drew me in off the street on the evening of Christmas day itself and I spent a few minutes at the rear of the naïve to reflect amongst the 12 stations of the cross and other - to anyone else from any other religion - bizarre imagery cast upon the parishioners. If they could get young people to believe in all of that, there was no telling what a kid might believe as he grew up in this most surreal of faiths. Interesting that the main barrel vault of a Catholic church is called the naïve, achitecturally, which is also the base of the word naiveté. I had a nice Christmas anyway, taking my time to have just a few simple pleasures and enjoy just a few minutes. The family sent emails - there was plenty of Christmas spam on Facebook - and even a few good wish texts on my phone. Phat called and rushed me to a local pub so he could deliver my Christmas card. Phat is the man who handles my visa. And then home to the gorgonzola and a glass of Shiraz. Christmas in Vietnam. Mmmmerry.

For more on the "Perspective" or "Little Things" series, click below:

My Morning Wake-Up Call - Perspective XX: The Little Things XII
We'll Have A Gay Old Time - Perspective XIX: The Little Things XII
"Rolled Foggy Disposed Ricepaper" - Perspective XVIII: The Little Things XI

Joyeux Noel - Perspective XVII: The Little Things X

Lunch With Obama - Perspective XVI: The Little Things IX

One Motley Crue On The Bus Today - Perspective XV: The Little Things VIII

Attraction vs. Conversion: How To Power Your Blog - Perspective XIV: The Little Things VII

A glass box full of deep fried chicken heads - Perspective XIII: The Little Things VI

Seoul Searching - Perspective XII

He Would Have Shot Me 40 Years Ago - Perspective XI: The Little Things V

Chomsky on Colour & Sleep - Perspective X: The Little Things IV.2

Running With Scizzors - Perspective IX: The Little Things IV

Henry Miler II - Perspective VIII : The Little Things III.1

Henry Miller - Perspective VII: The Little Things III

Big Brother - Perspective VI: The Little Things II

This Carnival of Life! - Perspective V

The Art Walk - Perspective IV: The Little Things

Bentley #5 - Perspective III.2

Bentley vs. Vespa - Perspective III.1

Bentleys Invade Vietnam - Perspective III

Death Of A Colleague - Perspective II


Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Vietnam Advertising Festival: Young Lions Stage a Coup at the Zoo

Thank the young lions, for making a day at the zoo a real hot spot for the future of Vietnam Advertising. The Young Lions are a group of young ad professionals who exhibited their work at the Vietnam Advertising Festival held at the Ho Chi Minh City Zoo on Friday and Saturday of this last week - sponsored by the Vietnam Advertising Association and Sunflower Media. In keeping with my review of The BIG SHOW a few weeks ago, I'll continue the format of dividing this piece up into it's respective parts of The venue, The work, The participants and The result. These are basically what make up an advertising industry event and aside from your opinion, and there are many, probably what one experiences in the final evaluation.

The venue:

If you had your choice of cages between the ones featured at The Cage Bar, where the BIG SHOW was hosted, or the ones at the HCMC Zoo, go for the zoo. Providing a walking boulevard approach, flanked by banners and posters for the event, the entrance to the zoo both calms and excites as visitors are drawn in to what ends up as a small stage surrounded by viewing areas for the exhibits with not a cage to be found in the proximity. On this promenade, jugglers, caligraphers and graphiti artists line the walks and invite the guests to interact with the event whilst the strains of a punk band screetch through a rapid-fire rendition of Jingle Bells - not particularly original but a certainly spirited rendition. My trip to the zoo occured on Saturday afternoon, so avoiding the Friday start and pontificating and officiating that so often go along with these things was probably a good idea.

Once drawn to the viewing area the "festival" as it was billed, divided itself up into three distinct display areas for three distincly different shows, starting with the Vietnam Young Lions exhibit, an exploration on recyclable, reusable and decidedly green concepts, organized by Sunflower Media. This for me was the absolute highlight of the entire event, in terms of actual work, and I'm only sorry that neither the Young Lions website nor a non-existing website for Sunflower is able to show you any of the work. Photos and bios of the participating teams were shown, the TVs worked well to show the film concepts, and the work was presented at a size that made it a joy to view - BIG - not little bitty double-truck ads lost on a wall of white space.

The second and least thoughtfully designed area was designated for the Vietnam Advertising Association's Golden Bell awards and overall I found it a boxy disappointment. None of the TVs were working and most of the smallishly mounted ads lacked appropriate translations for the International audience they sought to attract through the Saigon Times.

The third area, with large format image-changing kiosks at it's center, was home to the Cannes Lion winners of 2008. Packed full of inspiring work and all images of museum display size and quality things were easy to understand and enjoy. Also, all the credits and detail information for the winning work appeared in both English and Vietnamese.

The work:

The Young Lions were the hit of the show in my book. Hopefully their website will be able to show the great number of excellent concepts that went into their environmental campaigns. It seems also that props should go to Sunflower Media for coraling, scheduling and presenting this effort in an extremely professional manner. My favorite ad excecution involved a shot of a discarded Pepsi can and a string of copy solutions as to what the can could become after it's life as a softdrink dispenser, including, last but not least - a can of Coca Cola. Refuse reincarnation in the ultimate sense.

Looking at the Golden Bells presentation left me wondering what I was missing. Where was the Child Helmet Campaign described in winning announcements and where in the hell were the Vietnamese advertising agencies? Aside from one of the judges describing to me that the jurying was "surprisingly non-political" and impartial, is someone going to tell me that not a single entry from Golden, Storm-Eye or Dat Viet (VAC) could make the cut? Methinks not. I suspect that, just as last year, many agencies did not even enter the show and that could have been due to high fees, political wrangling of thousands of egos, or simple lack of proper timing and promotion on behalf of the organising committee. This year the Golden Bells were held in stealth fashion and only allowed to be viewed through the prism of an edited and time delayed TV program that could not have done much to have encouraged the comaraderie, competition and cohesiveness that are very much needed in the industry now. The presentation at the zoo did nothing to advance the prestige of the event nor to encourage agencies to enter in the future. Rather than looking like something one wanted to be a part of, it looked alone, incomplete and uncared for. None of the TVs worked and aside from a guestbook one could sign had no interactivity whatsoever. What about computer to highlight digital work? What about a website for the sponsoring organization or the show itself? Nuff said.

What can one say about Cannes winning work? Plenty, but suffice to say it was all inspiring on different levels and made one just want to work a whole hellovalot harder starting immediately - or get a brain upgrade - immediately. What stood out for me were the two print campaigns from Saatchi and Saatchi Vietnam. World class work being done right under our noses and not a peep out of the Golden Bells about it. Something doesn't add up there. The Cu Chi Museum campaign scored on the marriage of art and copy and whilst I didn't think there was much breakthrough in the Western Union campaign when I saw it at the BIG SHOW, I can understand what the judges liked about it and agree with them. The message of the Canne presentation this year was simple: You can do world-calss work right here in Vietnam.

A few years ago our agency, CarlsonCreative, in Seoul brought the New York Art Directors Show into town because we had gotten one tiny little bit of direct mail in it. We comandeered an art gallery for a week, got all the press and TV out and pretty much put it in the big agency's faces - Cheil, O&M, JWT and the like that a little 4 person shop could score on Madison Avenue. During the show the gallery owner came up to me and asked "How come none of the big agencies have ever brought a show this big to town and you did?" "Because we can", I answered, "because we can". Saatchi has just fired a warning shot over the bow of all the agencies in town. Because they can. Will anyone take the bait?

The participants:

The Vietnam Advertising Association: Huge points for just getting this thing off the ground and making a real go at promoting, educating and stirring the fire up in the business. Many points subtracted for poor promotion, no website and a fragmented effort on the Golden Bells.

The Young Lions: I've said enough already. I hope they just keep doing.

Sunflower Media: Although it's hard to know where where responsibilities begin and end between large groups of people, it's obvious that Sunflower's attention on the Young Lions effort was right where it needed to be. Professionnal and on target. But they need a website. Hello 2009?

The result:
The results of the efforts, I suspect, will result in the country becoming the most professional it has ever been in the industry - you could see it in the faces and comments of the students who attended the show, shot the hell out of it with their cel-phones, and wrote in the guest books. Maybe I missed all the big agency big-wigs by attending on a breezy Saturday afternoon Instead of a Friday morning but luckily the breeze was not blowing from the elephant house, so the amount of crap I had to deal with was probably significantly less than I would have, had I allowed a bunch of agency blokes to chat me up.
In the future it would be nice to see a morphing of this event and the Golden Bells together. It seems unessessary to do an event for filming and an event for attending. Last years Bells were a horrible TV taping affair with a house full of bussed-in college students - enough to fill a wide angle lense and essentially nobody in the industry was there unless they were getting an award. I can't imagine this year was any different. Put on a good event, film it, reality show style and I'm sure a talented TV producer can cut it all up into a watchable hour- minus the gawdy dance routines.
As far as the educational aspects and being able to bring creative interaction into the scene during the year, I am working with a group of talented individuals from all around the industry, with a particular focus on Internet and digital. Hopefully we be able to get our first event off in the spring and augment this excellent starting effort. If you have ideas or would like to contribute, please do let me know.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On My Meds Again in Saigon...

First off, my apologies for not being your intrepid three-time-a-week blogger that you've come to know and read. This week began the third week of one of my regular season changing colds as the affliction descended into Strep Throat and then Bronchitus. It was time for a trip to the pharmacie - but unlike an American pharmacy with a "y" I was able to get my packet of Amoxilan, a prescription I already knew I needed, without a trip to an HMO certified Indian (from India) doctor and be on my way to recovery for about 75 cents. Yes, that's seventy five good old American cents. A price that in Vietnam, a country rated much lower than US's lofty perch of #37 on the World Health Organization's (WHO) Health Care Rankings chart (right below Costa Rica), was more than fair. I wouldn't have given this a great deal of thought had I not seen Michael Moore's "SiCKO" again on HBO recently and had cause to consider just how good my health care system is, here in this developing country, as opposed to the good ole US of A. The last time I was in the US I had broken a collar bone in a bicycle accident and was not able to see a doctor because of lack of medical coverage. My father's Chiropractor told me it was indeed broken but he could not reset it. He went on to describe how many athletes continued to play with various kinds of broken appendages, as if I were asking for some kind of exotic cosmetic surgery, and said it would heal all by itself just fine. That's what you get in America when the doctor is the past team Chiro for the Kansas City Chiefs football team. Top medical care that is.

Thankfully I am in excellent health, compared to my colleagues at my age, and have not had anything beyond this breakage and an itchy winky in my adult medical history. And no, I'm not going to tell the itchy winky story. It was a long time ago, but pretty fucking funny all the same.

Now in repair, I promise I will be off injured reserve and back to my snarky self by tomorrow. I really hate it when I can't write.

As a bookend, my American friends might ask if there is any downside to letting patients diagnose themselves and prance into the pharmacie anytime they want for their fill of antibiotics or more psychotropic solutions, and I will impart this observation: Blame it on naivete, or just plain not looking for three years, but the number of foreign perscription drug addicts in this town is positively startling, once you are trained to look out for the signs. Consider the high school mathematics teacher who, without fail, everytime you see him, has a breast pocket full of pills in little foil pop-out packets and has now taken to wearing cargo pants - you know, the ones with the Jungle-Jim pockets on the legs - to conceal all the other perscription drugs he is using. I have know him for a few years now. He claims to have any great number of afflictions but the only one I can be sure of is hypocondria - plus whatever caused him to just verbally tear me a new asshole one night with no provocation, added in. God knows, I've known and befriended my share of alcoholics in my time and certainly been part of the clan for good spells, but never have I had to learn the habits of people on chemicals that I can't even spell. Geez, in a way, alcoholics are simple. These other things are still a mystery to me - but one I will not venture to uncover by providing myself as a guinea pig - "Give me another shot of that Amoxilan doc", I scream, as I tighten the rubber tube around my bicep and punch open another foiled capsule...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vietnam Advertising Association Surfaces: WTF? A party at the zoo!

Vietnam advertising association, wild wild east, wild wildeast dailies, golden bells, Just in: In the wake of The BIG SHOW, I received this news notice yesterday from the Saigon Times regarding yet another show, sponsored by the Vietnam Advertising Association and coming up this weekend, at the Ho Chi Minh City Zoo. WTF? Look, I don't come up with this stuff, I just report it.

By Huu Thang - The Saigon Times Daily

HCMC – Vietnam Advertising Festival 2008, organized by the Vietnam Advertising Association (VAA) and Sunflower Media Co. Ltd., will take place for the first time next Friday and Saturday at the HCMC Zoo and Botanical Garden.

The festival will display over 100 ads selected from Cannes Lions 2008 and Yellow Bell 2008 and ads winning the Vietnam Young Lions award, said the organizing committee.

With all due respect to the writer and staff at the Times, who undoubtedly wrote this from a press release, this story is just a minefield of misinformation, disinformation and just plain incomplete information. What time is the show? Who should I contact for more information? Where is the website I can visit? And what do all those confusing show titles mean? My notice came from a Google Alert and I have seen nothing at all from the Vietnam News, or any of the other major Vietnamese newspapers on the event. At least, The Vietnam Advertising Association should get together with the Vietnamese Public Relations Association and structure a proper release and release schedule. Announcing it one week before in a relatively obscure, English, city-only, newspaper, is curious at best. I will attend the show and file a report afterwards. And who knows, I may be surprised. All I know now, is that the association responsible for promoting the show could look to their moniker and do a whole lot more of "word #2" to get the news out.

In other unofficial reports, VAA rules will follow the same scheme as most other world-renowned Ad shows as follows: Direct Mail categories will be judged and showcased in the Aviary Center, TV in the Lion House, with Account Service awards presented deep inside the Snake House. Elephants have been charged with stamping out unacceptable entries and lizards, small mammals and lemurs will officiate opening and closing ceremonies. The usual assortment of Monkeys, Gorillas and other primates are slated to handle judging.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sweet Dreams III - Fragmented Fermentations

After a time in any exotic land the things one first found exotic become normal. That rooster on the sidewalk, the steetside barbers, the language - all part of a regular day now. Maybe now, only in dreams can I travel. I am already too far away in the real world. This is a collection of snippets, all from different days and different dreams over a period of six months - each seperated by a letter. (A) Dad is on a street with all old cars - one green Chrysler to be seen. If I look in the rear view mirror of one car, I can see all the others. (B) I travel with the Leo Burnett company to Germany on a NinCourage, Dreams, Kirkhart, Leo Burnett, Nintendo, Pants, Rooster, Scullin, Sweet Dreams, Swiss Cheese, Todd Rundgren, wifetendo assignment. They are showing me a 10 year plan to move people into side businesses. There are drinks at a bar with cute girls and my old friend Patrick Scullin (C) Tom Kirkhart, my old college roomate, and his wife Kim are in a house with my old stereo. I can't find the volume and it keeps playing. Tom has 10 boom boxes and other stereo gear around. I can hear his voice as if it is not a dream at all. "Tom, we don't have a lot of room here", I say. I come to believe this dream is real because I can hear the music exactly as it sounds - and that's what wakes me up. (D) The lips are those of a very old lady - aluminum foil wrinkled into her 70s or 80s, yet smiling slightly and pleasantly attractive. I am drawn to them. They are my wife's from years ago, yet now years ahead. Too many years ahead. (E) The composite girl's pantaloons are like three layers of black silk swiss cheese, cut with bigger-than-hand-sized holes and layered so that not two holes match, making my maneuvering, from knee to crotch her minefield affair. But I persist. I persist until the warm milk of the target licks upon my fingers and they are invited in, one by one - cut to a miltary model of a battlefield with model tanks and a radio-controlled red truck as a comander barks, "Higher!". (F) I can hear the song "Courage" as if it is real...

For more Sweet Dreams Click below:

VI: I Woke Up Drunk Today
V: Homecoming
IV: All In A Mouse's Night
III: Fragmented Fermentations
II: Strange Dreams
I: White Huskies: Interpretation please?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The BIG SHOW Vietnam Online Update

Online. At last. Almost. Having begun my last post with a pretty strong critique of Vietnam's BIG SHOW for not being online, I was happy to see on Monday, a notice for The BIG SHOW's website, scheduled to be up in mid December. Now, had anything been mentioned at the actual show, or any promotion done for the website at all beforehand, I would have of course knew about it, and not taken them to task for it in my review - but at least now, the job is 50% complete - the remainder being getting an actual category for online work up in the actual show - to happen next year for sure. So the word is: The BIG SHOW will be up and online, soon. Check it out.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Vietnam's BIG SHOW: Smaller and Digitally Challenged

Welcome to Vietnam's BIG SHOW website. Yup, this is it, or as close as you're going to get to it. Because, as of this writing, they don't have one - and they apparently agree with the Vietnam Advertising Association on at least one thing: "With 23.4% of global advertising budgets spent online, according to ZenithOptimedia, we're just going to ignore that and live in the past without even posting a website of our own or having a digital category in our show". That's about as smart as hosting a horseshoe making competition right down the street from Henry Ford's new factory would have been about 100 years ago, whilst ignoring the iron horses he'd been building in the starting gate. Well, I could be stretching the facts just a little, because the Vietnam Advertising Association decided not to have a show at all this year, so who knows if they would have even acknowledged digital - but they did last year and it's a shame they didn't lick their wounds after a pretty big mess and come back to the ring this year. The lack of competition seems to have neutered the BIG SHOW substantially from last year's Golden Bell face-off and now it's just the SMALL CRAMMED-INTO-AN-ALLEY SHOW.

Note: Since the writing of this post the BIG SHOW has posted a website of all the winners. Check it out - it is quite good.

My comments here will focus on the venue, work, participants and results, which pretty much encapsulates the purpose of any show so let's get started.

The venue:

Continuing with my digital whinge plank, go ahead and put "Cage Bar Vietnam" "Cage Quing Bar Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City" or anything else involving the name and location of this club into Google, Facebook, or even Dia Diem, the Vietnamese map site and see what you get. Unless you're a better surfer than I am (and I doubt that) you get squat, nada, nothing & zip. I certainly couldn't find a website, because I'm sure the Creative Circle Facebook page would have referenced one in their event notice if they did. So, bad on Cage Bar for not even having a website. Isn't there some lounge/trance/world/hip-hop requirement for street-cred that every club have at least a shitty website. Wait, that law was passed globally in 2000. Major fail Cage. I spent an hour trying to figure out where this place was before I left the house. Readers who arrived at this story from the New York Times review of Cage, might want to check out my "Your Man in Saigon" post after reading the next paragraph for a Brian McNally update.

Arriving at 3A Ton Duc Thang is at least an interesting experience, for there is certainly no signage that proclaims anything like a Cage Bar or a Quing Bar on that corner. If fact, even having found the place, there is still no English signage but maybe that's part of the underground image they're going for. Follow the crowd. That's where the hip people are going. Once into the mass of people crowded into an alley aside and behind the place I made my way for the entrance to the club proper. Accosted for my name card by attractive but less than convivial ladies I was given prompt entrance to the interior - jam packed to four walls with people in anticipation of the video screening. Air conditioning was conspicuously absent as the screening began but as true ad-geeks do, the crowd bludgeoned through in search of a picture, an idea, a quick laugh or just a break from the everyday rock-pile that so much ad-work has become. And they were not disappointed. Hot and maybe bleedingly uncomfortable at the mercy of cheap-Charlie club owners who couldn't spare a little air-con, the crowd looked upwards towards the screen.

The work:

The reel begins with a hopelessly dated StarWars typographic theme that should be illegal in 2008 (yes, I know it's a theme choice in iMovie but that doesn't mean we should use it) and segues into a beer campaign that makes the Vietnamese chuckle but the English subtitles don't do much to explain to the rest of us what is funny. Some nuance lost in translation for sure. Quite possibly the funniest spot of the evening for Creamfills chocolates, shows a mum and dad engaged in a Michael Douglas /Jeanne Tripplehorn/Fatal Attraction slam-her-up-against-the-wall make-out scene after just one chocolate, followed by a series of Vinamilk, Nivea, Suziki, Dutch Lady and Sony spots that prove nothing more than the idea that having a big logo or budget doesn't guarantee any sort of genius. The thick air is broken momentarily by a marshal arts cum Bruce/Jet/Lee/Li fight scene revolving around a puddle of mud that becomes a pretty simple and entertaining idea for Tide detergent. A PSA for kids wearing motorbike helmets is well done and well received as well as a Go Green effort by Toyota. But my favorite, and I think world groundbreaking spot of the evening, goes to Absolute Vodka in a series of black on white line illustration animations that follow two unmarked bottles as they travel though a world full of humans. When they stop at the bar for a drink, the items put before them bear a human shape and when the bottles drink them, the animation angle rises and hovers to birds-eye view so that we see the bottles full of teeming human lifeforms. The tagline says something about an "Absolute world" playing on the inverted idea of the bottles maintaining human lives - and I just thought it was damn fucking brilliant. Yes, it sounds, and indeed is obtuse, but it was the brightest damn idea of the whole show and better go on to Cannes and other international shows as a real show pony for Absolute. For their interest in the spot, the Viets didn't really seem to get it in the end, but I credit that to their unfamiliarity with the bottle shape and name of the Absolute brand - however famous it may be in western markets it is a relatively new product here, so a lot of the imagery and branding did not translate immediately here. Kudos to TBWA for that work.

For the print work, most of it would have made good wallpaper for a baby's room. You could fall asleep in seconds with the greater lot of it. My few highlights included an activation campaign for Listerine mouthwash that replaced the actual bottle labels with clever headlines about gossip, kissing and the things one does with their mouth that might be better accomplished with fresh breath and another sort of viral idea for Tropicana Twister that put giant orange slice appliqués on revolving doors to simulate the twisting of real fruit into a refreshing drink. Conversely, another drink campaign made the drinkers mouths morph into the shapes of odd premiums like computers and iPods to accomplish being possibly one of the most unappetizing series of images for a product you drink that I have ever seen. Wrapping up the work, Leo Burnett takes the art direction award for a charming and clever image of an office move that comes out of and lives happily in left field and another agency, who I can only identify by the number of letters in their name (8), wasted two perfectly good display panels with work that wouldn't have made it into an even a half-rate student show. Next year, we should pay agencies $200 not to show stuff like they did.

The participants:

The BIG SHOW is an excellent show, and the only real showcase communications people in Vietnam have to see, discuss, share and debate work during the whole year - but it's in dangerous need of a serious updating and reflection of what the market really is - before it becomes THE BIG FOREIGN AGENCY'S ANALOG ADVERTISING SHOW. The conspicuous lack of Vietnamese agencies at the show was glaring and the lack of any digital component at all was not only professionally embarrassing but irresponsible as well. I don't want to go on record as the first guy who said this, lest Martin Sorrell bar me forever from his consciousness, but with the Olympics over, American elections finalised and a string of ever-going financial bailouts and corporate failures affecting all sorts of budgets worldwide, waiting to see 2009's jump in online spending at the expense of traditional medias will have seemed positively academic by next year's end. Having witnessed the youth, energy and outright multi-cultural optimism of the digital creative communications camp a few weeks ago at BarCampSaigon and comparing that to the rather old-school, foreign-centric effort exhibited in this year's BIG SHOW, two not so epiphanous suggestions come to mind: Get digital - for the future of the business- there's a whole community of people making great digital work. And get Vietnamese - for the involvement of the whole agency community. I really do believe doing both of those things will benefit the entire industry in a way that we're not realising currently.

The result:

As I have seen the past three years in Vietnam, the BIG SHOW always serves the most important function of providing a meet, greet and glower or grouse over what may or may not be the best work in country - but sadly, just once a year. What happens so nicely, annually, doesn't ever seem to replicate itself throughout the year, in a way that could so obviously benefit the young minds that propel the business forward. I'd be happy to work on some quarterly, more youth oriented, information based gatherings (yes, libations included!) that would carry the spirit of the show more regularly into the working lives of those who do the work. This is an area of discussion already open amongst a few of us in the biz so if you have ideas, or want to donate beer, you know where to find me - let me know. Finally two slaps on the wrist tonight: #1: Budweiser - for only providing an hour's worth of free beer - Tiger was much more generous previously. #2: The Cage - for not having the air-con on during the indoor portion and then not doing a thing to convert a more than willing crowd into an after hours crowd who would have happily danced and drunk more had they been provided specials, decent music or any encouragement at all.


So that's the BIG SHOW 2008. Not the best show, but the best show we've got. Making it better is up to all of us.
(Of Note: A press release dated one day after this post went up on, December 6th, announcing a digital version of The BIG SHOW to be launched in mid-December. Good.)

POSTSCRIPT: As a personal observation I could easily be taken to task for criticizing the show whilst having nothing in it and in some form that's absolutely true - but in another form, not true at all. For those of you who know me and this blog, I write dutifully, three posts a week, and cover the Vietnam advertising scene whenever a story of note comes up,. In 10 months this blog has become one of the most read in country and is also gathering a significant following worldwide. So, in essence I do have a product, it just happens to be a digital product, a social media product, that the BIG SHOW, or any other aspiring communications show in Vietnam needs to account for. But tonight I had one of the nicest things a blog writer could ask for happen. Tonight I met a reader.

I didn't know Phoung at all before this evening. We met whilst I was discussing the sudden drought of Budweiser with her husband-to-be. Upon exchanging the requisite name cards she exclaimed that she new me from Facebook. "Sure", I said. "I'm on Facebook". "But you write the blog", she said. And with that I was immediately taken aback. Who's to know who actually reads a person's blog. For all the accountability and transparency promised by the digital world, it's still rare to find out who those people really are who read the drivel one scribbles every week. And I'm quite the scribbler, I am. So much so that few, worldwide, are really able to keep up with the volume I produce on a weekly basis. Phoung went on to describe minute parts of this work that stretched back as far as 9 months - she said some things were funny - she said the work was graphically well designed - and she went on. Her husband-to-be-jumped in and said, "David, for all the time I have known her, she has never complimented anyone's work as much as she is right now. She's not easily impressed, David. I can assure you she is not giving you a load of crap." Phoung and I continued to speak. She works for a design firm. I was humbled and more than interested in the idea that a second language speaker could have actually made much sense of what I have been writing about for the past 10 months. This work is certainly not easy for people who speak and read English and a real mountain climb for a person dealing through two languages. She explained to me, and her fiancé confirmed, that she sits with a dictionary to get through one of my standard posts. This to me is all pretty damn amazing. And probably the number one reason I continue to engage in this project. One more person read it. One more person got it. And one more person liked it. And that's enough.That should be enough for any writer. Thank you Phoung.

To know more about Brand Marketing Training in Vietnam, go here <.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blog Redesign Update - Mimosa is The New Black?

Blog,  Redesign,  Internet, Blogs,  Pantone, Mimosa, Yellow, Trendsetting, Forward, Spring, MSNBC, yahoo Buzz,Thanks everyone for voting on the new blog colour scheme. Please continue voting through Christmas. At present "yellow" is loosing to choice #3 of "Try again dumbo", so honestly I have no idea what you all like and I'm not much in the business of wanting to please the masses - Oprah and Britney seem to have that market all sewn up. But in a very small nod to understanding my readers and being user friendly, I'm not changing the damn colour scheme, yet, but I am acquiesing to the idea that yellow may just not sound cool - so I'm nicking a page from the 2009 spring fashion scene and adopting the pigment moniker of "Mimosa". The folks at Pantone Inc. colour systems call it Mimosa- 14-0848 TCX. Hell, if nothing else it just sounds pretty (without the numbers) and forward and hip and oh so godamnedtrendsetting if you will. To support this choice of nearly a month ago, loyal reader, Freya, sent me the following MSNBC story on next season's hot colour choice, and you're not going to friggin' believe it - it's Mimosa - or baby crap yellow as it is more commonly known. Not ochre mind you, cause that just sounds old but Mimosa because it sounds fresh, with a hopeful twinge of optimism like the world being renewed or ideas of light finding rebirth. And if that isn't enough psychobabble you can read the companion story on Yahoo Buzz. Yes, that's two digital news services in support of this blog's decision whilst their stories were still being written. So we're trend-setters. All of us together - way ahead of the curve, as usual in the Wild Wild East.

For my own thoughts. Black was dark. Black was Bush. Black was where we were. Black was back. And whatever we do, wherever we go, I would much, much more like that to be forward. There was truly no conscious design choice or logic in the new Mimosa. It just felt better. Besides, "Try again dumbo" doesn't even have a Pantone number.

For more on blogs, blogging and bloggers, check here:

Advertising People & Blogs - The Travis Diaries VI
How to Write the Best Damn Blog in the World
Throw That Blog a Bone!
If Blogs Are Free Are They Worthless?
What If Gutenberg Had a Blog?
If You Like the Blog, Read the Book>/a>
2008 Annual Report - The Wild Wild East Dailies
Blog Redesign WWED
BarCamp Saigon 2008
Attraction vs. Conversion - How to Power Your Blog
Are the Bloggerati Missing the Market?

The Wild Wild East Dailies

D a v i d E v e r i t t - C a r l s o n
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