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Andy Greenaway on the sorry state of creativity in Asia

Andy GreenawayAndy Greenaway is one of Asia’s top creatives. He was regional ECD of Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi and is eight months into his role running the APAC creative team at tech-meets-brand agency Sapient Nitro.

In this interview, he tells Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks about the fool’s gold that is scam, how hard it is to find talent in Asia and why Dumb Ways to Die is not the future of communications.

So, what’s your view on the state of creativity in Asia at the moment?

It’s fair to say that creativity is not at its height in Asia.

We’re not evolving with the real world. And not just in Asia, but globally we’re out of touch. There are some nice ideas out there, but nothing big and meaningful that is taking clients where they need to go.

Dumb Ways to Die

The future of comms?

Look at McCann’s Dumb Ways to Die [which was just earned Spikes Asia’s advertisers of the year for Metro Trains]. It’s a beautiful piece of content. But it looks like it could have been done by the guys behind Sesame Street.

I would be proud to have work like this in my book. But if I was to talk to students about the future of communications, I wouldn’t talk about this campaign.

What’s the cause of the problem?

The first thing is the greed factor. The big agency networks are run by bankers who don’t care about doing the right thing creatively, as it’s not in their interests. Taking risks could mean losing money.

It’s also because agencies are stuck in silos. Take Ogilvy, TBWA or BBDO. They have digital sibling agencies, which have their own bottom lines. This causes infighting and ultimately the work suffers.

Often, these agencies will go into pitches on their own, because they don’t want to work with their traditional sister companies. But they don’t have the big ideas behind them, and they’re trained to think in terms of small banner ads and microsites.

Plus, the ad guys are still not adept at digital, and it’s hard to find hybrid people who can do both.

Who in Asia would you describe as a hybrid creative?

Ralph Barnett

Ralph Barnett

Graham Kelly [regional ECD at Isobar], Ralph Barnett [creative director at Sapient Nitro in Australia] and Mike Kennedy [national creative lead at Sapient Nitro in Australia] are the only guys I can think of.

I’m now looking to hire a creative director for the Singapore office, but I’m really struggling to find someone who fits the hybrid mould. I’ve been looking in Australia, but I’m finding that people don’t want to leave home. In Asia, it’s simply been hard to find anyone who understands both side of the coin. I’m having to broaden the scope of my search to North America.

What I’m looking for is a classic DM creative. They might not be tech savvy, but what’s more important is that they understand one to one communications, which digital allows you to do. This sort of creative works at an agency like Crispin Porter + Bogusky, but agencies like that don’t exist in Asia. Ogilvy may call themselves integrated, but in reality they’re very siloed.

John Hegarty has said that Asia will never be dominant force in advertising if it doesn’t cut out scam. What’s your view?

Scam is a major distraction for big agencies who are investing in highly paid talent to do fake work. It’s just not sustainable. The reality is that those guys – and they know who they are – do so much of it that they soon find that can no longer produce real work.

And these guys are terrible with clients. They’ll say, yes, this work will win awards, but of course clients don’t care about awards.

Scam creates a false ecosystem filled with people who are not rooted in reality. It’s all about ego and winning metal – but it’s fool’s gold. The whole thing has become about climbing league tables with ever larger volumes of scam, and it’s become very destructive.

I know people have accused me of doing my fair share of scam in my time, but I cut myself off from that game in 2008. I talked to the leadership team at Saatchi & Saatchi at the time, and I said that it’s distracting me from the real work. Saatchi’s were the kings of print, but we didn’t have a digital presence.

I haven’t done a print campaign in five years. People say that print is still important, but that’s rubbish. The only people who say that and mean it are newspaper publishers.

Which markets in Asia are doing the best work?

Australia. But then it’s not really part of Asia, it should be tagged on to the back of Europe. It’s a mature market where clients want a higher standard of work. The rest of Asia is still lagging behind.

Thailand used to produce great TV work, but political and financial woes have proved to be a serious distraction for brands.

Japan is still a very interesting place creatively. But like Australia, it’s an odd cousin in Asia, where there are proper budgets and you can produce work with scale.

I’m not interested in print ads for bicycle shops in Singapore.

Twitter said this week that brands are not making the most of social media? What’s your view?

Everyone is fighting for the social media space, but it is still comes down to creativity.

Give a fan page to a PR company, they will treat it like a series of press releases. Media agencies see social media as a threat to their livelihood, which is why they’re creating fan pages for clients for free. They want to protect their turf and stop the guys who are good at social media from coming in.

Traditional companies are still really struggling with social media, which needs to be short, sharp and fast. The new world is being shaped by movie makers straight out of college. The production values may not be too high, but the idea is more important than the craft.

Give us an example of a good social media campaign

The last campaign I did for Saatchi and Saatchi was a series of videos for Subway at Christmas time. The idea was for Singaporeans to have a fitter Christmas by eating at Subway. We shot the videos quickly and I directed them myself. The engagement rate was 45 per cent, and sales increased by 15 per cent year on year.

What needs to happen to boost creativity in Asia?

The silo mentality in agencies is what is holding back creativity. The barriers need to be broken down, and communications brought together in a seamless way. Only then will we see the end of small, scammy campaigns. It will be clients who buy big marketing campaigns who really make a difference.

The future is in content – that’s the next big wave coming our way. 12 per cent of marketing budgets are spent on content in the US. And whatever happens in the US, will eventually reach Asia.

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