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.
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