The year in review: April to June – Dentsu Aegis hits acquisition trail; more plagiarism; IPG boss departs; award-winning app ‘a fake’

In the second part of our review of the year, Steve Jones visits the major stories which broke during April, May and June.


Merdeka LHSDentsu Aegis acquired one of Malaysia’s top independent creative agency brands, Merdeka LHS.

Formed by industry heavyweights Tony Savarimuthu, Huang Ean Hwa and Szu H. Lee, Merdeka LHS retained its brand under the newly formed Dentsu LHS Group to be led by Savarimuthu.

Dick van Motman, Dentsu Aegis Network’s Southeast Asia CEO told Mumbrella the company’s strategy was about “creating lighthouses” – by which he meant developing markets where agencies may not be the largest in terms of advertising spend, but punch above their weight creatively.

Publicis One, the new global division of Publicis Groupe that oversees all agencies outside its top 20 countries, named Nicolas Menat, president of Japan-based advertising agency Beacon Communications., as its Asia boss.

A number of senior exits from Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore increased speculation that the agency may be withdrawing from the local market, a rumour that was categorically denied by Robert Senior, the global head of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide.

saatchiThe speculation was sparked by the departures of CEO Shannon Cullum and chief operations director Esther Yue, who worked for Saatchi & Saatchi for 41 years combined. Their roles were not replaced.

Dentsu Aegis Network followed up its acquisition of Merdeka LHS by snapping up Malaysian digital agency Consider Digital for an undisclosed sum.

The new agency was rebranded Consider iProspect, and was led by Consider’s co-founder Kasper Wandi as CEO.

peacockPlagiarism reared its head again after Singapore agency Tofu Design was accused of copying the work of British fashion photographer Tim Walker for a campaign for Singapore’s ION Orchard shopping mall.

The work from Tofu featured a woman dressed in a white gown with peacock feathers sprouting from her back while sitting next to a white peacock.

It was, as noted by Kuala Lumpur-based creative CK Koo on Facebook, remarkably similar to work produced by Walker.

The promotional material was soon removed with ION saying it respects the intellectual property rights of artists and expects the same of the creative partners.

Tofu apologised and acknowledged “we should have exercised better oversight and control over its contents”.

The CEO and co-founder of Netflix admitted the high cost of licensing content was limiting the firm’s progress in Asia.

Talking to staff and journalists in Singapore, Reed Hastings acknowledged the limited slate of content on the platform in Singapore was “frustrating” for customers.

Meanwhile, Netflix rival Iflix hired a head of Asia, David Goldstein, previously an advisor to the CEO of Malaysia telco giant Axiata.

Neil French, one of the most revered figures in Asian advertising, entered the debate over sexism in adland by attacking a post by prominent ad exec turned gender equality activist Cindy Gallop.

French, who left his role as worldwide creative director of WPP in 2005 after remarks he made about female creatives, suggested in a post on Facebook that Gallop had overblown an account of sexual harassment she suffered one year at Cannes.


Ogilvy Asia Pacific chief executive and chairman Paul Heath was handed a global role in New York, with Kent Wertime and Chris Reitermann named co-CEOs.

Wertime, the network’s regional COO, remained in Bangkok overseeing Southeast Asia and India, and Reitermann continued to perform his role as China CEO, based in Shanghai.

Darren Yuen

Darren Yuen

In another senior change, Darren Yuen moved on from Carat in Malaysia after 19 years with the media agency and took the MD role at BPN.

He joined the IPG Mediabrands agency just one month after he was promoted to CEO of Carat Malaysia, with the move reuniting Yuen with former Carat colleague Bala Pomale who in March had replaced Prashant Kumar as CEO.

The global creative head at Grey came to the defence of his agency’s work in Asia, some of which had been called out for taking advantage of serious social issues in developing countries to win awards.

Per Pederson insisted the agency never produces work for the sole purpose of winning metal, but rather uses awards as a “testing ground” for ideas.


Pederson’s comments came after Grey unveiled a series of creative ideas from Asia in the lead up to the Cannes awards deadline, including a mosquito-killing umbrella in Malaysia, English-teaching candy sellers in India and, as press released yesterday, a way to reduce the temperature of rural Bangladeshi homes using a grid of plastic bottles.

In a related story, the head of Unilever Indonesia, warned that agencies should not forget their purpose in their pursuit of awards.

Asked what he thought of agencies producing a large volume of work to help good causes at this time of year, just before the deadline for Cannes Lions, Hemant Bakshi said: “I personally think there’s nothing wrong with awards. Therefore if you do quality work and it gets recognised, we all want that. But when work is done for awards and not for the consumer then that is shallow, it’s unauthentic. It’s honestly not worth it.”

Malaysia Airlines appointed GroupM as its media agency, replacing IPG Mediabrands, which handled the business through the most difficult time in the airline’s history.

IPG Mediabrands retained duties for social media.

In another significant media move, Singapore telco StarHub appointed Dentsu Aegis Network agency Carat after a five-month review. The decision brought the curtain down on a seven-year relationship with incumbent Mindshare.

panelMashable Asia editor Victoria Ho said what many journalists think by suggesting it “feels shitty” to write content for brands.

During a debate on the future of journalism in Singapore, university journalism lecturer Lau Joon-Nie also said writers feel “schizophrenic” if assigned to write both editorial and commercial pieces.

The event was chaired by former CNBC anchor Mark Laudi, who said traditional publishers would not survive unless they embraced native advertising and journalists wrote for brands.

At the same seminar, Joon-Nie said the dwindling number of journalists employed in newsrooms could “save the press release”.

Former IPG Mediabrands CEO Prashant Kumar joined an “experimental marketing” company called Entropia.

The KL-based firm proposed to find ways to “re-conceive the future of marketing” at a time of chaos for the agency business.


News emerged that Sapient Nitro’s Singapore-based regional creative director Bruce Matchett had left the agency to join Australian independent ad agency Banjo in Sydney as creative partner.

Andy Greenaway

Andy Greenaway

Days later, Andy Greenaway, one of the region’s most notable creative directors, also left Sapient after three and a half years running the creative department across Asia Pacific.

Greenaway joined Dentsu Singapore as executive creative director.

A report concluded that Singapore has one of biggest gaps globally between the amount of time people spend using digital devices and the amount advertisers spend on digital platforms.

A report by Datalicious and Econsultancy found advertisers in Singapore are massively overspending on print, which takes 42% ad share but only 10% of Singaporeans’ media consumption time, and ploughing just 13% of their budget into digital.

Cindy Gallop continued her mission to promote equality in the workplace by claiming businesses that embrace diversity are set to make a “goddam shit-tonne of money”.

Cindy Gallop at Mumbrella360 this morning

Speaking at the Mumbrella360 conference in Sydney, Gallop, the former APAC boss of BBH, said: “If you start any business today with an all-white male leadership team you will never own the future”.

Gallop also said sexual harassment in the ad industry is “endemic” and accused agencies of covering up cases to avoid negative publicity.

In what became Mumbrella Asia’s most read story of 2016, Grey Singapore’s ‘I Sea’ app, designed to save refugees from drowning, was called out as a fake by technology experts.

I Sea app

The app, which supposedly enabled people to scan the Mediterranean ocean for stranded boats carrying fleeing migrants, was also removed from the Apple Store and criticised by the client for not working. Remarkably, it still won an award at the Cannes Lions advertising awards show.

The client, Migrant Offshore Aid Network, said it had not been involved in the creation of the app, adding: “We [do not] feel that there [are] any advantages to having the public scan old sat images for potential disasters that in reality unfold in seconds.”

The merry-go-round of agency departures and hires continued as Chris Chiu, who left Leo Burnett Singapore in March, joined J. Walter Thompson in a senior creative role.

Leo Burnett went legal after rebutting claims from a film-maker who claimed the agency’s ‘Rubber boy’ Chinese New Year film for Petronas was a rip-off of her idea.


Using the hashtag #LeoburnettPlagiarism, Malaysian director Tan Chui Mui said she pitched the idea and story for Rubber boy to the agency in 2014, but was rejected.

Leo Burnett also rejected the plagiarism claims and told Tan to take down the accusation from social media or face legal consequences. Tan remained defiant.


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