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Opinion and Insight

Ad Stars at Ten

Hwan-Jin Choi and Sangsoo Chong on bringing East and West together in the free-to-enter advertising festival

Ad Stars at Ten

When Ad Stars was first launched ten years ago, it was co-founder and co-Chairperson Hwan-Jin Choi’s hope that the advertising festival and award show in the South Korean seaside town of Busan would become a true melting pot of Eastern and Western creativity.

“I felt like a lot of advertising events in western countries didn’t really embrace advertising in Asia. In Asia, we already had something called Ad Fest that only covers Asian advertisement. So, I wanted to do something more international that combined both Eastern and Western advertising,” says Hwan, of the original idea behind the show.

Unusually, Ad Stars is supported by the local government in Busan and also the South Korean government – more unusually the show is free to enter.

“It’s not only for professionals, it’s for students, it’s open to the public. And we also let non-profit organisations support their ideas. It’s more helpful for the country and the city,” explains Hwan of the model.

But what of the free-to-enter award show? “Not charging an entry fee differentiates us from other advertising festivals. So, if you look at Cannes it costs a lot to just enter; for students or for companies in countries that aren’t that rich, they don’t have enough money to get involved. We wanted to be more public. And I believe in a couple of years we will have even more entries and it will top 30,000. If that happens, we will go shoulder-to-shoulder with Cannes,” says Hwan.

Sangsoo Chong (known as SS), is on the executive committee of Ad Stars and has been involved since near the beginning. He thinks that by not relying on entry fees it also means they can be flexible and responsive to changes in the industry – and not beholden to the need to create new categories every year.

“We can’t make any definition about what an ad is, and why would we? It’s always transforming, transforming, transforming. And we’re in the middle of a big wave of change,” says SS. “Some day, maybe we won’t need categories. Why? A big idea is a big idea. Everybody recognises a good idea is a good idea.”

Both Hwan and SS have their ears close to the ground when it comes to changes in the industry. Not only do they both have decades of experience in advertising and communications – Hwan working at Cheil and at Samsung in strategic communications, SS as a creative who helped launch Ogilvy Korea – they are both professors who teach advertising and marketing courses. SS teaches courses on idea generation and commercial production at Cheongju University while Hwan teaches planning and new media at Hanshin University. And they are both in close contact with the next generation of Korean adlanders.

That means that, despite reaching the grand old age of ten years old, there’s no danger of Ad Stars stagnating or settling into a rut. Next year, the organisers plan to launch a Video Stars strand and to broaden the scope of the festival. There’s talk of a commercial production and director market at the festival. And the team have recently got the approval of the Mayor of Busan to start planning a permanent museum of advertising – or, as SS describes it, a theme park for creativity that will be interactive, future proof and will prove a magnet for creative start ups.

Rather than simply a festival about advertising, Hwan argues that Ad Stars is more a ‘festival of creative solutions’. Don’t be surprised if the show even finds itself with a new name to reflect the fact.

“I believe that advertising is not just advertising any more. There is a lot of creative advertising that changes lives, so I think we might actually change the name to one that captures the new paradigm of the advertising world,” says Hwan.

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