The year in review: Mumbrella Asia’s most-read stories in 2017

As we wave goodbye to 2017, Mumbrella Asia looks back over a year that gave us media upheaval in Singapore, some unforgettable campaigns – both good and bad – and the repercussions of the Harvey Weinstein scandal on the advertising industry

1) That Pepsi ad: It probably seemed like a good idea on the storyboards. Take a topical, yet emotive issue  – Black Lives Matter in this case – and one of the world’s most bankable celebrities – Kendall Jenner – and what do you get? Well according to Ad Contrarian and Mumbrella Asia columnist Bob Hoffman, the worst commercial in the history of advertising.

For those who need a memory refresher, the ad branded ‘unspeakably tone deaf’ by many in the advertising industry can be viewed here.

The usually forthright Hoffman was in no mood for mincing his words when it came to this ad shambles.

In particular, Hoffman’s ire was  directed at Pepsi’s president of the beverage group, Brad Jakeman, who had the ad made in-house due to his belief that agencies have “not kept change”.

“The spot in question has the smell of a Jakeman vanity project all over it,” Hoffman wrote. “It is the kind of cliché-festooned work that a talent-free amateur playing at creative director might concoct.”

“Pepsi’s blunder is just more proof that many marketers live in a fantasyland that is disassociated from the real world,” he added.

2) Agencies unable to respond fast enough to Grab: At the inaugural Mumbrella360 Asia conference, the marketing boss of taxi hailing firm Grab, Chery Goh, delivered an impassioned speech about bringing to life the brand’s campaigns in today’s fast-paced environment.

Saying Grab required campaigns to be executed within 24 hours, Goh created a lively debate within the industry when she said the firm sometimes avoids working with agencies because they are not able to turn around work fast enough.

“But as we got bigger it was speed. We do things really quickly, we can turn campaigns around in 24 hours. Even for bigger campaigns….a lot changes in a very shory amount of time which is why we have struggled to use agencies,” she said.

Photo credit: Chris Chong

3) The man who wants to automate PR: Another day, and another entrepreneur who has found yet another sector just ripe for disruption. In this case, the entrepreneur in question was a 28-year-old Australian called Chris Chong, who had already dipped his toes into a few start-up ventures – largely in coupons and e-commerce – when he decided to set up PR automation company SumoStory. Perhaps understandably, many of Asia’s seasoned PR professionals were not too pleased when Mumbrella Asia fist covered the story. 

It was maybe those PRs who felt a touch of schadenfreude months later when it emerged that Forbes magazine pulled four columns by Chong after he had used them to promote his clients.

4) Garena PR on finding ‘non-aggressive’ journalists: The head of communications for the games unicorn now-known-as Sea gave a very detailed insight into her media strategy during a talk at the Tech in Asia conference.

Si Wei Tan, the-then senior manager of corporate affairs, described Garena’s founder and CEO, Forrest Li, as “media shy” and only willing to carry out one press interview a year. As such, she explained to the audience how she would try to find “friendly” and “non-provocative” journalists to interview him.

5) The year’s most unforgettable campaign? BBH Singapore and Ikea’s catalogue campaigns have become something of an annual fanfare, and this year was no different. 

With a viral success like ‘Book Book’ to try and beat, BBH Singapore hired a purple-haired global memory champion to try and remember the entire 328-page 2018 catalogue in a bid to make a campaign few could forget.

6) The elephant in the room: Before SPH unceremoniously laid off 230 members of its workforce, Singapore’s second national media house, Mediacorp, went about its own “strategic digital pivot” – which saw the closure of daily newspaper Today and 40 job cuts. 

The struggles of Singapore’s flailing legacy print industry proved a hot topic throughout 2017, with independent title The Middle Ground also closing down. 

However, this feature looking at just how Mediacorp planned to “better face the new digital-first media landscape” seemed to strike a chord with many.

The Splice Newsroom’s Alan Soon  described the move as Mediacorp finally addressing “that elephant in the room that the print model needs to evolve”.

Sounding a message that many media owners have been afraid to hear for years, he said: “This is truly the golden age of media,” he said. “We’re able to reach, target and communicate with audiences like never before. And yet we’re missing that opportunity because we’re afraid to ask the questions that need to be asked.”

7) A touch of magic: In a year when there was no shortage of ad turkeys and suspect award entries, it’s rather nice to see this heartwarming commercial for Singapore Airlines’ 70th anniversary take a top 10 spot on our most-read list. The three-minute film, entitled The Magic Pen, centred on the theme of bringing people closer to their loved ones – and no doubt struck a chord with anyone who’s had to deal with a parent working overseas as a child.

8) A less than awesome year: 2017 kicked off in dramatic fashion with the acrimonious departure of Damien Cummings, the Singapore-based global head of digital marketing at Standard Chartered Bank.

Cummings joined SCB in mid-2015 but his role was made redundant “after a less than awesome time”, he wrote in a LinkedIn post at the time.

The former Singapore-based regional chief marketer of Philips, admitted his piece wasn’t “one of those happy ‘I had an amazing time at my last employer’ blog posts”. He now runs Peoplewave, a venture “helping people in the workforce overcome incompetent managers and apathetic HR teams”.

9) “We remain committed to developing our talent pool”, was the statement handed to Mumbrella Asia following the news that Ogilvy Singapore had let go of 20 people after losing their long-running account with Singtel. 

Ogilvy made a number of eye-catching campaigns for Singtel before being shunted for BBH

After a lengthy pitch, the Singaporean telco opted to end its three-year creative relationship with Ogilvy, handing lead agency reins to BBH, social to Goodstuph and production to Hogarth. However, ever cloud has as a silver lining as they say, as Ogilvy One got to keep the digital account.

10) #MeToo: In a year that brought to light the dark underbelly of sexual harassment that has perpetuated almost every industry for decades, Mumbrella Asia ran its own series on the scale of the issue in Asia’s media and marketing industry.

In the first of these, three industry figures – two women and one man – related their experiences and views on harassment in Asia’s industry. Their stories spoke of power abuse, sexual humiliation the ‘grey area’ of ‘what happens in the bar, stays in the bar’.


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