In 2012, the Warc Prize for Asian Strategy returned for its second year. We raised the prize fund to $7,000, and split that between a $5,000 main prize and a $2,000 prize for the best low-budget entry.
The prize brought in 160 entries, of which 32 were shortlisted. Of these, 16 were named as highly commended or winners. More analysis of the entries is available here.
So what were the big themes that emerged from last year's prize. Here are five (completely subjective) things that stood out.
What was notable about the winning case from NTUC Income and BBH Singapore – aside from the brilliant strategic thinking, of course – was the very traditional, and very limited use of media.
The campaign focused on outdoor and print ads. But it used the two media very creatively, responding to news events in Singapore and translating them into the language of the campaign – for example, by using controversy over the opening of a casino and relating it to consumers' financial security.
Of course, this combination is more likely to be effective in a compact city-state like Singapore than in a much bigger, more dispersed market. But it was a reminder that some of the less sexy media can still deliver a big impact when used thoughtfully.
(On that note it's worth noting that in 2013 one of our five new $1,000 special awards will focus on Channel Insight – read more in the entry kit.)
Some of the most innovative cases stood out not just as great examples of Asian marketing, but of marketing full stop. These were cases that showed how, in some areas, Asian marketers can really lead the world.
The Highly Commended case from Dettol and Advocacy Asia showed how product innovation could be used to drive word-of-mouth. One of the judges noted that it was very rare to see an advocacy campaign that had solid results, and was scalable and repeatable.
Similarly, the 'Chok! Chok! Chok!' case from Coca-Cola and McCann Worldroup in Hong Kong is a particularly good example of how a brand can respond to the 'multiscreening' trend, and use mobile to add local relevance and a sales mechanic to a generic TV ad.
In 2013 we'll be looking out for more cases that showcase Asia as a leader in marketing innovation, via our new $1,000 Asia First special award – read more in the entry kit.
In the first year of the Prize, we saw a lot of entries arguing that a brand had 'started a movement'. That's not surprising. The concept of 'movement-starting' has been a common theme of cases from across the world in the past few years; the subtext is that brands and agencies 'get' social media and word-of-mouth, and are driving phenomenal behaviour change as a result.
Sitting in on the judges' deliberations in 2012, however, it became clear that senior marketers and agency strategists are growing weary of this language. There was scepticism about one case that showed people apparently taking to the streets spontaneously as a result of one brand's campaign. But as several judges pointed out, in that market it isn't hard to rent a crowd. It is clear that judges are asking hard questions of some of these entries.
That's not to say that there weren't some genuinely impressive cases that did drive word-of-mouth and take on a life of their own. Anmum Essential's 'Mothers Against Secret Sugars' campaign from Malaysia (OMD Malaysia/BBDO Singapore) showed how a brand changed the debate around a category with a very PR-able message.
But as Charles Wigley, Chairman of BBH Asia and last year's Chairman of Judges, concluded in the wrap-up video: "The Arab Spring is a social movement. Liking a brand on Facebook is not."
After the 2011 Prize, we concluded that Asia excels at cultural insight. The 2012 Prize provided further evidence that the best marketing in Asia is built on strong cultural insights and a deep understanding of the society it is operating in, as well as the needs of consumers as individuals.
For the second year, the Prize was dominated by single-market strategies, as brands realised the importance of local understanding. Of the shortlist of 32, just three were multi-market.
Some of the best ones included a campaign by Wrigley's Extra in China, via BBDO. It used an understanding of Chinese food culture to identify a new consumption opportunity. Chinese clothes brand Meters\Bonwe and agency NIM Digital used deep knowledge of Chinese fashion to produce a new clothing line. And in the 'Jaani Na' campaign, Nihar Naturals and BBH India, reinterpreted West Bengal's music culture in recognition of rapid changes in the lives of Bengali women.
The strength of cultural insight in the competition stood out for the judges from outside the region. Paul Rees-Jones, Executive Planning Director, Clemenger BBDO, argued: "A standout many of the finalists had in common, and even some of the papers that fell away after the first round, was the quality of the cultural insights. Culture is such a defining part of why people do what they do and revealing the motivation and behaviour around a particular category or brand in relation to its cultural significance was continually told in original and relevant ways. Asia's self-awareness in this area was a real lesson in the importance and impact of cultural grounding in business success that the rest of world could do well to learn from."
In the 2013 Prize, we've introduced a Cultural Connection special award to showcase the best of these entries – read more in the entry kit.
One notable shift from the 2011 to 2012 Prizes was the spread in types of entry.
The analysis of the entry data showed entries from more markets – including the first entries from Bangladesh.
In 2011, Indian entries dominated the Prize. In 2012 India was still the biggest source of entries both overall and in the shortlist. However, there was also a strong showing from entries from Singapore and China, both of which 'overperformed', in that their share of entries in the shortlist was significantly higher than their share of total entries.
The data analysis also showed that cases from non-traditional sectors were succeeding in making it through to the final stages. In 2011, the Highly Commended and winning entries were dominated by FMCG, food and drink. In 2012, however, there was a broader spread of entries picking up awards.
The overall winner came from NTUC Income, a financial services brand. There were also Highly Commended entries from government and non-profit clients (such as the 'I Quit' campaign from Singapore's Health Promotion Board and Ogilvy & Mather) and a tyre brand ('Be Idiot Safe' by CEAT Gripp and Ogilvy & Mather).
The judges also pointed to denture brand Polident's branded TV show 'Kilauan Emas', which was a singing competition for the over-45s; it was quite a feat, they pointed out, that a brand in such an unsexy category could adopt such a brave strategy.
As more Asian clients look for new thinking in their marketing, we have introduced two special awards that reflect the trend. The Market Pioneer award will recognise the best cases that focus on low-income or other underserved markets. And the Local Hero award will recognise local-market challengers using smart marketing thinking to take on bigger competitors. See the entry kit for details.
About the author
David Tiltman is Warc's International Editor. He has been writing about media and marketing for more than a decade, including six years at Haymarket Media Group. There he was features editor on Marketing magazine, based in London, before moving to the Hong Kong Office to become Managing Editor of Haymarket's Media magazine (now Campaign Asia), covering marketing and media across Asia-Pacific.
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