The year in review: July to September – Awards returned; sexism controversy; piracy threat; Dentsu overcharging scandal erupts in Japan

Part three of our review of 2016 sees Steve Jones recap the headline grabbing tales from July, August and September


One of the toughest jobs in marketing, that of CMO at Malaysia Airlines, became vacant again as Charles McKee departed less than a year into the role.

Leo Burnett carried out its threat and started legal proceedings against Malaysian film maker Tan Chui Mui who had accused the agency of plagiarism over its ‘rubber boy’ commercial for Petronas.

Tan responded by hiring lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar on a pro bono basis and said she would “not talk more about my issues with Leo Burnett until I see them in court”.

generoMelbourne-based Genero, an online media platform that connects film-makers with advertisers, announced plans to open in Singapore after raising $4 million in capital.

The business was started by former Vodafone Australia online video specialist Andrew Lane and former HP marketer Mick Entwisle in 2009.

Grey Singapore bowed to pressure and returned the Bronze Lion it won at Cannes for the controversial ‘I Sea’ app which had been called out as a fake.

But the agency did so in a huff, describing “unwarranted, unfair, unrelenting attacks by unnamed bloggers” for the controversy.

Grey’s global head of communications Owen Dougherty, ended a statement with the words: “The saying no good deed goes unpunished is apt in this case”. Quite what he was referring to as a “good deed” remains unclear – the app didn’t work and was described as worthless by its client, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station.

Changes continue at IPG Mediabrands with Omnicom Media Group ANZ CEO Leigh Terry appointed to head up its Asia Pacific division while a new regional head of digital, was hired.

Scott McBride joined as APAC chief digital officer from Ogilvy Hong Kong, where he was managing partner.

The appointment followed a reorganisation of the group by geography led by global CEO Henry Tajer.

In another senior industry change, Mike Amour, the APAC president of Starcom, left the agency after 18 months in the job.

More award controversy emerged with Ogilvy Vietnam handing back two trophies it won at Cannes for a project to save endangered African rhinos. The reason? Some claims made in the supporting case study video were false.

The agency conceded there were some elements of the campaign presented in the case study video for ‘Saving Africa’s Last Wild Rhinos, By Poisoning Them’ that did not  run in-market. The agency said it was “deeply regretful” of the embarrassment that errors may have caused to the client, Rhino Rescue Project, and the Cannes Lions festival.


Kevin Roberts, the global boss of creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi, was placed on “administrative leave” after he appeared to claim there was no problem with gender diversity in ad industry management because women are happier in non-executive roles.

Photographer Juan Carrera | Source:

He also accused equality campaigner Cindy Gallop of “making up a lot of the stuff to create a profile, and to take applause, and to get on a soap[box].”

Saatchi & Saatchi parent, Publicis Groupe, stressed its no-tolerance policy towards “behavior or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe”.

“It is for the gravity of these statements that Kevin Roberts has been asked to take a leave of absence from Publicis Groupe effective immediately,” it said.

Roberts resigned a week later.

smuAlso stoking the anger of the industry was Singapore Management University which demanded $100 from agencies for the privilege of pitching for its business.

One agency boss took particular exception and likened it to a “prostitute paying to give a blow job”, while another said “100 bucks is dirt cheap but it is a matter of principle. You are asking an agency to pay to contribute free work.”

Unperturbed, thick-skinned SMU bosses stuck to their guns and insisted the administrative fee would continue.

Leaked documents obtained by Mumbrella revealed the India operation of Australian music streaming firm Guvera was in complete disarray with the division leaking cash, unable to pay bills and struggling to make its ad-funded model work.

Guvera had already shut its Australia business after its IPO was blocked, with its Indian struggles piling further pressure on the ailing business.

Guvera founder and interim CEO, Claes Loberg, plans to relocate to split time between India and Indonesia

Guvera chief executive, Claes Loberg, remained undaunted, at least publicly, arguing he was transforming the Indian operation and “getting everything into a working fashion”. Little has been heard from Guvera since.

As Grey Singapore’s I Sea app was removed from the shortlist of global advertising awards show Ad Stars, the creative mind behind the flawed app, Ali Shabaz, pulled out of judging the Spikes Asia awards, citing the “critical illness of a family member”.

Shannon Cullum, the former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore returned to the industry as chief executive of MullenLowe.

It may have made a lot of noise – or tried to – but 45% of people in Asia Pacific told a survey they were unaware of the launch of Netflix in the region.

In marginally better news for the streaming firm, 63% of those who did know of Netflix believed it will have a positive impact on the media industry and pay-TV due to increased competition.

The boss emerging markets for Asia’s largest media buying agency, Mindshare, criticised third party auditors for stirring “paranoia” in the client community by perpetuating a model based on price and not results.

Ashutosh Srivastava

Ashutosh Srivastava, chairman and CEO for AMEA, Russia and emerging markets, said auditors built their businesses by creating distrust between clients and media agencies. He claimed pitch was an outdated way of assessing a media agency’s capabilities.

“One thing I find bizarre is the concept of pitching. You have a two-hour time slot to present, some back checks will be done on credibility and financials, then you’ll be chosen for a basic service,” Srivastava said.


Singtel’s head of content, Anurag Dahiya, told the Content Asia Summit that piracy remained the biggest competitive threat to pay-TV and video on-demand providers in Asia, not new entrants like Netflix and Viu.

He said the laws in place to tackle piracy are too weak, and suggested the main responsibility for tackling piracy lies with the content owners.

Saatchi & Saatchi boss Kevin Roberts, who brought forward his retirement following sexist remarks made during an interview, departed with a swipe at the “cold and timid souls” who attacked him.

The boss of News Corp’s Wall Street Journal owner Dow Jones warmed the cockles of many traditional publisher’s hearts by accusing outlets such as Buzzfeed of churning out “made-up lists masquerading as journalism”.

Dow Jones

Will Lewis pulled no punches during a speech at the NewsMediaWorks Future Forum in Sydney, and insisted the “trust and quality” of firms like News Corp will win the day.

“When it comes to consuming the content that matters, people will choose healthy eating over digital junk food,” he said. “Trust and confidence in our journalism, I think, is now winning.”

Also throwing around accusations was Kevin Hagino, senior regional brand manager for Lego Southeast Asia, who likened brands to prostitutes in their approach to branded content

Eileen Chan, Janice Chan and Kevin Hagino at Millennial 2020 todayWith so many channels to reach consumers, Hagino said it has become too easy for brands to produce content, and were “throwing” it at consumers without a clear strategy.

“Some brands are essentially prostituting themselves by throwing their brand and their content at consumers and desperately saying ‘watch me’,” he told a conference. “They’ll do anything or say anything to get people to watch it.”

Australia PR agency Havas launched the Red Agency in Singapore, promising to bring “unblinkered creativity” to the citystate.

Southeast Asian car-hailing app Grab deleted a film that suggested ojeks – the traditional motorbike form of transport  in Indonesia – were dangerous and could lead to serious injury.

Grab Indonesia ad

A 45-second commercial showed a young woman’s face and body gradually become riddled with bloody injuries as she considered riding with an Ojek driver.

Grab did not apologise, insisted it was not intended to shock, but admitted the graphics “may have been grim and disturbing”.

IPG Mediabrands hired David Haddad from UM in Sydney to run the Singapore office, replacing Pat Lim.

Details emerged that showed Japanese agency giant Dentsu had been overcharging its client, Toyota, for digital media in its home territory.

Dentsu declined to confirm the individual brands involved citing client confidentiality, but told Mumbrella Asia that “inappropriate operations” regarding digital media trades have been taking place.

It soon emerged the transparency scandal extended to 100 Dentsu’s clients and 160 incidences of irregularities in digital media pricing over a three year period. Dentsu later apologised for overcharging a total of 111 clients for digital media valued at ¥230 million (US$2.3 million)


Dentsu Utama winning AOY in 2015. The agency was later disqualified for plagiarism

Malaysia’s top awards show, the Kancil Awards, revealed it will not stage the awards in 2016 after a number of scam and plagiarism controversies but would return in 2017 with a revamped format.

The main change to drive greater transparency is to award ideas not by medium but by business category. Also, work submitted for a campaign cannot be re-submitted as single entries, which will stop one idea winning everything.

The changes come in response to an “urgent need to refresh” the show to remain relevant, 4As president Dato’ Johnny Mun said.

Social media giant Facebook admitted it had been overestimating the length of video views on its platform by as much as 80%, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The paper cited a letter sent to Publicis Media in the US which admitted the site had “overestimated average time spent watching videos by between 60% and 80%”.




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