BBH Media Ad.jpgUPDATED STORY: BBH Asia ECD Steve Elrick has today posted a detailed reply in response to comments made on this story. CB Asia thought it worthy of re-posting this story again instead of it being 'lost' in the archive. Click on the 'Comments' link below to read Steve's post.

(Feb 25th, 2009) Anyone else notice that big full page ad in Media from BBH Asia-Pacific?
The ad carried the headline "What would happen to our business if all the agencies in Asia stopped doing scam ads this year?" and then presented several senarios for the industry to contemplate.
BBH has always held a non scam policy - even, dare we say, if some of the creatives working there have dabbled in the practice in former lives.
As it is a topical ad, CB Asia was intrigued and contacted the agency for comment.
BBH Asia-Pacific regional ECD Steve Elrick said the question raised was just one in a series of provocative questions that they might be pushing out to the Industry.
"Scam is a hoary old topic which has dominated much of the industry in Asia - and we think BBH's position on it is pretty clear," said Elrick.
"However, we thought it was an opportune time to question the value of this seemingly sometimes desperate need to gain awards points how it is actually affecting our credibility as a serious business. But maybe, more importantly, question how it's affecting people's lives in these challenging times. Imagine you were the person 'let go' from an agency because they say times are tough and they had to tighten their belts - whilst at the same time the agency was spending countless hours creating work for ghost clients and hundreds of thousands of dollars on award schemes?
"At the very worst we thought it might be dismissed - or people would misunderstand it as raising the simple scam debate again. At best.... Hey, perhaps some agencies might pause for a second... and not sacrifice some people's livelihood's at the altar of the creative league tables."


Anonymous said:

When I saw this ad my feelings were divided as I am young and I want to advance as a creative person. Steve Elrick was young too and I am told he did a lot of initiative work that help his career. But when I am a cd I will also probably agree with this headline.

Anonymous said:

This is just BBH trying to capitalize on the economic downturn and justify the average creative output of their Singapore office. I haven't seen their name at any international award shows lately. But I have seen their London office's name.

Good for them for having the balls to promote themselves but let's just recognise it for what it is. A business to business ad. If BBH start to win at award shows this year then next year's ad will justifiably be all about how creative they are.

Anonymous said:

what would happen to BBH's business if they improved their art direction?

Anonymous said:

10:49... BBH Singapore is far from average creatively. Check the www.bestadsontv.com Rankings for Singapore in 2008. BBH is top, followed by Leo Burnett, Ogilvy and Saatchi. They're also currently equal #1 this year.

Anonymous said:

BBH's chupa chups film work is very good but 10.49 is correct if you count Cannes, One Show, D&AD.

Anonymous said:

I admire BBH's stand on scam. It has gone on way too much and I think this ad probably made a few people here in Singapore feel very guilty when they saw it.

Anonymous said:

I think a more interesting question is: would steve elrick have become cd of bbh if he had stopped doing scam ads for a year?

Anonymous said:

What are you talking about? Mr. Elrick has never done any scam. We have all admired all the groundbreaking brand building stuff he did all those years for preparation h hemmoroid cream, brooklyn bagels, sugar hut pattaya resort, Frisky no wind mints, and many more.

Have to agree with the position in the BBH ad though. Respect for Mr Hegarty.

Anonymous said:

LOL 1.22

The Preparation H haemorrhoid cream campaign is my particular favourite and it probably launched Steve's career. I particularly loved the detailed explanation of the creative process in Cutting Edge Advertising (page 168). I wonder what Steve now says to prospective creatives when he views their books and sees all those scam ads. In fact I wonder what he saw in Ash's book when he poached him from Ogilvy Singapore last year?

Having said that, I agree. Respect for Mr Hegarty (and Steve).

Anonymous said:

It took a couple of decades before we saw the fallout from the way our banks have been run. Will there be similar lessons from the way some high profile creative departments function? Spending hundreds of thousands of $$$ on creatives who put self interest and self promotion through scam above their clients interests is just not good business sense, as many CEOs are now discovering. Some say that the awards generated by scam help the creative profile, shore up share prices and keep a network top of mind when a pitch is called. Yet ironically most pitches are called when the client is fed up that the agency is devoting most of its time to push initiative work that tackles imaginary problems while the real problems remain unsolved. BBH seems to have no problems getting on many a pitch list without resorting to the scam epidemic. Finally, an idea (and an ad) who's time has come.

Anonymous said:

Back on topic, is it right to be spending hundreds of thousands on award shows and scams when people are being let go because there's no money for them?

Of course it isn't. And you will find that a lot if not all agencies have had memos from their CFOs cutting award budgets quite severely this year.

But just because its hard times doesn't mean that agencies should stop advertising themselves altogether right?. Thats what this ad is too-an agency promoting itself.

Anonymous said:

is it just me, or are all of the comments really long on campaignbrief.com/asia ?

Anonymous said:

Pasted from another site:

2009 will be the year agencies concentrate on relationships and keeping their businesses running not their trophy cabinets full, according to a poll of senior marketers and agency professionals run by xxxxxxxx over the past week.

To the Snap Poll question "Given the state of the world economy what do you think agencies should be most focused on right now?" a whopping 68% of the 370 participants answered "client relationships", while a further 30% answered "cash flow".

Only 2% of all participants said creative awards and creative rankings were their top priority, or should be any agency's top priority, during the downturn.

We anticipate expensive awards programs will be about as popular as a bailed out banker's bonus this year and anticipate a significant drop in numbers of entries as awards programs around the region this year are just about to start asking agencies to fork over large entry fees to be considered for accolades - stay tuned to your in-box.

Based on the survey results even if this isn't what agencies are thinking, it is definitely what their clients are thinking.

Anonymous said:

John Hegarty (and probably the other 2 partners) deserves all the respect for this agency's anti scam stance. I don't think its got jack to do with anyone in singapore. If it wasnt for the directive from the very top, we'd probably be seeing ads for Mollys Muffins in no time at all.

Anonymous said:

So true 2.04.
It's a shame. They have some good people at BBH that could really turn Mollys Muffins around too.

Anonymous said:

Luckily I work in an agency that this year can focus on client relationships and creating good work for them. This hopefully leads to selling a few creative opportunities and a bit of creative recognition for us (and them).

Anonymous said:

6.36 am. That's the dumbest comment for a long time

Anonymous said:

In London and New York the Singapore ad industry is a complete joke these days because of all the obvious scam in the awards. People need to wake up and think about how this makes them look outside their own backyard. You'll never get that dream job at W&K amsterdam if you only know how to do ads for fictional gun control charities.

Anonymous said:

dear 5:54 PM (if that is indeed your real name) ...would this be the "fictional" gun control charity you are talking about?
seems very real to me. your point, however, is very valid, but let's use examples that are truly fictional, otherwise you risk being seen as fictional yourself.

Anonymous said:

What would happen to their business if everyone in Asia stopped doing scam? BBH would win more awards.

steve Elrick said:


(I suppose I should start by saying…the views expressed are my own and not BBH’s)

Scam good! Scam bad! Old argument and one, to be frank, I am a little bored of. Perhaps some of you even read the accompanying piece with the ad? A lot of you just saw the red rag and ploughed into the old debate. Have fun.

The point of the ad was supposed to be slightly different – basically a questioning of - has it finally gone too far, especially in this environment. Cutting teams – still spending on scam.

(Quick read the ad again, you should get the gist.)

Has headlong rush for awards points become so feverish and insane that it’s starting to hurt the people it purports to champion? Has the balance tipped, are we all a bit mental and looking slightly ridiculous?

That was the question? Discuss.

The other stuff.

Of course I did scam. A long time ago. Bloody brilliant it was too. Never denied it. (See if any of the other CD’s working for agencies will cop to it too – slightly ridiculous when it’s the most open secret around.) But they probably have too much invested in the game right now. Never mind.

But back to my point about balance:

At Ogilvy a loooong time ago when Frenchy took me on: they were churning out great stuff on a whole range of brands – it wasn’t just “Initiative” work.

They had guard books filled with campaign for the likes of, say Phillips – a few dozen brilliantly crafted ads on real products. They were rated highly for the breadth and quality of their work….not the odd er Sri Lankan Christian Society thingy.

A lot of the very best of it written by some fella called Eugene Cheong, for instance. There was a balance, there was a time when ‘initiative’ was the outlet for creative expression for showing to your peers that you could impress with the best of them – and not the whole game.

BBH – the people who the ad above came from
I had the fortune of being offered a job from Hegarty whose stance on scam was well known. (Must have been something else in the book that perhaps impressed him?)

So we didn’t do them. Did our awards showing suffer, of course. But every single Creative person we have employed we made it clear that was our policy – and for some reason they joined anyway. (With a couple of funny exceptions!)

I’d like to think we haven’t been too whiny about the people who not only resort to it but see it as the be all and end all. You go your way, we’ll go ours.

When Alex Lim and Tinus Strydom with BBH won countless gongs and the Gunn Report Most Awarded Print Campaign of the Year for Levi’s one year…. you have to ask if they valued it higher than a Gold Creative Circle for a Paintball Park ad that beat them the same year in a local show?

Am I a hypocrite for now declaiming scams after having done it and admitted it ten years ago? (If you say yes, perhaps look up the definition of hypocrite?) I would just say I changed my position – and lived up to it.

Surely the question is better asked of agency heads/CD’s who decry the idea of scamming in public and in the press (well, they have to!) and then not only do it anyway, but also re-engineer agencies to become scam factories turning out work in a desperate effort to get up the league tables.

If the agency CD’s who indulge in it believe in it as a valid practice – why not be public about it?

Frenchy used to. I used to.

In BBH we chatted long and hard about whether the ad above would open us up to the usual death by blogging anonymous quotes – and the misinterpretation of it being the same old scam debate. No surprises there apart from a few kind and more considered souls!

So just to clarify, the ad above was from BBH – it’s their record and integrity on scam in Asia you should debate it on.

This entry is from Steve Elrick. Who now rather tries to uphold the principals he thought were rather impressive when he joined some time ago.

Oh, one more question or request fellas. If you do believe in your point of view, if you actually believe in it – why be anonymous about it?


Anonymous said:

I respect your honesty Steve.

I used to work in Singapore and did my fair share of initiative work. The way I see it is local Singaporean creatives can't see any other way to get forward except via scamming. When you win awards you get promoted, more money and good job offers.

Even you, who are so anti-scam now, hire senior guys who got noticed winning awards via scam.

Steve, is it fair that you, via your trade ad, now say all creatives should stop all scam and effectively put their career opportunities on hold? What advice would you give to junior and middle-weight creatives who see scam as the only way to get noticed?

I admire your non-scam poicy, but I think your argument would stand up more and send a stronger message if you set an example at BBH and had a policy of not hiring creatives with books full of scam.


Anonymous said:

Steve Elrick should clear the air once and for all by posting (or naming) some of his REAL work here that "perhaps impressed Hegarty"?

Anonymous said:

He bullt his reputation on scam ads.
Now he decries them.

Do we really have to look up the definition of hypocrite to recognise that he is one? Just because he changed his position, he still reaped - and continues to reap - the rewards.

Anonymous said:

Hey Steve, just before you impressed the hell out of Hegarty at BBH, you spent some time at Chiat Day/LA...now that's an agency that does some great REAL work....yet you were there only for a month...or is it three? What happened there?

Anonymous said:

We now go live to the Middle East....


Anonymous said:

Respect to Steve Elrick.

You loopy one-eyed tools that are still crapping on about Decrying Scams are still missing the point... People are losing their jobs to pay whole salaries a year to enter work into awards. Not to mention spending money on production.

Where does that money go to? It goes to Emap and others... Do these people care about standards? Or profits? These people are capitalising on our industries stupid egos.

Emap paid $50Million for Cannes. Why?

See it for what it really is people.

Anonymous said:

Whats your point 6.41... a lot of very profitable businesses capitalise on the vanity of the consumer, even (gasp), advertising...whats so new about what you're saying?

Anonymous said:

I guess what 6.41 is saying is......
should the money be going to emap..
...or keeping creative teams in a job?

Jay said:

Frankly, I dont think this ad was created with the altruistic motive of telling other agency heads to reconsider doing scam. Why should BBH care if other agencies want to continue to shoot themselves in the foot or fire people indiscriminately as a result of it....none of their business.

However, this ad an indirect way of alerting clients (who read the trade mags) that their agency is quite possibly squandering a lot of resources on things that have nothing to do with their often serious business issues. It ignites doubt in the client's mind and sooner or later, maybe they start asking awkward questions of their agency.

And maybe just maybe, that same client might just remember BBH when he's calling that next pitch.

Bike Shop said:

Scam ads will never die. All the bigs in town do them. All the global heads demand points for ranking. Agencies that shy away from it now just aren't doing the scams good enough anymore or just don't have the massive resource to shell them out. Ogilvy and Steve Back's 800 k Cannes gamble is well known to all. Think what this ego budget buster could have done as far as bonuses for our staff or ex-co committee. DDB is having a good run now, but it is very suspect. Judges from outside our country are wondering what we are doing here in Asia now. We used to do it for fun, as an outlet, like Stevo says but now it is a professional KPI of any ECD. And to what end, the poor ECD's job is on the line if he doesn't win. Damned if you don't. Good luck to all of you.

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