One Singapore agency network shows that good work can be done without scamming

Robin HicksThe quality of advertising in Singapore has seen better days. Which is why Robin Hicks is happy to pick out one agency that has been producing good work consistently – without cheating.

For those (like me) who are a bit cynical about the standard of advertising in Singapore, and feel that the most creative stuff isn’t actually advertising at all but fluff made for awards shows, there is one agency that is showing the market that you don’t have to fake it to do great work.

This black sheep has been delivering the goods for a while, albeit in a quieter fashion than some of its bigger rivals. What prompted me to write this is an ad that launched yesterday, for a government-linked insurance company, that reduced me to a blubbering mess.

A five-minute film for NTUC Income’s do-gooding arm, OrangeAid, tells the story of a young Singaporean girl from a poor family who is struggling to go to university while supporting her disabled father and two siblings.

For some agencies, this brief might have wound up as a two-minute case study video beautifully packaged up for Cannes. An app that allowed students to flip burgers and study at the same time, or a fleet of drones dropping aced exam papers from the sky, perhaps?

Call them old-fashioned, but BBH produced a film that told a story that elicited an emotion.

Would it win at Cannes? Probably not. It’s not really the sort of work that Cannes juries like to give Lions to these days. Where’s the crowd-sourced 3D printed QR code?

But like the agency’s ‘Bookbook’ campaign for Ikea last year, which was probably the best piece of content to emerge from Singapore in 2014, it is a good story well told.

BBH has shown itself apart through the clients it has lost as much as those it has won. Bad agencies always complain that it is impossible to produce good work for Singapore’s uber-conservative clients. But BBH managed to get some pretty good stuff out for Singapore Tourism Board – and look at how that’s working out for the agency that succeeded them, J. Walter Thompson. Here’s BBH’s ‘Get lost’ ad for STB from 2012.

Not all of BBH Singapore’s work is great, nor is it good too often. But in a crowded and commoditised market, the agency has managed to avoid falling into the Singapore advertising trap of churning out stuff that is either excruciatingly cheesy, unutterably bland or plain fake.

BBH is showing that even on the most conservative of conservative Singapore clients – like United Overseas Bank – good work can get made. Having dealt with UOB while chasing the story about BBH winning their account at the end of last year, my respect and admiration goes to the suits who managed to sell this work to their new client.

Would this win at Cannes? Nope. But in the Singapore context it probably deserves some sort of award.

And when a client like Nike comes along, BBH being BBH, will smash this sort of brief out of the park. This ad the Singapore office created for Nike in the Philippines.

Now, I can’t prove that BBH has never done any scam, and the agency enters awards like every other network (but mainly for effectiveness; it won a few for NTUC Income and Ikea at the Singapore Effies in May). But it does seem to be an exception in a market where pretty much every network agency, some more than others, pumped out the crap before awards season in April.

The difference with the work BBH sends out to journalists is that it has actually existed in the real world – on the side of buses, on TV, billboards and the web – rather than in the wet dream of a creative director. It might not win awards. But it might actually help a client, you know, sell stuff.

And knowing what John Hegarty, the H in BBH, feels about scam, I would fear for the lives of any BBH creative who has dared to fudge a media schedule or make up a client. Even though Sir John is not as involved as he once was, his legacy sits heavily on the shoulders of BBH creatives from London to Singapore.

By contrast, sitting on the shoulders of every creative at every other agency seems to be a mounting pressure to win awards. Climb the Gunn Report or the Campaignbrief rankings or you’re out.

But I’m not saying that no other network agency in Singapore is doing any good work apart from BBH.

BBDO Singapore’s SG50 campaign for Tiger Beer was charming and funny. DDB’s musical film for StarHub – released just yesterday – struck a local chord. I quite liked Ogilvy’s new “sweaters, snifflers, slurpers and weepers” ad for KFC, which was original for a stodgy category.

But I do wonder what the creative output of the big award-winning agencies would be like if there were no awards shows.

Some would argue it would be worse. Creatives are motived by awards. And good creatives want to work for award-winning agencies.

But to look at BBH, which celebrates 20 years in Singapore next year, you could probably argue that it would be better.

Robin Hicks is the editor of Mumbrella Asia


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing