Ajit Varghese
Jun 21, 2016

Why 2016 will be a breakthrough year for APAC at Cannes

Ajit Varghese, APAC CEO of Maxus, makes a case that APAC work will have a breakthrough year.

Ajit Varghese
Ajit Varghese

Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in APAC nations sweeping up Cannes Lions, rising from only seven in 2005 to over 200 in 2015.

Such a steep upwards curve is significant. As the largest global awards (like the festival’s growth or loathe it, Cannes Lions now welcomes entries from more than 90 countries), it offers a valuable measure of worldwide creativity, whilst identifying the biggest growth regions and what areas they excel in.

Asia Pacific's performance at Cannes Lions has resulted in Australia ranking fifth in the country rankings and Japan taking seventh place. India came just outside the top 10, ranking in 12th place.

Now, as we head into another Cannes, I predict that this will be a breakthrough year for what I see as the world’s most dynamic region. My hope is that we build on the rich opportunities of recognition on the global stage to propel future growth.

Booming economies

ZenithOptimedia predicts that worldwide advertising spend will grow by 3.5 percent this year, a downwards revision on earlier forecasts 4.6 percent. Yet Asia Pacific—powered by economies like China and India—is significantly bucking the trend. In India, for example, growth in ad spend of 15 percent is expected over 2016.

This increase in spend will in turn begin to fuel more budget, enabling more outstanding work in what promises to be a positive vicious cycle.

A burgeoning middle class

Consider also that half of the world’s population is in APAC, promising continued growth. Crucially, much of this growth will occur in the global middle class, those with the disposable incomes to purchase cars, televisions and so on.

EY forecasts that by 2030, two-thirds of the global middle class will be residents of the Asia Pacific region, while Europe’s share of this demographic will have fallen by 14 percent.

A burgeoning middle-class wielding an increasing amount of purchasing power has already had a positive impact on FDI for this region over the past few years, and this will only increase over the next 10 years.

Hotbed of creative tech talent

Putting aside the important distraction of networking set to a stunning Riviera backdrop, Cannes is ultimately about the work. The showstoppers are those campaigns that capture both the hearts and minds of the global creative community. As such, APAC’s biggest advantage at Cannes is a hardwired creative approach to the brief.

Australia currently leads the region in terms of ideas, integration of technology and digital, as reflected in the award stats. Then, Japan also delivers brilliant and ideas.

But countries like India, Indonesia and Thailand are the ones to watch in terms of combining great advertising creativity, emotional storytelling and mass-media executional brilliance.

On the global stage, APAC excels in technology, innovation and budding entrepreneurial talent. This is why Maxus’ innovation unit, Metalworks is based in Singapore, to plug directly into this hotbed of creative tech talent.

Cannes is beginning to celebrate groundbreaking uses of technology, particularly with the introduction of its Lions Innovations category. Baidu’s ‘smart chopsticks’ (they detect contaminants in food and report back to smartphone and desktop apps) deservedly won one last year, demonstrating smart marketing innovation in response to a very real social issue (food contamination is a presenting issue in Baidu’s home market of China).

Will Asia-Pacific ever dominate at Cannes?

For all of APAC’s excellence in terms of creativity, innovation and the caliber of its talent, the region still needs to invest further in marketing and packaging its own entrepreneurial ventures if it is to woo big business.

China is showing intent here but this isn’t yet backed up financially; client budgets are not going to move to APAC overnight. For agencies to continue delivering outstanding work, overall proportion of budgets will need to shift to APAC on a per capita basis, rather than just absolute.

I also still see a tendency for clients in APAC to race to nowhere with a “cheaper inventory” mentality. To improve here, the onus is on agencies to encourage smart use of data and to position creativity and content as the core differentiators of a campaign’s impact.

A bright future

So, more bravery and self-belief is called for. More power and recognition to APAC talent and leadership to make decisions in the marketplace will fuel this.

It would be particularly brilliant to see Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines being recognized in future winner roll calls.Creativity should be celebrated, but efficacy must always be the driver—a principle that Cannes increasingly recognizes, and a welcome progression.

Global advertisers have much to benefit from tapping into Asia-Pacific’s budding entrepreneurship. Our region’s meteoric rise at Cannes is testament to our growing prominence: here’s to a truly breakthrough year.

Ajit Varghese is chief executive of Maxus Asia Pacific. He notes that three of Maxus Global’s eight entries to Cannes this year come from APAC offices. He is particularly proud of work from the Philippines for Pru Life UK, ‘Island of Fighters’, for capitalizing on creativity to deliver both branding and sales results. 

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