Updated: Dentsu Aegis to acquire Malaysian independent Merdeka LHS

Merdeka LHSDentsu Aegis is to acquire one of Malaysia’s top independent creative agency brands Merdeka LHS, Mumbrella can reveal.

The agency formed by industry heavyweights Tony Savarimuthu, Huang Ean Hwa and Szu H. Lee just over three years ago is to become part of the Dentsu Aegis Network family that includes agency brands Dentsu, Dentsu Utama, Carat, iProspect and Isobar.

Following the acquisition, Merdeka LHS will continue to operate as a separate brand under the newly formed Dentsu LHS Group that will be led by Savarimuthu.

Huang and Lee will become chief creative officers with Huang also chairman of Merdeka LHS.

The trio formed Merdeka LHS in February 2013 after a successful decade at McCann, where they won agency of the year six times.

The trioIn the three years since, their achievements have included the launch of a men’s personal care range Bad Lab, work for the likes of Nescafe, Renault, Kinibiz, Autobahn and Vaseline, and a remuneration model where the agency is paid as a result of the performance of the client.

Merdeka LHS, which goes by the mantra ‘Enemy of the same’, differentiates itself as a strategic brand agency positioned upstream from traditional players, and as the name ‘Merdeka’ – meaning independence in Malay – suggests, has marketed itself as an free-thinking operator.

It will be interesting to see how the Merdeka LHS approach will fit within the Dentsu Aegis Network corporate culture.

Lee said in an interview with The Star newspaper in 2014: “We work with people with an entrepreneurial spirit. A lot of the marketers and brand guardians have lost that spirit because they were shackled by organisation and process. They need their Merdeka to capture back that spirit.”

The agency joins a group that has just announced new leadership under Nicky Lim, who succeeded long-time group chief executive Margaret Lim three weeks ago, and four months after the group found itself at the centre of a plagiarism scandal. Dentsu Utama was adjudged to have copied the work of various artists in its submissions for local awards show the Kancils.

The acquisition is the latest in a string of acquisitions made by Dentsu Aegis in Southeast Asia, including JaymeSyfu and Aspac in the Philippines, Mangham Gaxiola and Band in Singapore, and is one to chalk off the 60 acquisition targets highlighted by Dentsu’s boss outside of Japan, Tim Andree, earlier this year.

Dick van Motman, Dentsu Aegis Network’s Southeast Asia CEO, who has overseen a number of acquisitions for the group over the last two years, including BWM in Australia, told Mumbrella this morning that the company’s strategy is about “creating lighthouses” in markets where agencies maybe not be the largest in terms of advertising spend, but punch above their weight creatively.


Dentsu Aegis has confirmed the acquisition of Merdeka LHS, saying in a statement the purchase was “part of a carefully planned evolution of Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia”.

Savarimuthu described Dentsu as a “formidable force”.

The statement in full:

Dentsu Aegis Network today announces that it signed a definitive agreement to acquire Merdeka LHS Sdn. Bhd. (Merdeka LHS), a creative boutique and brand consultancy led by Malaysia’s acclaimed advertising practitioners Tony Savarimuthu, Huang Ean Hwa and Szu Lee. Merdeka LHS will join forces with Dentsu Malaysia to form Dentsu LHS.

Founded in 2013 and based in Kuala Lumpur, Merdeka LHS was the brainchild of Savarimuthu, Huang and Lee. They had previously led McCann Worldgroup Malaysia for a decade steering the agency to phenomenal business growth and collectively winning six Agency of the Year awards and over 750 creative and effectiveness awards. Huang and Lee were also the winners of Malaysia’s first-ever Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival in 1999.

Savarimuthu will lead the newly formed Dentsu LHS Group, serving as its Chief Executive Officer. Strengthening the operations are both Huang and Lee who will be appointed as Chief Creative Officers. In addition, Merdeka LHS will continue operations as a brand under Dentsu LHS with Huang as its Chairman. Merdeka LHS will offer brand invention and design solutions with Islamic consulting forming part of their portfolio of services.

Takaki Hibino, Chief Executive Officer of Dentsu Branded Agencies in Asia-Pacific said: “Bringing these industry leaders into our network will power up our business offerings for our clients and strengthen our creative ambitions in the region. We anticipate lots of great work to come out of this new and exciting agency.”

Dick van Motman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dentsu Aegis Network Southeast Asia said: “The acquisition of Merdeka LHS is part of a carefully planned evolution of Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia.

“It began with Nicky Lim’s appointment as CEO of the network followed by Darren’s promotion to CEO of Carat and now the addition of the exceptional talent of Tony, Hwa and Szu to the leadership team. Together, Merdeka LHS and Dentsu Malaysia will form a new agency proposition for the digital age, with complementary skills in innovation and creativity that will benefit our clients.

“This is an exciting step for all stakeholders and I look forward to seeing the new leadership team flourish, charting the next chapter of growth for Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia.”

Championing the acquisition, Nicky Lim, Chief Executive Officer of Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia said: “This acquisition marks the dawn of a new era for Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia where the name of the game is delivering innovative solutions.

“This new partnership between Merdeka LHS and Dentsu Malaysia lends added creative strength for the Dentsu Aegis Network in Malaysia – truly a win for everyone. I’m confident that people of the calibre of Tony, Hwa and Szu will continue to strive further in their pursuit for creative excellence and maximise our collective abilities to grow our clients’ businesses.”

Tony Savarimuthu, CEO of Dentsu LHS commented: “Dentsu is a formidable force in the way they approach media, technology, content, sponsorships and integrate this with creative and innovative solutions. The mission of Merdeka LHS fits well within Dentsu and we see many synergies and game changing opportunities ahead. We are committed to innovate the way brands are built for our clients.”

The deal is expected to close in early April.


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