IN the early years of independence, there were only a few professional advertising agencies operating in Kuala Lumpur. Among them were Cathay (later Ted Bates), Grant (later Bozell), Masters, Millington, Benson, Young, Fortune, MarkLin, Clover (Kenneth Ang) Concorde and Progress. Of course, the one local hero is Union 45.
In 1939, Lee Yuen Hong, founder of probably the first advertising agency in Malaya, Union 45, took a one-year correspondence course with Leo Bennett College in England and, with an unusual talent in Chinese brush painting, began his advertising career. He was 18 then.
The late Lee set up a one-man show, one-room studio which he called Nion Art Studio. He found out very quickly that for a graphic artist who specialised in single stroke Chinese caricature, it was a case of not only conceiving an idea, but meant putting it into concrete shape with his own hands.
While engaged in war relief work, he worked as a cartoonist with the Nanyang Siang Pau, the Sin Chew Jit Poh and the Mah Wah Daily News, a Kuala Lumpur paper.
In 1945, with the war over, Lee undertook a big job for Aina Caf in the old Bukit Bintang Park in Kuala Lumpur, which became the site for the Sungei Wang Plaza shopping complex. Every day he had to paint a huge billboard with coloured chalk to advertise the attraction of the caf a new design for each day!
Lee remembers that one of his early achievements was the opening ceremony for the Dunlop factory in Petaling Jaya in 1962. “I was asked to design and erect an arch, with a 34-ft-high Dunlop tyre painted on it. I felt a flat-board arch did not seem fit enough for the occasion. Why not have an image of a real tyre? And so the famous 3D tyre arch came into being. It still stands in a proud position in the grounds of the Dunlop factory. The tyre arch design won a prize at the 5th Asian Advertising Congress in Taipei.”
This year, the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents (4As) is celebrating its 40th anniversary. 4As Malaysia was officially registered with the Registrar of Societies in 1971 and started life as the definitive industry body representing the interests of advertising agencies in Malaysia. Today it has a membership of over 130 multinational and local organisations involved in brand strategy and communications.
Some of the issues the ad industry continues to face today are issues of enough good people, compensation and attracting new talent. Vagueness on the future of the made-in-Malaysia policy remains shrouded in uncertainty as the decimation of Malaysia's commercial film and audio industry continues while globalisation takes its inevitable course. In the years ahead, the industry will rise above these challenges and obstacles.
In the early 90s, there was a No Poach Policy by the 4As which had a positive impact on the industry with more stability and consistency of staff. Today, the 4As, in a move to curb salary inflation, has proposed that an employee who made a parallel job move to another agency should not be given more than a 15% increase in salary and the employer would be requested to sight the last drawn pay slip.
But there is also optimism for a new generation of creatives. New breed professionals who are bent on stamping their own identity and place in the world. Malaysia is richly blessed with colourful traditions and cultures to embrace this creative resurgence for the digital age.
However, the biggest change in the industry came when the breakdown of creative and media agencies was instituted in the late 1990s and the change in compensation from commission to fee. This made advertising costs more transparent to marketers and made it tougher for agencies to justify. This remains the main reason why agencies are under so much pressure today.
Ideas shaping our industry
Malaysia's Most Valuable Brands (MMVB) Awards
MMVB is a major strategic branding initiative by the 4As in collaboration with Interbrand which pioneered and still globally dominates the established methodology of brand valuation. The MMVB awards is supported by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade).
The MMVB provides a brand value that is a top-line measure of the financial contribution the brand provides to the business. Brand value brings to marketing what “earnings targets” or “financial hurdle rates” bring to other aspects of business. It was initiated to ensure importance of brands at the boardroom level.
The Effie Awards is about effective advertising. It is jointly supported and organised by the 4As, Malaysian Advertisers Association (MAA), and Media Specialists Association (MSA) in association with Matrade. The awards are co-managed by the MAA and 4As. This year's Effie jury chairman is John D. Chacko, director of group marketing, branding and motorsports at Proton Holdings.
Effie Award competitions are held in over 30 countries throughout Europe, North America, South America, and the Asia-Pacific rim. The Effie Awards has also been recognised as the choice award in the communications industry in Malaysia.
Putra Brand Awards
The Putra Brand Awards, organised under the auspices of the 4As, honours some of Malaysia's best-loved brands. It measures and recognises Malaysian brands and SMEs across 20 categories with the top choices determined through a comprehensive nationwide consumer panel, based on brand relevance, confidence, differentiation, and growth. The third edition of the Putra Brand Awards was held in April this year.
By far the longest running creative awards show in Malaysia, the Kancil Awards (previously called the 6As) marks its 34th annual edition this year.
The Kancil Awards 2012 challenge has already made its mark with a 30% increase in entries, with the Poster category attracting the largest number of entries followed by the Cyber and Film/Radio categories. Non-Broadcast Film, a new category this year, has drawn about 50 entries. Another new category is Radio Non-Broadcast for radio ads that are not aired on radio stations but over PA systems in supermarkets, shopping malls, petrol stations, elevators, buses, and telephone.
The endeavours to rectify a broken compensation model, address staff poaching, introduce remuneration models and build value among clients and for the industry through workshops and similar activities have been the 4As' top priorities in recent years.
At the recent Advertising Week in New York, more than 200 events in a week, US 4As president and CEO Nancy Hill observed, “We were a very attractive business for someone with a creative leaning. But now we've got so much more competition from creative environments that are business driven. You've got things like Google and Facebook and others out there, so I think we've become buried in those other options when it comes to young talent. As an industry, we have to do a much better job in promoting our industry as a career option.”
As our advertising industry continues to remain relevant to the first batch of teenagers of the 21st century, from next year onwards, the age of Digital Domination is here.
Reality check: procurement is here to stay; we can't fight it. Agencies which have embraced it are faring much better in the negotiations than those which are still chasing at what procurement represents.
As we look at the remaining part of this decade, Hill's thoughts on training talent come to mind. “As an industry, we have to be much better at recognising that the coming generation wants a collection of experiences. We can't just give them the tedious and menial work that we all started with as entry-level people and expect they're going to toil away at that while they're being trained. That's not the way they see things. For them, it's Give me more responsibility. I see myself as an entrepreneur, so I will take this on and get it done.' That's going to require a mind shift in the culture of the agencies in order to facilitate the growth of this coming generation.”
In the 60s in what was probably Malaysia's first animated TV commercial (TVC), a popular detergent featured dirt-eating PacMan-like characters called Bio-Zolves who jump into the wash from the pack, had its fair share of awkwardness. A housewife waited all night to see the characters “do their job” for her overnight soaked clothes. The next day she even confronted the provision shop guy who sold her the detergent about the mysterious animated characters from the TVC.
An advertiser for a spring mattress brand refused to pay the full 30 seconds media cost for his three-month campaign because the broadcaster chopped off the TVC at the 27.5-second mark, mistaking the mute black screen at the end as not part of the TVC. The ending showed a hand coming into screen and “switching off the light” to mean “Good Night Malaysia”.
In the 60s, a TVC campaign for a refrigerator showing an adult emptying all its contents and then crawling inside raised an uproar as a housewife in Penang caught her son doing the same. The TVC, trying to spread the message of spaciousness, got pulled off the air immediately.
Hard-to-forget telco campaigns
In 1993 Maxis launches into the Malaysian market with its first TVC featuring a baby as their main theme. That baby is now 21 years old.
This is Celcom Territory: with a series of exciting outdoor campaigns Celcom managed to dominate the medium and “colonise” the environment around their billboards as their home ground.
DiGi Yellowman: Naga DDB's “viral” ad campaign made the Yellowman a brand hero to many. Many versions of the campaign, from solo to huge armies of Yellowmen, spread the message of the brand and image ownership of the colour Yellow.
P1 Sudah Potong: Playing on the cheekiness of the expression for circumcision, P1 successfully etched its brand promise for slashing consumer's costs with this bold and provocative approach.
Malaysia's first international advertising award winner:
Award: Clio International
Product: Dunlop Tyres
Category: Television/Cinema (International), 60 seconds
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Kuala Lumpur
Agency producer: T. Gopala Krishnan
Art director: Josef Mors
Client supervisor: James Peter Chin
Copywriter: Kenneth Smith
Director: Robert Mahoney
Editor: Roger Cherrill
Producer: Michael Dufficy
Production company: Pearl & Dean, Kuala Lumpur
This article is extracted from a full feature covering over 60 pages in the November issue of Marketing magazine. Harmandar Singh, also known as Sledgehammer, has been chronicling the advertising industry for the past 20 years. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org
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