Where has our creativity gone? It’s time Singapore lived up to its billing as an innovation capital

When Keith Byrne began to draw up a list of truly creative ad work in Singapore, the list quickly ran dry. In this guest post, the Digitas creative director explores the reasons behind the dearth of innovation and suggests how agencies and clients can produce more imaginative and effective campaigns

I recently travelled to Pattaya to judge ADFEST, one of Asia’s most celebrated and recognized advertising festivals. With my fellow judges, I was my tasked with selecting the most innovative work in the interactive and mobile categories.

Most of the 250 entries in these categories came from Australia, Japan and Thailand. Only one entry (yes, only one) came from Singapore and it didn’t make the shortlist. This got me thinking. Is Singapore just not creating innovative, interactive, mobile-first work?

I decided to set myself a task to list the most innovative Singaporean work from the past year. Work that should have entered ADFEST, and could have picked up a medal.

Ogilvy – IBM Watson which cleverly shows the power of AI and data. This campaign could have won a medal for best use of data. Why? Data is everywhere but not many brands know the power of it or what to do with it.

This campaign cleverly shows how IBM Watson digests and makes sense of a huge amount of data (500,000 images from 10 years of fashion archives), then turns that data into something useful and in this case beautiful, a Couture Collection.

Media Monks – Into The Wild where they partnered with Google, Lenovo and the World Wildlife Fund to build a brilliant immersive VR experience at the ArtScience Museum. This experience could have won a medal for best user experience for mobile. Why? The experience is seamless, exciting and impressively delivered over a large scale with it being the world’s largest ever VR experience.

A truly world class activation.

BBH – Hyper Court where they partnered with Nike and Google to create five digitally connected basketball courts in Manilla. This activation would have definitely stood a chance of winning best digital integrated campaign. Why? It perfectly bridges the gap between offline and online experience to empower young Filipino basketballers.

The five permanent Hyper Courts feature an on-court platform that players access with their smartphones (without using any data), connecting them to hundreds of training drills.

It’s here that I hit a road block and couldn’t think of any more examples. So I reached out to my fellow creatives and strategists to ask what had impressed them in the last 12 months.

This is where my little task got very interesting. Seven very experienced, senior digital professionals could only list a handful of genuinely innovative, award-winning, mobile-first initiatives.

The world is looking to Asia for digital innovation. In fact, Bloomberg rates Singapore as the third most innovative country in the world. But when it comes to advertising innovation it feels as if we are massively under-performing. And now the million-dollar question: Why?

Is it the regions reducing timelines and budgets that are hampering innovation? Is it Singapore’s notoriously conservative clients? Or maybe it’s simply that Singaporean agencies just don’t care about innovation.

They talk a good ‘innovation’ game but rarely back it up. It’s probably a combination of these points but rather than dwell on the problems here are some ways that agencies can work smarter to produce more innovative, effective campaigns and experiences.

Ditch the brief

The best work I have produced has never come from a client brief.

Agencies need to dedicate more time to pitching spec work. Say one day a fortnight, to ideate, mock up and present ideas. Clients love being presented with work they haven’t asked for. Right now, agencies need more of this behaviour, especially as they face competition from consultancies and media companies.

Share great work

Clients are usually aware of the innovation happening within their category. For instance, most finance clients are aware of the great FINTECH developments happening right now.

But if everyone has the same points of reference it’s hard to create something truly different. Take time out for inspiration sessions to share and discuss great work. It doesn’t need to have anything to do with the client’s category or KPIs. The ambition is just to seed new thinking and ways in to a challenge.

Embed a client

For years agencies have been embedding their staff into a client’s office. This can be very effective, but I actually prefer the opposite, where a client embeds him or herself within the agency. This helps to create better work as the client has more ownership and is closer to the creative process.

Challenge yourself

My last, and probably most important point, is to challenge yourself. When the next brief crosses your desk, whether you be a suit, planner, client or creative, ask yourself one question: how do we make this PR-able, how do we make it a first, a never been done before?

Singapore doesn’t need another online film or TV ad starring an influencer.

We need to live up our billing as one of the most innovative countries on the planet. Because great work inspires us all and ultimately sells more.

Keith Byrne is creative director, Digitas Singapore


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