Friday, April 03, 2009

"All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to remain silent"

Beginning his article with that famous rallying call, a guy called Anubis has done a truly exceptional job of exposing the full extent of the scams of FP7 Doha (see post of two days ago, and thanks to everyone who drew my attention to this).

For example, he shows how they even doctored the packs in a series of print ads for a brand of mouthwash, to make them more aesthetically pleasing and hence awardable:

Read the full piece here.

As promised, I've been doing a bit of journalism - for you, my work-avoiding readers - and I've got in touch with an Asian ECD, to get a view from the region which is (perhaps unfairly) most associated with scam or ghost work.

He's a pretty big cheese - David Guerrero, founder, chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO Guerrero in Manila.

This is what he has to say on the subject:

The FP7 situation is a debacle, and I don't want to look like their apologist... which I'm most certainly not.

However, there is a genuine distinction between what they did and the genuine push for innovation that agencies everywhere undertake for major clients.

I think there's a lot of self-righteous bullshit about Asia being a scam factory coming from London (and other first world locations).

A flick back through old D&AD's will reveal all kinds of dodgy executions for car repairs, fish and chip shops, TV repair shops, school plays, architectural historians etc.

However it does have to be said that Jim Aitchison, Neil French and many others since have made a lot of ads for a lot of smallish clients out of Singapore which picked up a lot of metal at global shows back in the 90s.

And since then a steady stream of Aussies, Brits and Yanks have made their way there seeking to emulate their stellar rise to international stardom or even just a nicer job when they go home after a few years. I interviewed Jim Aitchison about this a few years ago for Campaign Brief and he said that the secret of Singapore is simply that there's nothing else to do at weekends except work on ads and get them into shows.

However to write off the entire continent of over 2 billion people because of a few expats in one city-state is going a bit far. Thailand has developed a truly vibrant and highly recognized TV industry with at one point two out of the top 10 directors in the Gunn Report coming from there. There's no suggestion that this is scam because you can see the work on TV every night and clients have come to demand great work.

Basically small clients and initiatives to big ones are seen as ways of raising the bar for creative teams and for clients themselves.

Western Multinational clients (with some honorable exceptions) in Asia tend to be extremely risk averse and prone to formulaic work. There are exceptions obviously but they themselves are subject to a lot of regional and global controls on the process. Locally-headquartered Asian clients can vary greatly in their appetite for interesting work. Local entrepreneurs tend to be braver because they think (rightly) that it will work better for them. However as they get larger they start to want to imitate the Western Multinationals clients...

So as far as a 'philosophy' goes it's probably something like: the only way we're going to compete in international shows is to push work to mainstream clients when circumstances allow and keep one or two projects on the go with pro-bono clients and/or Small and Medium size businesses in the hope that a) they will allow the agency to do more interesting work and b) that they will someday get bigger.

Our agency just launched a pilot scheme where we approached a local business organization and asked them to put themselves forward for 3 months free work from a junior team of creatives, planners and suits in the agency. They then pitched to us and we selected three of them (a chain of car repair shops, a high-end boutique cosmetics firm and a small chain of clothing stores.) Our teams (composed of around eight or so 'rising stars' were then set loose on these accounts with minimal supervision from senior management. We'll see the work before it gets presented - and then catch up with the client at the end of the program. If they want to continue the relationship they pay us at our regular rates. If not then they are free to take the work we've done for them and use it.

Interesting how we're all very quick to brand "Asian creatives" as the worst scammers... then Guerrero points out that many of the offenders in those parts are actually ex-pat Brits or Aussies.

Anyway, we can't expect Cannes or the other awards organisers to do anything about the problem. They depend on entry fees. And on Agencies' honesty.

And I doubt individual jurors can do anything. If we throw out a piece of work because it 'smells fishy', we run the risk of undermining the efforts of people who've legitimately busted their balls to get an ad shot and run on their own initiative.

The name-and-shame approach that Anubis is adopting seems like the best course of action to me.

I applaud him.


Anonymous said...

interesting. i think it's an important point that a big part of this scam is actually done by creatives from our part of the world. funny enough we had a job offer from FP7 Qatar once, they were looking for London creatives for a year just to do award ads on all possible clients.

Sell! Sell! said...

All that over a few pointless, spangly trinkets?

Clientwithalawyer said...

OK - but how about some basic rules. Like the agency must actually work on the business and the client must sign that they approve the work?

As a client, I have seen how unapproved work gets submitted and then wins something and ends up pasted all over the internet as my brands work.

Mostly it's mildly annoying, but when some influential Christian group in the US threatens to boycott you for your 'advertising' it is far more serious.

Luckily creatives are delighted to add their names to the awards submission, so we know who to sue.

Robin said...

I reckon your piece is most timely.

Right now, awards are SO major in Asia that many CDs hire base on awards.

And not any awards.

Has to be D&AD (makes you proud to be Brit, huh) or Cannes.

One Show's only good if it's gold.

Amazing how even in these bad times, some agencies are still spending money on award show submissions.

Since BBH has an anti-scam policy, and rightly so, in Asia Pacific, the agency has languished on the league tables.

(There's actually a creative ranking of copywriters and art directors. And it is all so screwed up. One year, a junior Art Director helped every creative team at an agency. His involvement, while sincere, was marginal in some cases. But just for fun,they added the bloke's name. And what do you know, at the ranking, he came in tops.)

It's sad how Asia has become infamous for false work.

As a business, it's bad because clients don't take agencies seriously.

If creative work is the most valuable asset of ad agencies, how come we are spending it on non-paying clients?

Kind of reminds me of some military organizations around the world - where officers are promoted to Generals based on war games, map planning exercises and simulated battles.

Anonymous said...

Gurrero is great.

He does mainly real work, as opposed to people who make their names on scams.

Just met a Down Under guy who told me the cancer has spread there.

You heard of the time Sir Frank flew to Oz to fire a CD who scammed for a zoo?

Now, we need more people like that - Sir Frank, I mean.

Trouble with scams is:
a. many people now rush through real work and produce crap - so they have more time do scams.
b. over-value on awards. It's surprising how many CDs now CANNOT judge a piece of work.
So, award with no ad = bad.
Crap ad with award = good.

Bodecker said...

The real Bodecker has gone for lunch. I noticed that he was still logged in to his blog so I thought I'd publish a comment using his moniker.
I'm hoping that when the time comes for the 'Scamp comment of the year' competition, this one could be in line for a black keyboard. I think it would even top that guy who was talking about doing a photo-shoot for peas.

Alex said...

This is interesting.

If you take a look at the team who did the work at FP7 Doha (Higeen and Samsung puking clothes). And then...
...look back at Cannes Lions 08, the Alker-Setzer (as bullets through food) campaign that won Silver Lions, but was removed from the awards because the campaign did not approved by the client. It happened again with the SAME team of art director and copy-writer.
So the agency now hiring based on scam creatives?? Do they even do the real work "at all" ?

I want to hear The CD at FP7 have got to say as well as the CD from BBDO Bangkok.

...or even this team.

Anonymous said...

The inside story is that the CD just hired these teams to do scam work. To put it more accurately, he said join fp7 and we'll get all your unreleased work released here.

Ben Kay said...

I like David Guerrero almost as much as everyone else like Steve Reeves. He's a really smart good egg.

Anonymous said...

Scamp. Will you be asking the CD or creatives from FP7 for an interview to explain themselves?

Anonymous said...

There are two ways creatives respond to good creative work - fuck I wish I'd done that or fuck I wish I'd had that brief. The first is very rare (and getting rarer) because 99% of us could do 99% of the great ads that are out there. The second leads to all the dark creatures that inhabit the creative soul (not that we have souls, working in advertising, but we like to think that we do). Scam work is always, always the latter. How good would our job be if we could come in and work on a brief for a camera that stops people blinking. That said how many great ads would be lost if we got rid of all scam. Why not instead have a special category - work that only appeared once.

Anonymous said...

Guerrero's article is a bit disingenuous as it seems to suggest that all the scam in Asia comes from Singapore.

Never mind the fact that its rife in the Philippines, Thailand, India....

His own agency of course does not do scam. No sir, no way.

Its a shame how low CEOs have fallen these days...and not just in banking.

The Douche de Richlieu said...

Isn't all a bit sad? Well, really sad. Working in advertising in great and if you win an award, even better. But it's all a load of bollocks really eh. Besides, doesn't it take the excitement away of getting good work approved by the client, making it, being nominated etc? Incidentally, just listening to 'My Delirium' by Ladyhawke as I type this, which is a frickin' mega tune if anyone's looking for a new track for their ipod.

Scamp said...

Here's another fearless unmasking of a scam - Rob Campbell annihilates a Colgate ad from Y&R India.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Neil French run his own agency as a side project for scam, called (unironically), "Life is a bowl of Cherries" ? He did a couple of famous campaigns out there for a hair restorer that could cause billiard balls to sprout ((Don't spare the Kamimoto!) and one for XO Beer (it gets you pissed was, I believe, the strategic insight). I seem to remember reading a profile on Neil where he tells us the XO campaign was so successful that he actually put his own money into launching the brand, as it didn't exist at the time, thus becoming his own client! Maybe your colleague out there, Steve Elrick (ECD of BBH Singapore) could shed some light?

Scamp said...

You're right about Neil French doing a great campaign for the non-existent "XO beer", then launching the product. For me, that's not scam at all, but exactly the kind of initiative David Guerrero is talking about. And as a demonstration of the power of advertising, hard to beat.

Ted said...

I applaud him too.

Anonymous said...

XO Beer was not a campaign for beer, they created a fictitious beer just to demonstrate the power of newspaper advertising. The client was Singapores only newspaper publisher and the campaign really ran. No scam there.

But that idea was done years before XO by Mike Shafron from Saatchi London for the power of billboards. They created a perfume that didnt exist. ("The first Australian perfume. Also kills flies.")

A T said...

Actually, Neil French's agency - Lefitz something, you can find the real name at - wasn't created to win awards.

The agency was created after he left Ball.

His contract meant he couldn't work for any other agency.
So he started his own.

That's cool, in my book.

Anonymous said...

My observation/explanation on how scam became so big in Asia/Singapore is this:

from the 1980s to 1990s, many CDs were ex-pats.

Only reason they got cushy well paying jobs (most of them anyway) was they were white.

Most were NBG.

So the locals (Singaporeans) used scams/awards to 'prove' themselves.
Since the rise of scams, many lSingaporeans are now ECDs.

So, quick look:

1. Ogilvy - past CD: ex-pat. Now: Khai Meng Tham (now in NY as ww ogilvy CD).
2. Leo Burnett - 80s and 90s CD ex-pat. Now: Chris Chiu, Singaporean.
3. Y&R - excpetion. Since 80s, always Singaporean CD.
4. BBDO. 80s and 90s - expat CD. Now: Juggi, from India.
5. DDB - 80s and 90s - expat CD. Now: Terence Tan, Singaporean; NEil Johnson, from India.
6. McCann - 80s and 90s: expat CD. Now: Farrouk, from India, Wee Khim, Goh - Singaporean.
7. Euro RSCG - fair mix of expat and Singapore CDs.
8. JWT - 80s to 90s, mainly expats; now: Singaporean and Indian.

Interestingly, many Asian regional CDs are now also no longer expats.
So, JWT Regional CD: Guan Hin Tay
Publicis: Calvin Soh

However, it seems, as usually happens, things have swung the other extreme.

So now, many CDs are picked for nothing more than their ability to win pencils, lions and gongs for dodgy clients.

But your comments were spot on.

Anonymous said...

As i understand it, awards shows were originally set up to help promote and celebrate creativity and raise creative standards within the industry. They fulfilled this role until recently when, despite odd bits of scam, a large proportion of the work awarded was real and seen by the masses (and maybe even sold some stuff). More recently awards books seem to be dominated by scam, so rather than promoting creativity in advertising, it becomes a mask for what actually going on in the real world that consumers experience and that most of us spend most of our working lives in. Awards shows are now almost becoming a hindrance to creativity in our industry. They're losing their connection to what's really going on and distract us from the current dire standards in the overwhelming majority of advertising around the world. Divorcing awards from real work is bad for us all and ultimately bad for the awards themselves as they're bound to lose their value and undermine the industry and people they're supposed to promote.

Anonymous said...

All this talk of scams reminds me of a talk I went to in Sydney, given by Jim Aitchison from Singapore.

He'd just written an ad book and was doing the rounds promoting it.

After he'd finished his presentation there were questions from the audience.

The first one was "Tell me Jim, does Singapore actually exist."

Sell! Sell! said...

Mmmm, I really like spam.
Cut nice and thin and then grilled, on a butty. Pardon? Oh, sorry...

Anonymous said...

Guerrero is being facetious....doing ads solely for awards does not benefit any agency in any way.

For many agencies in Asia, scam is a business strategy. Sure more awards might get you into more pitches but converting them to wins requires real world and not imaginary brilliance.

If awards translated to better business performance, most of the scam heavy agencies should probably win or retain every account they pitch for. Its actually quite the opposite because they have taken their eye off the ball and paid the price. In Singapore, agencies like BBH eschew scam and win a heck of a lot of business off these scam oriented agencies. So what good is scam doing for those agencies that defend it so fiercely? All they do is lose real clients and fire people because of it.

The only people who win are individuals who get top jobs, hefty bonuses, promotions and bigger salaries on the strength of scam ads.

That's the ONLY motivation for scam.

Anonymous said...

7.41 is correct. The people who win are individuals who get top jobs, hefty bonuses, promotions and bigger salaries on the strength of scam ads. And they work at BBH Singapore as well as other agencies in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Saatchi Singapore won ADFest '08 Agency of the Year, based purely on the no. of awards they've won. They're also one of the most awarded agencies in Asia, according to the Gunn Report.

In '09, they've laid off 10 of their staff due to 'difficult times'. So awards = more business?

Go figure.

Dave L said...

Hey 8.04pm, The Australian Taronga Zoo campaign which picked up at Canne happened ten years ago. Not sure that's current evidence for the 'cancer' spreading to Australia.

But what's the bigger scam? Judges awarding amazing work that didn't run or judges pushing ok work over the line because they're a drinking mate.

I'm not sure, but for me it explains why traditionally D&AD is full of advertising awards for people who work, or used to work, in a 2 square mile radius of London's SOHO.

Anonymous said...

So what's going to happen when the eventual blog goes up that posts all these award winners...but along with the work, also post the follow up calls to the 'client' and the media companies to see where the work actually ran?

When fake ads are called out, and participant's names are also called out for being cheating hacks?

What if everyone starts demanding that those entries are rejected from award shows because they're people who've proven to cheat? What will they do when they're banned from the shows, or have an asterisk next to their name as some well known names already do?

Scam ads hurt the industry, and even the brands they're faked for. They can be a PR nightmare for brands. And any fool who says awards are just trinkets should look at agency hiring practices and how awards really weigh in.

Anonymous said...

Sir Hegarty himself called scam a scourge in a recent article. I hear BBH also has a policy to fire anyone caught cheating in shows.

If that's true yet they still rank up there in awards for real work, then those few places that still manage to get awarded must be leagues above many others?

Perhaps there should be a scale where a real Bronze is worth 4 fake Golds.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to share my experience, as a fence sitting creative.

Because of the difficult clients in our agency, I have taken a different course of action.

I do both. The bulk of my time and effort is spent trying to push the quality of the real work. NOT trying to get it done with as quick as possible (except in some lost causes when after you've fought a few times, it becomes less profitable to push further.)

But I don't stop there, when there's down time, I try to come up with additional initiative work for our clients. Even the inactive ones.

And when there's time, I do scam work.

Sometimes, I just get an idea for one of our clients without even trying. This happens to all of us. So I try that as well.

I've somehow managed to win on all fronts.

After all that, I can say this. Winning for real work is much, much more gratifying. But conversely, I recognize the need for a lot of us to resort to scam just to keep up with the west.

On a side note, one of my so-called initiative pieces got picked up by the client and turned into regional material. So I think there's nothing wrong with pushing initiative work.