Catalyst

What makes AdAsia tick

RAMESH NARAYAN | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on November 02, 2011

SmilesAsia: Delegates from across the world at AdAsia 2011 in the Capital. - Photo: Kamal Narang   -  Business Line

Ramesh Narayan

The wealth of knowledge shared and contributed by an eclectic mix of speakers, and discussions on subjects such as ethics and the girl child make this advertising congress different.

AdAsia, or the Asian Advertising Congress as it was earlier called, is the biggest convention of its kind covering the interests and concerns of marketers, advertising practitioners and specialists in media. It is held every two years somewhere in the Asian continent under the aegis of the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA), an umbrella body of related associations all over the region.

I have had a very deep relationship with the AdAsia congresses. I probably heard of it in 1972 when it first came to India. I was a kid, but my father was one of the Chairmen of the AdAsia and I recall much talk about it then. Cut to 1982. I was wondering whether advertising would be an interesting profession to get into and my father recommended I go have a look at the AdAsia in Delhi and try and see if I found it interesting. The promotion for the congress was compelling: “David Ogilvy hates flying but he put himself through the torture (or words to that effect) to be there in Delhi for the AdAsia.” I caught a train to New Delhi, registered for the AdAsia, found David Ogilvy to be a pompous bore, loved the question Amin Sayani asked Ogilvy about reverse lettering, was absolutely fascinated by the summing up that Brahm Vasudeva did, fell in love with the industry and never really left it.

Ever since I could afford it (I couldn't, in the first few years of setting up an agency) I was an AdAsia junkie. I followed the congress all over Asia, made more friends on these trips than I ever made in Mumbai, learned more about advertising than I would have ever learnt in a mass communication course, kept abreast of the latest trends in communication and the latest gossip in the industry (inhibitions somehow drop when you are in a foreign country together), helped organise one, spoke at one and generally had a blast.

Yet, after 1982, the AdAsia shied away from India. Not for want of trying. Two formal bids were made, unsuccessfully. At just about the time Indians were resigning themselves to be passive observers at this prestigious event, one more bid was mounted in Thailand. To cut a long story short, the team had analysed the possible reasons for India's abortive bids, worked very hard to overcome those factors and India won the bid to host the 2003 AdAsia in Jaipur. The congress returned to India after 21 long years and no effort was spared to make it a landmark event. Personally, it was a matter of great satisfaction to be Chairman of the Planning Committee and get an opportunity to take a hard look at every small feature that could make or mar an event of this size and prestige.

The road shows that go around the continent drumming up support for the congress are an integral part of the planning and marketing effort and one must state for the record that by 2003 India was already a hot business destination and the world was beginning to view it with a lot more respect than it did in the Eighties and early Nineties. Yet, content management remains at the core of any congress. After this would be the entertainment. If 1,200 people come to a destination for a congress, mere food for thought is never enough. Many people remember that the 2003 AdAsia had a wealth of great speakers including thought managers such as the late C. K. Prahlad, Charles Handy and Ricardo Semler, top Indian industrialists such as Mukesh Ambani and Kumaramangalam Birla (sharing a platform), eminent professionals such as Vindi Banga and great creative gurus including Ian Batey, Tarsem and our very own Piyush Pandey. Many more people remember the presence of the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Kapil Dev, the late Maharani Gayatri Devi, and the great palaces where the parties never seemed to end. The consensus, repeated over the years, was that the 2003 AdAsia set a new benchmark in the annals of the congress. The Organising Committee had done the country proud.

AdAsia 2011

Today is the last day of the AdAsia 2011. By now, Shah Rukh Khan, Sheila Dixit and Ambika Soni would have made their appearances. Pradeep Guha would have become the first Indian to be honoured with a Special Award by the AFAA International Council. Joseph Tripodi would have hopefully given us insights into how the “real thing” sells internationally. Agency heads, digital mavericks, creative gurus would have all had their say. Indra Nooyi (the organising committee saved the best for last) will make this a great valedictory session. Delegates would have partied hard for three nights and would be looking forward to the grand finale at the Kingdom of Dreams, a rather fitting place for the advertising industry to draw the curtain on a big event.

Yet these three days and four nights would see the efforts of a dedicated team that has worked long and hard over a long period of time, especially those involved in organising the speakers.

What will it mean to me? Maybe this will be the last AdAsia I will go to. But it would be a milestone for any professional who would have had the opportunity to compress a mountain of knowledge from a diverse range of leading speakers into just three days of a congress.

That kind of bandwidth would be almost impossible to replicate anywhere. More than anything else, this AdAsia needs to be remembered for a few aspects in which it has dared to be different.

Today, I would make bold to say, is probably the most meaningful of all the very absorbing and eventful days of this Congress. Sure, Indra Nooyi would give it the “wow” factor but how often have you seen a glamorous congress like this begin its final day's session with Swami Sukhabodhananda speaking about managing unpredictability in life and business? How often would you have a chance to sit through a session on “Conscious Capitalism” with speakers such as Duncan Goose of Global Ethics talking about donating all that his products earn to further relevant causes in under-developed countries? Delegates would listen to Anna Bernasek speak about integrity being the most valuable asset in times of uncertainty. This is content with a difference. We all expect a congress to have great speakers sharing their vision and wisdom on topics of mutual benefit.

This congress has infused the spiritual quotient along with the glamour quotient. It has focused on the burning topic of corporate greed and the vital need to be honest, transparent and know when enough is really enough. And by championing the cause of the girl child with inputs supporting this great cause at various touch points of the congress, it has proven that a congress can have a soul as well. It's not just what you take away from a congress that is truly important. It's also what you see being contributed to and shared. And the AdAsia 2011 has been able to balance what's good with what's great. That is how this congress should be remembered.

Ramesh Narayan, Founder, Canco Advertising, is a communications consultant and a member of the Organising Committee of Ad Asia 2011.

Published on November 02, 2011

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