Aus and New Zealand: Anglosphere or Part of Asia?
lbbonline.com, 5 months, 2 weeks ago
Sydney is 9,929 miles from New York. Auckland is 11,386 miles from London. But despite the distance and thanks to linguistic and cultural ties, the ad industries in Australia and New Zealand have always had a tight relationship with the Anglosphere of North America and the UK. But the growing economies – and opportunities – in Asia Pacific mean that agencies and production companies are increasingly looking closer to home.
The People’s Republic of China is Australia’s largest trading partner and it’s New Zealand’s second largest trading partner (after Australia). Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia feature in both countries’ top ten. With a third of the countries in the so-called ‘Next Eleven’ (countries earmarked by Goldman Sachs as potentially becoming the world’s largest economies in the 21st century, alongside the BRICs) on their door step, the case for Australia and New Zealand changing its relationship with the rest of Asia Pacific and making the most of its location is compelling.
Ben Welsh, Creative Chairman at M&C Saatchi Asia, thinks that the relatively small size of the local market and the rapid development in Asia will force the matter. “At the end of the day, there are 24 million people in Australia plus 4.5 million in New Zealand, which is 28 million people. That’s probably as big as Malaysia, but not much bigger than Shanghai. We’re tiny. We win awards and we win at sports and we think of ourselves globally but the reality is that this part of the world will get bigger and richer and will continue to grow, and Australia and New Zealand will become less relevant, I think.”
To do that, says Marcel Sydney’s David Nobay, requires a shift in mind set. “The problem in Australia is that Australia has strange delusions geographically about where it sits. The prime minister we had a while back, [Paul] Keating, used to always point out that we’re not off the tip of Scotland, we’re off the tip of Asia. It’s actually not part of Europe.”
The current awkwardness has roots that stretch back to the early days of Asian and Australian advertising. In the ‘60s, Fortune became the first Australian agency to open an Asian branch and in 1963 George Patterson bought the Cathay Advertising network, which had offices across the region. (In an interesting side note, Cathay was founded by the pioneering Elma Kelly, a Melbourne woman who ended up in the Shanghai ad scene in the 1930s, before moving to Hong Kong. After being interred at the Stanley Prison Camp during WW2, she founded Cathay with five former employees – and during the 1950s expanded). This Asian link made antipodean agencies extremely popular with big US networks with deep wallets looking to grow in the region. By the 1970s, Australia’s influence in the rest of Asia had cooled, perhaps due to a quasi-colonialist attitude.
(There’s a great quote from SSC&B:Lintas APAC manager Francois Lacour in 1973: “You have to be very careful when it comes to Asia, not to replace one form of colonialism with another, not to replace the bloody English or the bloody French with bloody Australians.” For more gems like this check out Robert Crawford’s ‘But Wait… There’s More! A History of Australian Advertising 1900-2000’.)
It’s also been the case that during the latter part of the 20th century, postings in Asia were not always as career-boosting as those in Sydney. As a successful copywriter in Hong Kong, David Nobay reflects that the powers-that-be in network HQs in New York and London ‘couldn’t give a shit’.
These days, then, the most successful relationships between Australian agencies and their colleagues in Asian offices and even brands rest on a more mutual respect.
From an Asian advertising standpoint, Sydney’s attractive lifestyle has proven to be a useful ‘jumping off point’ to tempt global creatives from around the world to the rest of Asia Pacific.
“Australia is a small market in the region. That’s a fact. Another fact is that its full of some very fun creative people that have been drawn there by the lifestyle,” says Curious Films’ Peter Grasse.
“So the smart creative managers in the Asia-Pacific region see it as an opportunity to lure great talent to work in larger developing markets, which has had a tremendous effect on the quality of Asian work in terms of ideas and how they are crafted.”
One facet of Australian and New Zealand advertising that has been forging strong links throughout Asia is production. Countries like Thailand have long been respected for the quality of their crews and cost effectiveness as shoot locations – although Vietnam is quickly catching up as another favourite.
The Sweet Shop is one company that’s got a long-standing reputation with agencies in the Asia Pacific region. Founded in New Zealand in 2001 and with offices from London to Los Angeles, The Sweet Shop opened its Bangkok office in 2012, such was the opportunity to service shoots in South East Asia.
But the relationships are starting to mature and now production companies are working increasingly for agencies and brands based in Asia. These relationships with brands and agencies in the region have taken years of work to nurture but the effort is starting to play off.
“It has taken Heckler a long time and significant investment to move into the Asian post and VFX market,” says Heckler EP Will Alexander. “Now we have established ourselfes as a major player in the region we are certainly seeing great results. You have to be prepared to play a long game and learn to adapt to the Asian climate.”
New Zealand-based animation company Cirkus has been working with Asian clients for over a decade and founder Marko Klijn says pursuing work in the region is a business imperative.
“It’s really here where the work is. You simply cannot feed a small to medium sized company off the NZ-Ozzie market – considering the high end niche market we’re operating in,” he says. “Within that perspective it’s a matter of seeing and contacting many clients as the projects are so specific.”
Last year Cirkus worked on the Cannes Lions-winning Airbnb spot through Ogilvy & Mather Singapore, and Marko reckons that New Zealand’s reputation for high quality craft and offbeat humour makes local companies popular production partners.
“I would think that from a production perspective especially both Australia and New Zealand bring a creative quality solution to the party that is unique and highly sought after,” he says. “With the current briefs in mind, I believe that from a storytelling perspective there’s much to be gained to have a NZ/OZZIE team changing an initially “client focussed, quantity” driven script/board into a spot that has at least some engaging qualities.”
New ways of working online have also made it easier to work with clients around the region – Alt.VFX have built up a substantial body of work in Japan. “We see Australia as part of Asia and we find web based collaboration has allowed us to almost eradicate distance as a barrier. We are constantly talking to brands and agencies not only from Asia but across the globe. Asia is a big part of our business and will hopefully continue to be so in the future,” says Alt.VFX’s Colin Renshaw. The agency has worked on massive campaigns for Coke and Pepsi in Japan. “Some of the characters we have created have entered popular culture. You can buy them in toy shops and that is a huge buzz for us.”
For Curious Films’ Peter Grasse, there’s also much to be learned from places like Japan. The native of Pennsylvania moved to New Zealand in 2004 and Sydney in 2007 and has been bouncing between there and Japan for years. He’s adamant that Japan is one of the most exciting countries in the world when it comes to craft and production values.
He also thinks that deepening the relationship between the ad industries of Australia and Sydney and that of the rest of Asia is a vast opportunity for the ambitious and hungry.
“You can’t ask old establishment ex-pat ECDs living in Australasia if they think they’re part of the Asian ad industry. He came to Australia to put his head in the sand. Let him stay on the beach... I say get your heads out of the sand. Life is not a beach, it’s an opportunity to make great supported work that will be seen by millions. Making anything else is just pretentious.”