As is the case every year, for a total of four days the Royal Cliff Resort in Pattaya was taken over by AdFest, this region’s foremost festival to celebrate creativity in advertising. AdFest is a bit of an institution. Over the years – this was the 21st edition, they’ve truly come of age – the festival has become one of the premier events in the APAC region’s agency world. Incidentally, APAC is a bit of a loose concept here, as the festival is attended by many agencies from Australia and New Zealand, and the South Asian subcontinent. Among the big prize winners this year were entries from Afghanistan and even Egypt, which last time we looked was not part of Asia.
After all these years AdFest is still going strong. It is refreshing to see that it is still possible to organise a major event year after year, and maintain the enthusiasm and pathos with which these things should be held. Many other major conference titles in the region take a tired, formulaic approach that results in shrinking audiences year after year. They should take an example from AdFest.
That said, AdFest itself unfortunately doesn’t manage to escape from the global malaise in conference attendance. Overall attendance numbered 1300, down 100 or about 7.5% from last year. Similar for the cherry on the cake, the Lotus Awards, whose 2,800 submissions in 18 categories were down 5%.
AdFest in that sense is a bit of a bellwether for the industry. As AdFest’s Chairman, Vinit Suraphongchai stated in his closing words (and as could be verified by going around the giant show halls with all the exhibits) the quality of entries was great. Some truly inspiring work was delivered, with great production values, big ideas, and – at least as claimed in some cases – some great results. The industry, as Vinit truthfully remarked, has come a very long way from that first AdFest 21 years ago, and the Asia-Pacific region can truly hold its own in the global scheme of things.
So that’s the good news. But the bad news is that the advertising industry is being disrupted, data and technology play an ever bigger role, and the business of running creative agencies find themselves on a downhill trajectory. AdFest reflects this very well, with a splendidly organised conference, mouth dropping prize winners, but a shrinking audience to congratulate itself with all these fine achievements.
About that data and technology thing: just about everyone in marketing and advertising realises that to stay relevant and at least maintain its size, the industry has to change and catch up with the times. Understanding data, adopting technology as a tool to interact with consumers, and weaving creativity into that is still a Moonshot as far as most agencies are concerned, and AdFest sadly reflected that too. Witness the one session that was dedicated to this subject. It was aptly named ‘Tech, Your New BFF’; was very entertaining but touched very lightly on the technology used in the examples; and evoked only one question from the 1,000 pax strong audience. (“What is a BFF?”)
In some ways, changes are already felt. A lot of entries for the Lotus Awards were accompanied with claims about the results that were achieved. But in most cases the numbers were vague, and one gets the impression that merely lip service is being paid here and that there’s not really a whole lot of due diligence, or even focus, on checking the underlying figures, let alone their relationship with the creative that’s being submitted. After all, it’s primarily creativity itself that’s being celebrated here.
Nevertheless, according to the organisers, AdFest is ‘still going strong,’ and we would agree with that assessment. AdFest maintains a strong position in the advertising community. But that means its fate is strongly tied to that community, and the slight dip in audience and submissions can probably completely be attributed to the state of the industry as a whole.
The organisation seems to realise that, and it will be interesting to see how they will carry the title forward in the coming years (and what the effects on festival attendance and awards submissions will be). It won’t be easy. You can add categories for creative use of data but will you receive good quality submissions? You can add Marketing Automation into the mix but which part of the regular audience even understands what that is? And how do you find speakers for a conference programme that includes more technology if the industry itself grapples with understanding how to adapt in the first place?
We live in interesting times. Marketing is changing, becoming more technology-driven and ever more customer focused. This has a profound effect on creative: not only the type of creative but also how it is produced, which disciplines it interacts with, and how it is evaluated. Creativity remains important but increasingly will have to be judged in the context of how it is being applied. Not much of that was seen in the 2018 edition of AdFest, and we sincerely hope it will find its way into the 2019 and further editions if the festival wants to maintain its popularity and continue to attract great crowds to Pattaya year after year.
The industry will have to change, and AdFest will have to change with it. But with a passionate and vigilant organisation behind it, we have great hopes it will.
Publisher: Jos. Birken