Dentsu is not just about advertising; we are creative entrepreneurs: Ted Lim

Ted Lim, Chief Creative Officer, APAC, Dentsu Aegis Network, tells us why he thinks global advertising festival AD STARS is an equaliser and how Dentsu is going beyond advertising

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Aug 23, 2019 9:12 AM

On the day the 12th edition of AD STARS, a global advertising festival from South Korea, kickstarted in Busan, exchange4media caught up with one of the executive judges at the festival, Ted Lim, Chief Creative Officer, APAC, Dentsu Aegis Network. Lim spoke to us about what separates AD STARS from the other global festivals, how the economic slowdown has begun to affect ad agencies and how Dentsu became successful as the only multinational ad network with roots in Asia.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What separates AD STARS from other festivals?

The biggest differentiator is the fact that award shows like Cannes Lions are very expensive. And as an agency, you have to put in a lot of money to see if people think your work is any good. AD STARS, on the other hand, allows agencies and people to enter their work for free. So, this gives a chance to the smaller and independent agencies that don’t have big budgets to enter their work, and see if it is perhaps on par with the big network agencies. So, AD STARS is an equaliser. It judges your talent, your capacity to produce gold standard work whether you are rich or not.

If you had to compare Dentsu Aegis Network today with what it was five years ago, what would you say is the difference?

I joined Dentsu seven years ago and the remit was pretty clear. Dentsu then was very much about Japanese business. But the ambition was to grow beyond that to take on global business. And so the focus has been that. And I think today our global business is more than 50 per cent. So, we have grown the global business significantly across the network and across the globe. For instance, in the past, we only had the Coca Cola business in Japan. Today, we are on the Coca Cola global roster; we have it in the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and across the network in various offices. We are working with Unilever, Nestle and Johnson & Johnson. So, yes, we have managed to engage and have good ambitious relationships with big multinational companies.

What was the first step towards making Dentsu a global brand?

It was Dentsu’s ambition to be the first global network born out of Asia, because all others are western networks. The other part was the fact that Dentsu has always been recognised as a creative powerhouse in Japan; Dentsu Tokyo has been doing the most innovative work and winning lots of global awards. But, after Japan, there was no sparkle. There was nothing really great. And then we started to globalise. So, in India, we got Taproot Dentsu which is one of the most creative agencies of the country. And then in the Philippines, we got in Dentsu Jayme Syfu. They are the most creative agency in the Philippines. Then in Australia, we have got in BWM. In the awards run, in the last few years, we won the Cannes Lions Grand Prix, D&AD Black Pencil and practically every award worth winning. And this is testimony to the Dentsu ambition bearing fruit.

This year, Dentsu APAC had restructured its agencies for a variety of reasons. The Singapore office had taken the hit. How badly has the global slowdown affected Dentsu overall?

The fact is that we are looking at very challenging times with the global trade war going on between the US and China. Every country, every aspect of the economy, every industry has been affected. In India, the automobile industry is hit. There is a slowdown in the country and this goes for the whole world. I head 25 offices across 16 countries, and I see it everywhere. So, the trade war has repercussions across the globe. And as much as we like to think that advertising is a driver of the economy, advertising is also a reflection of the economy.

Dentsu is known for its acquisitions, will that get affected in the long run now?

Dentsu, like any good enterprise and any good business, is always on the lookout for great talent and great agencies that have the potential to produce business and good work. Our mantra is move people, move business. We are always on a lookout for the best. But can’t reveal much on that front right now.

What are the biggest trends you see in advertising today across APAC?

If you take a look at what’s been happening in Cannes over the last few years, there is a lot of purpose-driven work. It seems fair to say that it’s not enough to just market to people. We need to matter to people. You can no more say, here is a shoe, it’s a great shoe, come buy. We need to get people to understand that we have a purpose and it’s not just to sell you shoes, but to empower you to live a healthier life, or some other thing that is relevant to you. So, the days where to push a product out, one needed to just put a price tag to it, are over.

Dentsu has delved into a lot of things that go beyond advertising, can you elaborate?

A lot of people seem to feel that advertising is on the way down. And I think advertising will be on the way down if we continue to look at advertising as just advertising. I believe that we are in a business formally known as advertising. And that the work we did in the past was all about communication. The work we do today is about engagement. We need to evolve, innovate, and that’s the path forward for Dentsu. To give you an example, American Ninja Warriors is a game show that became a global hit and has been syndicated in many countries. That was created by Dentsu. So, we create game shows. We have produced two Oscar- winning movies, Spirited Away and Departures. AKB 48 was created in Japan where you have 48 performances, and we are behind that as well. And they have been so successful that they have extended to JKT48 (Jakarta48), and SNH48 (Shanghai48). So, we are not just in advertising business, we are in the film business, entertainment business, sports business. We make robots in collaboration with SoftBank. We do so much that is beyond advertising, and that’s because we have always seen ourselves as creative entrepreneurs. And what we provide is not just advertising, but creative solutions, because the solution to a business challenge may not be an ad. It may be participation in a sports event or engagement to transaction. So, it can come in many shapes and sizes.

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