Founding Chairman Vinit Suraphongchai on AdFest: “We achieved what we set out to do”

| | 1 Comment

VINIT SURAPHONGCHAI.jpgIn 1998, the first ever Asia Pacific Advertising Festival took place, with Thailand as the permanent venue.


From the outset, AdFest’s modus operandi was clear: to raise the profile of Asian creativity, while celebrating the unique cultures that shape advertising across the region.


As we approach the 20th anniversary, Campaign Brief Asia asked AdFest’s Founding Chairman, Vinit Suraphongchai (pictured left), to reflect on the festival’s evolution over the past 20 years.


Can you tell us the story of how AdFest was founded?

I was a member of the TV jury at Cannes in 1994, as was Jimmy Lam, who is President of AdFest. Over many lunches and dinners an idea of an Asia Pacific Advertising Festival was formed. AdFest has always been a not-for-profit organization, owned by the Asia Pacific Advertising Association.

What was your original vision for AdFest?

The general standard of creativity in advertising in the Asia Pacific, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, was not high 20 years ago. The vision of AdFest was therefore to be a forum for exposure, to raise the standard and awareness of creativity in advertising, as well as to create an awareness and greater use of one’s own heritage and culture.


While learning arts and crafts from overseas is desirable, indigenous creatives should be aware that the greatest source of creativity and inspiration must come from within their own culture.


What are you most proud of achieving over the past 20 years?

The fact that we have been able to achieve what we set out to do, and 20 years later to be recognized and accepted as the longest, most well-respected and popular event of the region.


What have been the biggest challenges or surprises in running a regional festival since 1998?

The challenge is really a contradiction. On the one hand, we strive to maintain the original vision of AdFest as a forum of knowledge and learning for people in the region – this is the part that will always remain the same.


On the other hand, we also have to modify the format and content each year so that the AdFest program is always of relevance and interest to the participants. So though AdFest is always the same in an overall sense, it is always different from year to year, too.

Tell us a little about your history in the Thai ad industry before AdFest?

The market was first of all very small and heavily dominated by multi-national companies, i.e. Unilever, Colgate, Kodak, Shell, Esso, Nestle, Ovaltine, etc. These were by and large the somewhat “hard sell” categories, many of which followed their International advertising platforms, usually using product demo or testimonial as “reason why”. Local brands were at one time dominated by local medicine ads, with a lot of cheap table top ads or those of low production value. Of these, Singha Beer was among the few worthy of note.

The Lotus Roots category is unique to AdFest. What was the reason for introducing this category and what do you like about it?

Advertising is a western creation. Thus many professionals in Asia started their trade by copying the west. ADFEST is very conscious that unless we in Asia recognize and make use of our own culture and heritage in our communication process, we will lose it otherwise. 

Vinit_Adfest.jpgOf course, some good ideas are simply universal but the execution can be such that it still reflects the local ambience. The Lotus Roots category is a visible extension of this.


Why did you choose a career in advertising?

After trying out as a marketing man and an interior designer (none of which led to anything!) I drifted into advertising more by luck than design. Happily, it turned out to be the career for me.


How has the industry changed since the days you were starting out as a designer?

Over 30 years is a long time in the advertising business. For a long time, not much had changed, with TV, newspapers and magazines dominating the creative and media scene.


But as we know the pace of change has been tremendous in the past 5 years – now there are 18 categories at the AdFest Lotus Awards.


I am glad I am out of it. Not long ago, my friend had to explain the concept of the “cloud” to me, something which I still do not completely comprehend.


Advertising is only one of your passions. You have also sat on the board of Bangkok’s Chatuchuk market. Can you tell us more about your passions outside of advertising?

As an advertising man, I spent hours poring over research figures on target groups, age groups and profiles.

In my retirement I was asked to be the Chairman of the well-known Chatuchak Weekend Market for 4 years, which was a completely new learning experience. Suddenly I was rubbing shoulders with my “target groups”, jostling for the same space to stand on! It was a sobering thought to think that I got to know the real “consumers” after 20 years of looking at them as “statistics”!


Is it true you are also passionate about Thai history?

I have always been interested in history. It was only recently that I found out the Aryan (whose mother tongue was Sanskrit), who were supposed to be invaders into the north India in ancient time as traditional teaching would have it, were not invaders after all but were indigenous people living along the Indus Valley all that time. It is a long story but a satisfying one to know that at last a wrong has been righted.


With Brexit and Donald Trump the US President-elect, the year 2016 must be a new chapter of world history in the making.

Next year isn’t just about celebrating the past, but also looking ahead to the future. So what’s ahead for AdFest and the advertising industry in Asia?

AdFest has traditionally been a 3-day “creative” event. Last year, we expanded AdFest into a 4-day event with 2 days given to the Craft side, and the latter two days devoted to the Creative side of advertising. This was well received as AdFest now provides a new window into the latest advances in technology, animation, virtual reality or even sound and lighting. 


For the future, it is AdFest’s intention to keep combining Craft and Creative and to maintain and refine this platform for the foreseeable future.

What are your 3 favourite Grand Prix winners over the past 19 AdFest festivals?

Sorry, I could not get it down to 3! Not sure if they are all Grand Prix winners either but these certainly are my favorites across the region and the years:

1    Weight Lifting (O&M) 1998, Thailand

2    Whale (Dentsu) 2002, Japan

3    Hostel (Eye Bank Association of India) 2007, India

4    Tan Hong Ming (Leo Burnett) 2008, Malaysia

5    Dumb Ways to Die (McCann) 2013, Australia.

AdFest is now open for entries. See full details.