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Intelligence Briefs

Creativity at Spikes Asia shows brands can use their superpowers to make a difference

Industry Contributor

Nicola Lewis, Chief Investment Officer
Group M

30 September 2019 4min read

Like Greta Thunberg, could media use its ‘superpowers’ in the pursuit of education and inspiration to make a positive impact in culture?

Spikes Asia 2019, a year where brands continue to take risks. Risks in the way they utilise different platforms and take advantage of spaces that haven’t been used before. Risks in creating uniqueness and competitive edge. Risks by leveraging the proliferation of platforms to create real and meaningful cultural change.

Risk taking in our industry is not new, but it’s never been more true that risks only pay off if they are well thought out, authentic, and not undertaken solely in the pursuit of ‘likes’ or attention.


Key points

  • The number of entries into Spikes Asia is impressive (4,000 in total) and tells a positive story.  Spikes is held in high regard in the region and attendees come from far and wide.  27 countries in total, from Japan to Kazakhstan, Malaysia to Australia.
  • 335 entries into the Media category alone, testament to the fact that Media led thinking is alive and well.
  • 45 per cent increase in entries from brands directly.  Brands want to win awards. Why? Because it drives ROI and is proof that media itself is core to campaign effectiveness.
  • Number of campaigns with purpose at the heart? There are no official figures but seeing what I have over the last five days I’d say at least 50 per cent

My Takeout


At Spikes Asia, I witnessed purposeful innovation, and brands making a difference. Some Australian brands that submitted work to Spikes Asia got it right. But lost in the pursuit of purpose, some got it very wrong.

I landed in Singapore the day after the F1 final,  just in time to see the empty stands, the residual of high speed cornering on what would have ordinarily been shiny, pristine streets and to witness one of the hotel concierges swapping a Mobil Exxon sign out for a Spikes Asia sign. And so just like that the small island of Singapore went from the home of race car drivers to showcasing the best and brightest of Asia’s advertising fraternity. 

This was my first time at Spikes and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was honoured to be asked to judge the media category (which I am proud to say Australia and NZ did particularly well in), and to be privy to work that brought the wonderfully colourful cultures from across the region to life.  Cultures that are steeped in belief, passion, community and good old-fashioned tenacity.  

My fellow jurors from China, India, Singapore and NZ were graceful and patient with my questions, stopping frequently to explain the depth and richness of the cultural insights behind much of the work. In a region as diverse as Asia, to plough through without trying to understand a culture alien to me would undermine the role of a juror, and the work. 

Over the past week I have witnessed purposeful innovation, and a comforting resurgence of brand creativity, as the belief that performance builds brands reaches maturity. 

But at the same time, we as a jury, also witnessed many brands that simply lost themselves in the pursuit of purpose, and by inserting their brand into a cultural/societal topic they believed would give them credibility and purpose, they got it very wrong.  

In our world, a world of rapidly growing false truths, authenticity counts for everything, and disingenuousness for, well, not much.  Because of this, when a brand gives back in a genuine way it has the power to help people live better lives. In doing so it demonstrates a superpower that goes a long way to making a positive impact on culture and society. 

In a world where a teenager, who sees her Asperger’s Syndrome and being a little different, as the superpower that allows her to take on the establishment, and really make a difference in a way that others couldn’t.

Among the cynicism, brands too can change lives and can bring joy and happiness to people – when their actions are authentic.  Two brilliant examples of purpose, with authenticity in what I saw at Spikes were Berger Paints and The Food Bank of West Australia. 

Berger Paints collaborated with artist/activist Samar Minallah Khan and Roshni Helpline to launch their campaign ‘Truck Art Child finder’. Using vehicles as a canvas to paint murals of missing children onto the extensive network of delivery trucks that make their way methodically through the unforgiving terrain of Pakistan to find missing/stolen children.  A terrain that many of these stolen children find themselves lost in. Now, I don’t have children, but it’s impossible to ignore how powerful a campaign that finds seven missing children is. If it had only found one child Berger Paints would have achieved superpower status in my eyes. The brand link was both powerful and purposeful.

Or take Food Bank of WA, a charity which created pure genius with a campaign to sell ‘Hungry Puffs’, a cereal that doesn’t actually exist.  Inside the black and white printed cereal boxes was nothing – exactly what more than 100,000 West Aussie kids wake up to every day. Selling each box for $5 in IGAs in and around Western Australia, Food Bank enabled 625,000 more breakfasts for children who otherwise would have gone to school hungry. 

Both of these examples are brilliant and authentic. Brands using their superpowers to make a real impact.

However, amongst the brilliance there were some brands that really missed the mark, and in turn got it really wrong. I won’t call those brands out, but I would like to illustrate why I believe it is so important that we, as brands and creatives, get brand purpose right. 

Over time we have opened our brands up so people can play with them, experience them, and ultimately grow to love and respect them.  In doing so we, as an industry have shown we have the power to make people’s lives better, whether that be to use the canvas of a truck to help find missing children in Pakistan or to ensure that one less child in WA goes to school hungry.  And so, I believe that brands who do not use their superpowers for good, but instead use ‘purpose’ to masquerade as a supporter of social responsibility are not only doing themselves  a disservice, but also opening up our industry as a whole to potential criticism.  

Why does that matter? The risk is that if we face criticism as an industry we will stop taking risks to help educate and inspire. If we stop trying to educate and inspire then brands will suffer. If brands suffer then people suffer, because whether we like it or not advertising goes a long way to supporting the very economies we live in.

So, in short, to all those brands out there, whether from China, Australia, NZ, Kazakhstan, or Malaysia, always remember that while purpose is incredibly important to brand building be careful not to lose your brand in the pursuit of it. We have a responsibility to get it right. When we do it is sheer brilliance, not only on a creative level but also on a human level.

    Let’s go. What do you think?

    Industry Contributor

    Nicola Lewis, Chief Investment Officer
    Group M

    Nicola was promoted to GroupM Chief Investment Officer in 2018 after spending four years at GroupM agency Mindshare as CIO.

    A highly respected media executive, with extensive experience across all channels and digital integration, she now leads the investment function at the biggest media investment group in Australia and sits on the Senior Leadership Team.

    In 2018, Nicola was named the ninth most powerful woman in media by B&T Magazine, and was shortlisted as Executive Leader of the Year within the Women in Media Awards.

    Before moving agency side, Nicola spent her career in publishers in both Australia and the UK. Nicola earned a degree in Psychology at Sussex University before joining the Conde Nast sales team based in central London. She moved to Australia in 2003. 

    She has held high profile sales roles at both Fairfax and News Corp in Australia and immediately prior to joining the Mindshare National Leadership team, spent five years serving as National Sales Director of News Digital Media before moving to the role of NSW Sales Director of the integrated print and digital business within NewsCorp Australia. 

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