The year in review: January to March – Award disqualifications; TV streaming wars; Publicis Group shake-up; senior staff on move

The past 12 months have again seen major change in the world of media and marketing. In the first of our four-part year in review, we look at the major stories that made headlines between January and March.


The year began much as 2015 ended – with controversies swirling around award-winning creative work.

While Dentsu Utama was cleared of copying a skateboard design for its work for a topical liniment brand, two other award-winning works from the agency were also investigated, and this time disqualified by Malaysia 4As, the organiser of the Kancil Awards.

The work, “Professional Man”, a campaign for internet privacy awareness firm Web Privacy Watch, and “Cross River Gorilla”, an anti-poaching campaign for the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia were found to contain “almost identical images” to previous works by a Swedish artist and a British design student.


Dentsu Aegis resigned from the 4As in protest, describing the decision to withdraw the awards as “unfounded”.

Internet movie and TV streaming site, Netflix began to flex its local muscles with the appointment of its first communications director for Asia Pacific, Jessica Lee, the former chief communications officer at McDonald’s Greater China.

It then launched its first marketing activity originated in Asia, with a series of videos to promote the on-demand streaming service.

In a further development in the OTT market, Hong Kong’s newly launched on-demand streaming content brand Viu, expanded to Singapore and said “localisation and relevance” will be the key battleground for over-the-top service providers in the race for subscribers in Asia.

Jeff Bezos as Lord VishnuFortune magazine apologised for the cover of its January edition, which featured the boss of Amazon Jeff Besos in the form of Hindu god Lord Vishnu. The apology followed a complaint from a Hindu group that claimed the portrayal of Besos as Lord Vishnu was offensive to followers of the religion.

Fortune’s editor Alan Murray admitted the illustration had been a mistake, but stressed it had not intended to cause offence.

The APAC head of Hootsuite, Simon Trilsbach, moved on after only 12 months in the role, and returned to his former employer, Experian, as GM for data quality, for Southeast Asia and India.

Just days later, Yvonne Tey, Hootsuite’s APAC marketing director, also left.

Meanwhile, scam remained a hot topic – as it would do for the remainder of the year – with ad agency DDB announcing it would scale back involvement in award shows. Its lead global creative Amir Kassaei said the industry is “willing to sacrifice our integrity” over awards.

Kassaei said it was time to “stop the madness”.

asir“Not only by talking about it, but by also doing something against it. So we at DDB will not play this mad game,” he said. “We will be coming up with a plan to divest ourselves from the madness. We at DDB want to be recognized for the real work that we do for our real clients and their real problems, and if, on top of that, we get some applause from the industry for it, we’ll be happy.”

In an unusual idea, Singapore Tourism Board used the citystate’s stray cats to attract tourists to neighbourhood areas. Titled A Purrfect Singapore Audition, stray cats were ‘auditioned’ to find one to represent the hipster neighbourhood area of Tiong Bahru.

Better Together, the Singapore agency consortium formed from a number of independent agencies from different marketing disciplines, announced its first new clients won as a collective.

The new business wins included ORBA’s annual fashion show Samsung Fashion Steps Out, which Better Together won after a five-way pitch as a combined unit.

Tiger Beer commercial by Droga5 Sydney

Tiger Beer commercial by Droga5 Sydney

Tiger Beer came under fire from a Singapore ad agency boss who suggested the new ad is the product of a non-local agency that has used questionable insights into Asian men.

Aaron Koh, a former BBH Shanghai and DDB Singapore creative who is founder and creative director of independent agency GOVT, said: “Honestly, I don’t understand a thing from this spot.”

“It’s just words from a foreigner that got “insights” from some Asian dude in the non-local agency,” he said, referring to the narrative voice in the ad. The ad was one of the last works from Droga Sydney before it closed down.

Dentsu Aegis Network, the advertising agency group formed from the merger of Dentsu and Aegis in 2014, combined its Asia Pacific and Southeast Asia finance, legal, IT, HR and communications teams in a bid to cut costs.

The merger led to a number of key staff leaving the business, including the regional chief financial officer of Dentsu, Theo Lau.

“It is the responsibility of management to run the business as efficiently as possible and eliminate duplicate costs in order to invest in productive areas of the business,” Nick Waters, APAC CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network wrote.

The political shake-up at Dentsu Aegis was likened to Game of Thrones in an analysis penned by Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks.


More work recognised by judges, but ultimately discovered not to be all it seemed, emerged, leading Nikon Singapore to apologise for its “oversight” in awarding a photography prize to an image that had been photoshopped.


Chay Yu Wei won a Nikon trolley bag for a photograph he took of a set of ladders that had amazingly captured the precise moment a plane had passed overhead.

However, it was quickly pointed out on Facebook that, after playing with the levels settings, the photograph was a fake.

A study by research firm Forrester found Twitter is among the most heavily used social media by marketers in Asia Pacific, but also one of the least satisfying in terms of meeting business objectives for brands’ campaigns.

Netflix continued its recruitment drive with the former director of marketing for Nike Japan, Taka Osaki, named as its lead marketer for the region.



The head of Singapore’s Association of Accredited Advertising Agents urged the local creative community to “be brave” and not to pitch for briefs which appear “ridiculous”.

Bernard Chan comments came amid anger at a brief posted on government portal GeBiz that insisted “unlimited changes” could be made if the client so desired.

The brief went viral after a designer posted it on her Facebook page with the words “please share this post if you are against Unlimited Changes”. Chan waded into the debate saying: “I would encourage agencies and designers not to pitch for this kind of brief.”

Media agency Zenith Optimedia launched its new network Blue 449 in Asia Pacific, led by Zenith Optimedia’s regional MD of international clients Nico Guiridlian.

The new network, which emerged out of Walker Media, the British media buying company Publicis Groupe acquired in 2014, was positioned as ‘the open source media agency’ with a focus on innovation.

Proving that no name is too big for a brand, arguably Philippines’ greatest ever sporting hero, boxer Manny Pacquiao, lost a lucrative endorsement contract with Nike after he described homosexuals as “worse than animals”.

pasqNike described Pacquiao’s comments as “abhorrent”, and insisted it has a “long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community”. Nike promptly sacked the boxer.

Iris and key client Heineken ended a seven-year relationship in Singapore and went their separate ways, with the agency citing frustration with having to adapt global ideas for the local market.

Explaining the decision, Iris Singapore boss Craig Mapleston said: “Over the last few years, the direction has changed to a more global approach. We’ve had a lot of discussions with Heineken, and we’ve decided not to renew our contract for 2016”.

Marketers in Singapore are getting bogged down by the operational side of content marketing, and spend less time on core marketing and brand activities as a result, a study by Accenture revealed.

More than half of the marketers surveyed in Singapore stated they spend more time on the operational details of content marketing, such as getting legal and leadership approval and tagging content, than on other parts of their job.

Programmatic firm TubeMogul launched an initiative that gave compensation to advertisers for fake web traffic generated by bots.

The demand-side platform said it would issue credits to clients on a monthly basis for video ad impressions served on open exchange inventory that are identified as fraudulent by White Ops, a web security firm with which TubeMogul had partnered.


iflixKuala Lumpur-based internet TV provider Iflix announced it was launching in Indonesia, and hired Cam Walker from Emtek Group to run the operation in Jakarta.

Indonesia was the company’s fourth market, after Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

In a number of senior staff moves, the country head of Dentsu Aegis Network in the Philippines, Miguel Ramos, stepped down from the role, and was replaced by Angelito Pangilinan, better known in the industry by his nickname BoyP.

Elsewhere, Don Anderson moved on from We Are Social where he had been regional managing director.

Anderson also stepped down from his position as chairman of the Asia Content Marketing Association, with Andrea Edwards, director of content marketing and training at Novus Asia, named executive director. Later in the month, Anderson joined YouTube as head of kids and learning partnerships for Asia Pacific.

Chris ChiuMeanwhile, Chris Chiu left Leo Burnett Singapore just months after rejoining the agency.

Sources suggested Chiu was uncomfortable with an arrangement that saw Publicis Worldwide Singapore boss Lou Dela Pena handed a broader group role overseeing the agency brands under Publicis Communications – which includes Leo Burnett.

A photographer exposed the approach of a social media agency which asked to use his work for free, pointing out that creatives “will not be able to survive on credits and exposure”.

DSTNCT approached photographer Tan Zexun through Instagram to seek permission to use his pictures for the company’s ‘Real Life’ campaign, saying he would be credited but not paid. Tan refused and then went public.

DSTNCT later responded to Tan, saying it fully supported his position on fairly remunerating creative work and that the use of his pictures would have been restricted to Instagram.

menMediacorp responded to criticism that its judging panel to select creatives to represent Singapore in the Young Lions at Cannes did not contain one woman.

The media firm, faced with accusations that its all-male panel was sending “the wrong message”, insisted female creatives had been invited to join the panel, but their schedules had conflicted with the judging period.

“We take careful effort to select our jury members,” the broadcaster said. “They are veterans of the creative industry with different strengths from diverse disciplines.”

Publicis Groupe announced a global restructure that saw six agency brands reduced to four, and Zenith Optimedia boss Gerry Boyle assume overall leadership of group brand Publicis Media in APAC.

The changes saw media agency brand names Zenith Optimedia and Starcom MediaVest Group retired, and replaced with Starcom, Zenith, Mediavest | Spark and Optimedia | Blue 449.

The founder of social media agency Vocanic, Ian McKee, suddenly departed the company he founded 11 years ago.

His departure came  just over two years after his firm was acquired by GroupM to sit along side media agency brands Maxus, MEC, MediaCom and Mindshare in Southeast Asia.

In what made uncomfortable reading for public relations agencies, a study by the World Federation of Advertisers suggested marketers in Southeast Asia believe PR agencies are the weakest link in their agency supply chain.

PR firms featured lowest in a survey in which regional and local marketers in ASEAN were asked to assess the agency disciplines they use.

Prashant KumarNews emerged that IPG Mediabrands Asia world markets president Prashant Kumar was in discussions about his future after 13 years with the company.

Rumours circulated that he had resigned, but the company said he was being offered other opportunities within IPG. Sources suggest he had quit and will leave the company in April.

Margaret Lim, the long-serving head of Aegis Media, and later Dentsu Aegis Network following the Dentsu-Aegis merger, announced her retirement after 46 years in the business.

She was succeeded as CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia by former McCann and Grey executive Nicky Lim, who joined the agency group from Geometry Global as COO.

A week after facing accusations that he had made racist and sexist comments, the global boss of J Walter Thompson, Gustavo Martinez, quit.

The agency’s parent, WPP, issued a statement saying: “By mutual agreement, Martinez has resigned in the best interest of the J. Walter Thompson Company.”

TBWA\Singapore’s ‘Welcome to Uber’ commercial won ad of the year at the Mumbrella Asia Awards.

The agency also claimed the Southeast Asia agency of the year crown and won pro bono campaign of the year for #howru for Samaritans of Singapore.

The World Federation of Advertisers risked irritating marketers by suggesting too many of them were getting distracted by new tools and the digital and data play, and were overlooking the fundamentals of marketing.

Talking to delegates at a conference in Kuala Lumpur, David Wheldon, CMO of RBS and head of the WFA, said marketers should stop believing that the definition of marketing has changed even though the industry was going through radical upheaval.

“Once you think the definition of marketing has changed – you are already on the way to killing marketing,” he told his audience in KL.

IPG Mediabrands confirmed the appointment of Bala Pomaleh as CEO of its Malaysian operation.

Pomaleh, the former CEO of Carat Malaysia, took over from Prashant Kumar who confirmed reports earlier in the month that he was leaving to “pursue new opportunities”.

Also departing was Ashley Stewart, the Singapore boss of JCDecaux who left after 18 years with the outdoor ad company. He was replaced by deputy MD Evlyn Yang who returned to the firm in June 2014.

TribeThe launch of another online streaming provider in Asia added to the already crowded marketplace in the region as Malaysian pay TV operator Astro became the latest company to enter the rapidly growing sector.

Astro pledged a “mobile first” approach for its service, called Tribe, with “tailored content”.

Tribe initially launched in Indonesia in a partnership with Malaysia-based telco Axiata but said it has plans to expand across SoutheastAsia during the year.

TBWA\Singapore chief creative officer Edmund Choe, looking ahead to starting work on the Singapore Tourism Board account, suggested previous campaigns for the STB had lacked vision.

He said previous work for STB had not been selling Singapore properly. “They have been trying to say too much. They need to have more of a vision for what we say about Singapore, it needs to be more focused,” he said.

Choe’s comments prompted TBWA Group Asia president Philip Brett to distance the agency from the observations, while Choe issued a statement saying he was “deeply regretful” for sharing what were “personal views” of STB’s marketing.



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