Build a Bridge, One Kevum at a Time — the One Plate Project

The One Plate Project is an initiative by Yamu and ad agency JWT to create a uniquely Sri Lankan practice online. During most religious and cultural celebrations such as the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, Ramazan, Thai Pongal, and Christmas, people of all ethnicities look forward to the celebrations, regardless of whether that particular festival is one relevant to one’s community or not. And there’s one simple irreligious reason for that — Sri Lankans love food. As a Christian Burgher, I look forward to Avurudhu and Ramazan almost as much as I do to Christmas because I know there’s going … Continue reading Build a Bridge, One Kevum at a Time — the One Plate Project

Little People Win Big Gold for Phoenix Ogilvy

“Before we began judging I told the other Outdoor judges that the important thing we’re doing here today isn’t to decide the winners, it should also be to direct next year’s winners. Essentially we’re sending a message to the rest of the industry about the progression and the direction of advertising,” said Victor Ng, the former Chief Creative Officer at Euro RSCG South East Asia & Singapore, who was this year’s Jury President for Outdoor at the Adfest 2010 Lotus Awards last week in Tokyo. “When all is said and done, we can now say that this year’s Lotus winners … Continue reading Little People Win Big Gold for Phoenix Ogilvy

Loving Mr Grey

Ask Sri Lankans born in the ’70s to tell you which cars they remember growing up with, and you’ll hear about Austin Cambridges, Morris Minors, “Upali” Fiats, and Beetles. All of which are rubbish. Yes, I know people will put out a fatwah on me for calling a Beetle rubbish, but it is. And yes, I know Upali Wijewardena’s Fiat 128 was the Micro of ’70s Sri Lanka, but you’ll be better off if you put wheels on a Ceylon Tea crate. Plus you’ll be faster. Doesn’t anyone remember a Karmann Ghia, or a Datsun 240Z, or a Mercedes 300? Or at least a Mk1 Golf, for God’s sake? Why do people seem to remember the bland? Somehow, though, I doubt that Sri Lankans in the year 2040 will look back fondly on the Nissan Sunny.

While you’re about it, ask a Sri Lankan to name a great ad from the early days of local television, and it’ll be a pretty predictable choice. The original Airlanka jingle (above) will certainly feature among them, with people still able to sing bits of it or at least hum the tune. There’s one of those dodgy old massage guys on Hikkaduwa beach who sings one part of it (“Blue voters, smiling ice — Sri Lanka, pair of dice”) over and over, as he walks along the sand looking for customers. Then there’ll be the Dot toffee commercials (“Oyagey kate Dot, mage kateth Dot!”), the Thultex spot — the only reason I remember that one is because at 14 years old, I’d never seen that far up a woman’s leg. So we remember this stuff, but were they good ads — did they entertain us (OK, there’s that leg again), engage us? Fuck, no, but we remember them anyway. Mostly because there were far fewer ads around back then.

Now it’s pretty easy to see why people remember great cars and great ads — or great anything for that matter. Cars, movies, books, we remember the ones that were interesting, fun, touching — things that played to our emotions, that entertained us. But what makes us remember things that we have no reason to — why would we remember a packet of washing powder? We wouldn’t, because there’s nothing to remember about it. But somehow Sri Lankans manage it. We even remember the Austin Cambridge. Why?

Perhaps it’s because Sri Lankans, on the whole, prefer the bland and anonymous. We save our spice for our rice, and that’s only because everyone else does it too. Every other day of the week I’m up in front of clients, trying to sell them an ad that I think will do all kinds of wonderful things for their brand. Market share, brand building, top-of-mind, etc etc. And as I pitch that top-of-the-range ad out onto their boardroom tables, I can see them squirm and wait, hesitating over this Scirocco that’s going to have everyone talking and pointing — and believe me these aren’t Porsches; they really are Sciroccos, maybe even RS5s. But no, the client’s waiting for me to run out of revs so that he or she can buy that Toyota Allion that no one will notice. It’ll take them from 15% market share to 17%, smoothly and comfortably, and very very softly. And in an unfeeling, numb coma.

Continue reading “Loving Mr Grey”

Court Orders Chillies to Lift Ban on Phoenix Ogilvy

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A District Court today ordered the Trustees of the Chillies — Sri Lanka’s only advertising creativity awards show — to allow Phoenix Ogilvy to submit entries for the 2010 awards, scheduled to be held later in May. Judge Mohammed Lafar Thahir passed down an enjoining order that would prevent the Chillies from scheduling any activities connected to the 2010 awards without first accepting entries from the Colombo ad agency.

This followed a hasty attempt by the Chillies Blueprint Committee to change the rules in March — a scant two months before the awards show — thereby making the event exclusive to members of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies (4A’s) and the International Advertising Association (IAA), which jointly organise and run the one-week annual event. This was a change from previous regulations which allowed any registered ad agency to nominate entries, and at first seemed merely a piece of pettiness that didn’t hold true to the Chillies stated vision of raising the bar of Sri Lankan creativity. Another year, another controversy. Perhaps an attempt to unionize the industry and exclude those that didn’t toe the party line.

However, on closer examination, a more sinister motive seemed to reveal itself. The fact is that 99% of Colombo ad agencies are members of either the 4A’s or the IAA, and in most cases, of both. The few exceptions are usually minnows or newcomers who haven’t paid much attention to either body. Except for one — Phoenix Ogilvy, one of Colombo’s heavyweights, and the local shop of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. In spite of the fact that the ad agency is a founder member of both the 4A’s and the Sri Lankan chapter of the IAA, Phoenix Ogilvy’s chairman, Irvin Weerackody, pulled out of both bodies in 1999, claiming “disagreements with other members over their private agendas”.

This enmity between Weerackody and the organisers of the Chillies has led to several conflicts over the past years, including the exclusion of Phoenix Ogilvy staff from many 4A’s- and IAA-conducted events. This cold war broke into open flames in 2010, with the Chillies appointing a Blueprint Committee consisting almost exclusively of senior members of rival ad agencies — Rohan Rajaratnam (CEO, Words), Laila Gunasekara-Martenstyn (COO, Grant McCann-Erickson), Chalaka Gajabahu (CEO, Lowe LDB), and Ranil de Silva (MD, Leo Burnett Solutions). The fifth member of the committe, Adrian Ferdinands, is a marketing consultant. Continue reading “Court Orders Chillies to Lift Ban on Phoenix Ogilvy”

Toilet Art

This is an exhibition we did on behalf of one of our clients, Mega Life Sciences, who are launching Goezy, a brand of laxative. We decided to avoid the usual conventional above-the-line campaign, something the client couldn’t really afford, and instead advertise the brand through an art exhibition. Several artists were asked to interpret the theme of ‘struggle’ using toilet paper as a medium. Half a dozen artists worked on the project over a period of several months, and this was the result. The exhibition was held two weekends ago at the Artway Gallery in Nugegoda. Here are a selection of the pieces:


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Drop in the Price of Chillies in 2009

img00250I was hoping for a fairly uncontroversial ad awards this year, following on the heels of 2008’s scam issues; however that doesn’t look likely. Everything seemed very low key at first. There were no embarrassing judges telling us our work was shit in the forums. There weren’t any catfights between CEOs and C-oh-ohs over whose ads were scam. Everybody was ready to toe the line, divide up the Chillies, and go on home in the same sedate rowboat. Sound almost Slimmish, no?

And Slimmish it was. This year’s panel of local and international judges decided wholesale was the way to give out Chillies, doling out a record nine (count ’em, nine) Golds, a Grand Prix, and a Best of Show. That’s more Golds than has been awarded in all three previous years put together. And don’t even get me started on the dozens of Silvers, sackloads of Bronzes, and what looked like millions of those silly Finalists that were handed out. Couple this with a new scoring system that moved away from the so-called Olympic system to a point-based system, and you have a Chillies show that was fundamentally different from the previous years.

Now I have many questions for the Chillies organizers, but it all boils down to just one really: WTF?

Let me explain.

I’ll start with the two scoring systems that have been tried for the Chillies — Olympic, and point-based. With the Olympic system that was in place over the last three years, metal value won — a Gold beat a Silver beat a Bronze, etc. Pretty simple. A Grand Prix or Best of Show trumped everything and the agency that got that baby scored the night. Now, there was a bit of a fuckup last year. Leo Burnett won a bunch of silvers (relatively a lot by the Chillies standards of the time), and looked to be 2008’s most consistently creative agency. But not quite. You see, Triad (which had won next to nothing all night) suddenly pulled a Gold out of the hat and had the last laugh. So this time, the Chillies decided “that’s not fair” (and to be fair, it really wasn’t very fair), and decided to move the goal posts. Onto the cricket pitch. They also forgot to tell Triad, apparently (though more of that, later). This time there would be a point-based or tally system. It didn’t really matter whether you won one Gold or three Bronzes, because each award was apportioned a point value, and at the end of the night, you totted up the score, and the agency with the most points won. To make matters worse, a fourth place slot was created so that if your work was too crap to win a Bronze, you’d still get a point for it. Then, to add an element of farce to the night (and no, I don’t mean the drag show), the Chillies decided there would be a Grand Prix and a Best of Show! Now, ladies and gents of the Chillies, I hope you’ve noticed that Grand Prix means “great prize” in French — in other words, yup, the best of show. So while international ad shows have one or the other, we have both. Continue reading “Drop in the Price of Chillies in 2009”

Leo Burnett & Triad Win at Adfest

festival_index.jpgSo it’s finally happened. The avowed mission of the Chillies “to propel Sri Lanka’s advertising and marketing communications industry to world class standards” became reality last weekend with Leo Burnett and Triad winning a silver and bronze respectively at the Asia Pacific Advertising Festival held in Pattaya, Thailand.

In the rather vindictive aftermath of the Chillies, Colombo’s top agencies had awaited Adfest with baited breath, expecting the international ad show to exonerate their victories and vindicate their grouses. Whether these two awards will do so will only be told in time, but the fact that Triad has already taken out a full page ad in Monday’s papers gives some inkling of the need to speak with a louder voice when actions fail.
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Chillies ’08 — Were the Judges Scamming?


Personally, I felt a bit scammed by the judges forums at this year’s Chillies. Not just because the judges’ comments weren’t really indicative of Saturday’s results, but in some cases they were downright misleading. The reason the forums are thought to be useful (and therefore popular with the ticket-buying agencies) is because they give us a peek at the thinking behind the foreign judges’ thinking process when it comes to deciding who gets awarded and who doesn’t. In 2007, some of the entries that were heavily criticized at the forums (eg: the Hit Ads integrated entry) predictably bombed on the awards night. Therefore it was pretty easy to deduce just why the campaign failed in the judges’ collective opinion.

In contrast, this year, entries that were shredded at the forums, like the Alumex campaign by Triad, went on to win metal, while creators of work that won initial high praise (such as Leo Burnett’s ‘coffee cup’ and O&M’s ‘other side’) were left scratching their heads as to why their entries didn’t score higher, or in the latter case, weren’t even awarded. Obviously, not everything’s of equal standard, but it would have been cool to understand why a piece that received no criticism didn’t do better. In the case of the Coffee Cup, I thought it was a much better piece of communication than Triad’s Walls. The former in addition to being brilliant, also did its job in selling the Harry Potter brand; on the other hand, the Walls did a shit job in selling the paint brand (I don’t even know which brand it was), but appealed to the judges sense of karma by going beyond advertising into the realm of community service. Continue reading “Chillies ’08 — Were the Judges Scamming?”

Scamming the Chillies

The record-breaking Thrust SSC, the world’s fastest ‘car’

A scam is defined as “a confidence trick or confidence game, also known as a con, scam, swindle, grift, bunko, flim flam, or scheme, is an attempt to swindle a person or persons (known as the “mark”) which involves gaining his or her confidence,” by Wikipedia, and is basically a dishonest venture. The term has become rather infamous in Colombo ad agencies over the last couple of years, particularly since the launch of the Chillies, Sri Lanka’s leading ad show. In this context, a scam ad isn’t advertising some sort of con scheme, but an ad which is, in itself, a con. The Chillies defines a scam as any advertising clearly developed solely to win at awards shows, with no legitimate client source or though clearly having a legitimate client, has no legitimate client need or rationale. This is expanded on by Chillies Steering Committee member (and CEO of Lowe LDB, Colombo) Mike Holsinger who suggests that the definition can be broken down into four areas of suspicion:

1. Is it for a legitimate brand, product, service, or event?
2. Has it been paid for by a client or sponsor?
3. Does the media scheduling reflect the timeline connected with the brand, product, service, or event?
4. Does the brand, product, service, or event warrant the cost of the ad and its scheduling?

If an agency cannot answer “yes’ to all of the above, the ad may be flagged down as a possible scam and investigated further. According to the Daily Mirror of 21st Feb 2008, 79 entries were flagged for further investigation, and the responsible ad agencies were called on to defend their entries. Of these 79, only 30 passed close scrutiny, the remaining 49 being rejected. According to Mike Holsinger, in the vast majority of the instances, the respective agencies simply didn’t show up to face the Chillies’ sub-committee, thereby acknowledging that the entries were in fact scams. A few were rejected because the sub-committee wasn’t satisfied with the agencies’ clarifications.

So it all seems pretty serious and above board, right? Well, it would be if ad agencies weren’t peopled by such sneaky bastards. Anyone who attended the two Chillies judges’ forums over the last couple of days will tell you that there were a couple of entries in there that definitely smelled scammish. On both evenings, the judges (and particularly American ‘Creative at Large’ John Merrifield) tore apart a campaign for an aluminium brand that had been entered in the print and integrated categories. There were others that obviously found loopholes in the wall. Continue reading “Scamming the Chillies”