Inside the AdFest judging room with Grand Jury President Merlee Jayme

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Inside the AdFest judging room with Grand Jury President Merlee Jayme

With the results of AdFest hot off the press, Campaign Brief Asia sat with Dentsu International APAC CCO Merlee Jayme, who served as Grand Jury President. Jayme gave her insights on the winners, her favorite entries, and what it was like to experience AdFest for the first time without festival President Jimmy Lam. Mikhail Lecaros reports.


The main challenge, shared Jayme, lay in making a point of understanding cultural touchpoints from the different Asian territories represented by the entries, no mean feat, given the international compositions of the juries.

“This year’s entries were very deep in local insights from specific markets,” says Jayme. “So there’s a lot of entries where we needed to understand the culture, read and re-read the supporting documents before even judging them.”

While the judges may have come from multiple countries, the one constant throughout the process was their commitment to recognizing and rewarding craft. As Jayme revealed, “Our standards were consistently very high, so we had very short shortlists. I guess it sends a message to agencies that this show means business, this is a serious show.”

The perfect example for the jury’s seriousness was when it came time to deliberate the Innova Lotus, awarded to ideas that “have pushed the marketing industry into unchartered territory”. Here, Finalists were required to present their works to the juries online, after which they fielded questions from the judges.

“I really loved my jury, they were pretty senior, so the grilling was tough!” laughs Jayme, “And it had to be. Because even if something has a chance to do well in other shows, here (for this category) you’re either on Innova or you’re not. So when the teams would leave the room, the way we would discuss the work -anything that made us doubt the work, we dropped it.”

When all was said and done, it was “One House To Save Many” by Leo Burnett Australia for client Suncorp Insurance that won out to score the Innova. Built around a prototype house designed to withstand all manner of weather and natural disasters, the campaign also took home two Golds in Brand Experience and Media, as well as three Silvers in Design and PR.


Inside the AdFest judging room with Grand Jury President Merlee Jayme

“It was a great idea,” says Jayme. “Because a lot of the time, we’re solving problems (after the fact), so it was good to see something that was built around prevention. And it made sense, coming from an insurance company.”

When it came time to select the Lotus Roots Grande for Humanity, the big winner was “Donation Dollar” by Saatchi & Saatchi Australia. A campaign for the Australian Mint, the Donation Dollar represented the first legal currency in the world specifically intended for use as a donation.


According to Jayme, “Donation Dollar” had the edge over its fellow finalists as, “It was actually moving away from advertising – it’s creating something for the betterment of people’s lives. Scalability wise, it works, and it has the government’s approval, so things like that were taken into consideration. Where other campaigns, you’re still thinking about making a donation, here, you’re already doing it!”

An entry that stood out for Jayme for its combination of digital technology and social awareness was the Silver-winning “Mask ID”, from Seoul’s Innocean Worldwide for client Dal Komm Café and the Korean Ministry of Health. Stemming from the insight that people making use of free wifi in cafes have a tendency to take their masks off, “Mask ID” used custom mobile facial recognition to ensure that patrons would be unable to access the internet if they were unmasked.


Inside the AdFest judging room with Grand Jury President Merlee Jayme

“I felt, and I remember some of the jury jury members so impressed because the young team behind it said that they really took the time to do every imaginable configuration of faces with a mask on the iPhone, or the iPhone. And this was very hard because Korea is the master of masks, so they had to make algorithms for every shape of mask. So when they explained the technology behind it, it was so impressive. Fantastic!”

Overall, Jayme’s judging experience this year was bittersweet, not only for marking the return to an annual awards cycle that is slowly returning to normal after two years of Covid, but also for being the first AdFest without its stalwart founder and President Jimmy Lam, who passed away last year.

“I was sad. We all felt his absence, and it’s just not the same. Having said that, I’m happy to see a lot of the entries that we saw this year, we really took the time to study their cultural backgrounds because AdFest, is an award show that understands Asian cultures. This is where Asian agencies can shine without changing their entries to match an international jury.”

By Mikhail Lecaros.