Benjamin Li
Apr 1, 2014

Taiwan agencies caught up in protest against China trade agreement

TAIPEI - Controversy over an agreement that would ease trade restrictions with China swept into the marketing communications industry as more than 200 agency people, including some senior 4A executives reportedly declared their solidarity with protesters.

Image from Taiwan People News (since removed).
Image from Taiwan People News (since removed).

A local newspaper, Liberty Times, carried a story last Friday under the headline "佔領國會》對不起我們來晚了!200廣告人挺學生" ("Occupying Congress: Sorry we come late! 200 ad people supporting the students"). Other newspapers and websites carried similar articles, and the apparent statement of support also dispersed through through social media.

The Liberty Times article names many who reportedly signed a declaration letter, including 蔡明丁, Ogilvy & Mather creative director; Richard Yu (游明仁), CCO of ADK Taiwan; 陳尚曄, group CD with JWT Taiwan; 陳偉文, group account director, and 臧國明, ECD, with DDB; and Karen Hsu, media planning manager of Yahoo Taiwan. (Names are all as printed in the article; Campaign Asia-Pacific was not able to confirm the accuracy of the names or titles in time for publication.)

The statement appeared to carry the blessing of the agencies named, or at least many interpreted it that way. "I don’t understand why these agencies choose to publicize their stance on this matter, not just company names and logo, but also their executives' names and titles," said one senior agency executive who asked not to be named. "Surely this kind of statement must have been agreed by the top executives in those agencies. They will definitely piss off half of the colleagues and most of the clients. And they even put their company logos on it, it's like using company resource to fulfill personal desire.”

This comment refers to an article in the Taiwan People News on 28 March, which ran with the image above, showing the logos of several agencies and companies. That image later disappeared from the media outlet's website (Campaign Asia-Pacific obtained it via a source).

The source further expressed surprise that Yahoo Taiwan would be associated with the controversy, given that Yahoo owns 30 per cent of Alibaba, and most of the agencies have China offices and work with mainland clients. "This is so hypocritical when they have business in China," the source said. "You can't have a corporate stance on it—it's about protecting your clients and half of the colleagues on the opposite side.”

Over the weekend, the named agencies and companies quickly moved to distance themselves from the statement.

"It is not true," Erika Wang, GM of Sales Group at Yahoo Taiwan, told Campaign Asia-Pacific yesterday. "The chairperson of 4A in Taiwan has called the media and told them that the action taken was from the individual employees, [and] cannot be representative of the company and the industry. Yahoo Taiwan also stated the same. This topic is very sensitive and complicated, no companies will take sides.”

Yahoo later issued an official statement echoing Wang's remarks.

Ogilvy Group also posted an official statement on its website over the weekend:

Following the Youth Student Movement, which took place this March, much attention has been gained from people from all walks of life. They include employees from Ogilvy Group’s Taiwan office, who have also individually expressed their different points of views on various platforms. We, at Ogilvy Taiwan, hereby declare that we respect each and every one of our employees and their nationalities, as well as their expression of views on various social issues; we respect our employees’ freedom to engage or participate in any organization or activity they decide to after office hours. As part of a multinational group legally incorporated in Taiwan, Ogilvy remains neutral in its stand for such a specific public issue.

A spokesperson for DDB gave Campaign Asia-Pacific a very similar statement. Evan Teng, MD of JWT Taipei, said the letter represented personal views and not those of JWT. Denstu did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

One senior creative who signed the declaration told Campaign Asia-Pacific he did not expect his company and job title to appear. "I only signed the joint declaration personally," he said. "It has nothing to do with the agency. Initially my friends in the ad industry asked me if I am willing to sign a joint declaration to support the students who are protesting. I replied that I am all against the corruption, and then the next day, the joint declaration letter was sent to the student representative. Many people don’t even know they would publish our company's name and title."

People within the ad industry simply wanted to express a stance against corruption, not necessarily against the trade agreement, this source added. "For things that concern all the people’s welfare, the information should be more transparent and need the majority support before implementing it," he said.

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