East Meets West in Creative Revolution

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. Asia is headed for a creative revolution much like New York in the 1950s and London in the 1970s, as Eastern and Western cultures combine like never before, according to Tham Khai Meng, regional executive creative director and co-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather’s Asia-Pacific operations.

Meng, who was born and is based in Singapore, is this year’s Clio Print and Poster jury chair, and made his remarks on Monday at the 2005 Clio Awards Festival here.

Meng said that since the end of the Cold War, both the East and the West have found each other an endless source of inspiration. For example, he said in Paris he recently saw a long line at a Louis Vuitton shop.

The reason for the line? A new purse featuring designer Takeshi Murakami’s latest design.

“Japanese manga whacked on French handbags,” he said. “Fusion, or confusion?”

Meng illustrated his talk with two reels: one showing Western ads, movies and TV shows and their take on Eastern culture, and the other showing Eastern ads, movies and TV shows clearly exhibiting a Western influence. Ads on this reel included the Thai spot “Kill Bill Kill Bill” for Soken DVD, showing people skipping and jumping like DVDs while they describe a movie, and an ad for a green tea brand showing a caterpillar hypnotizing a tea-picker so he would give him the best, top-of-the-plant tea leaves. Both ads have won awards in Western ad shows.

In the end, according to Meng, cultural melding, or “this deep-fried cultural smorgasbord,” works positively, in advertising because it shows that “great ideas are great ideas everywhere.”

And as exposure between the two cultures grow, Asian advertising will get bigger and better, according to Meng.

He predicted an Asian creative revolution being led by Thailand, Singapore, Japan and India, with Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan following closely behind. But “China is the real biggie,” he said.

“China is like a sleeping giant that just woke up,” he said, adding that Shanghai alone has 1,200 agencies.

Meng ended by reading the fortune from a fortune cookie he supposedly picked up eating lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

“Go East young man. The food is good here, and the advertising isn’t half bad either.”

The Clio Awards Festival continues through Tuesday. Adweek is owned by Clio parent VNU.