Joanna Kalenska
Jul 6, 2016

Does lack of liberal arts education explain Asia's mediocre Cannes showing?

Joanna Kalenska of Razorfish Hong Kong questions whether Asia’s education system is failing the region’s brands.

Joanna Kalenska
Joanna Kalenska

Asia’s advertising agencies are poorly represented on the winners podium at the Cannes Lions festival. For example, APAC leads the world as a mobile-first hotbed, but still remains behind the curve when it comes to awards recognition. 

So why is that? And, how can our industry catch up to our peers in other regions? 

Many would argue creativity is the reason Asia remains so under-represented in the winners circle. Liberal arts, and specifically the creative arts, are simply not valued enough in our region. In Hong Kong this month, five of the region’s most senior university professors came together to discuss the future of Asia’s universities (in a session called 'Challenges to Higher Education in Asia').

At this session, university leaders noted that Asian parents are often not supportive of their children pursuing liberal-arts degrees, with a preference for medicine, law and business taking a front seat. Those parents would do well to note that of the Fortune 1000 CEOs, one-third have a liberal arts degree, according to one of the panelists. But what does this have to do with the advertising industry? A lack of support from parents means Asia’s creative industry isn’t attracting the best and brightest young people. And that’s an industry-wide problem that needs to be addressed. 

Let’s put the HR issues aside and analyse the creative work to see what Asia’s creative professionals can learn from the past 25 years of winning campaigns. Contagious and Razorfish did just this in the 'Cracking the Code of Creativity' session at this year’s festival. They explored the possibility of a shortcut or algorithm for creative success. This was done by using data science to try and pinpoint what makes a piece of communication creatively excellent. 

While the experiment revealed there’s no magic formula for creativity, it did uncover that success was bound to human behaviour. The data, from over 1 billion data points, revealed five creative principles, proven by data science, that organisations can follow to achieve success. 

1. No more excuses: It doesn’t matter about budget, location, company or client. Great creativity is achievable no matter where you live. According to the data, the most creative country is New Zealand, so there is no correlation between GDP and winning. It’s anyone’s game. 

2. Invest in relationships: Stick together. It takes time and trust to be a creative success. The data shows the longer brands and agencies work together, the better their win rate at Cannes. 

3. Kill all rockstars: Being inclusive will deliver better creativity. This means doing away with the traditional way of working, where a senior creative takes the lead and the team follows. The data showed entries that credited more junior members won more Cannes Lions. This proves we need to give our young people a chance to shine.  

4. Play nicely with each other: Collaboration with multiple agencies will deliver better results. Individual award entries with three or more agencies credited have a 42 percent higher win rate than average. Experts working together, nicely, create great work. 

5. Face the facts: Crunch the data to discover important truths worth acting on. These data exist, and it’s not enough just to have them; you must analyze them, using a human, and find what’s most relevant and interesting. 

With Hong Kong businesses transforming their operations to meet the demands of an ever more technologically driven world, human creativity may just become the last true competitive advantage for brands. Asian businesses will do well to note this and begin to prepare for the future.  

Joanna Kalenska is the managing director of Razorfish Hong Kong

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