Q&A: Hwan-Jin Choi, Co-Chair of Korea’s Ad Stars Festival

South Korea’s advertising festival, Ad Stars is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year coming off a successful 2016 where it received more than 18,000 entries.

A novel aspect of Ad Stars is its lack of an entrance fee as well as an open acceptance policy that allows anyone with an internet connection to submit their work. This provides an opportunity for smaller agencies or even individuals to go toe-to-toe with the big dogs.

As Leigh Reyes, a 2016 Ad Stars Juror and MullenLowe Philippines Creative Director, told Branding in Asia earlier this year, “AdStars is unique in that it’s a major show that doesn’t charge entry fees. This isn’t an excuse to carpet-bomb all the categories with your artificially-intelligent bar coaster. It does, however, give smaller agencies a little more flexibility.”


We recently caught up with the co-chair of Ads Stars Professor Hwan-Jin Choi at his office in Seoul to talk about what’s on tap for the festival this year and moving forward.

2017 marks the 10th anniversary of Ad Stars. What are the highlights for the festival this year?

The marketing communications environment is changing at a very high speed and to a great extent, so as a result, Ad Stars is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the hightlighted theme, the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

We also have special seminars to view the variance not only in marketing and advertising but also in entrepreneurship and job opportunities brought on by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What makes Ad Stars unique from other festivals?

Ad Stars has tried to differentiate itself from other international advertising festivals since its launch. While other festivals are only for advertising professionals, Ad Stars is open to both advertising professionals as well as the general public. Even college students are encouraged to enter. That makes us unique in the field.


And, since It doesn’t cost anything to enter your work, anybody can freely participate when they have good work. Furthermore, since the entry system is held online, you can enter the work anytime and anywhere and follow in real time.

What have been some of the biggest challenges for the festival?

As the global economic downturn is being prolonged, advertising firms with management issues are cutting back in participating in international advertising festivals. This is due to the burden of the entry and delegate fees and caused by the decreasing staff.

The fact that the necessity to participate in advertising festivals is decreasing is also a big problem facing Ad Stars.

Ad Stars at the moment is in a difficult position where it has to raise its awareness and authority in a short period of time and to overcome the lower demand for advertising awards in the intense competition.

As you mentioned, Ad Stars doesn’t charge for submissions, how does that affect the sustainability strategy going forward?

Like many online business models, the Ad Stars’ business model was to increase traffic through free services and create profit from paid content. However, it was not easy to create a revenue model because of the flood of advertising-related free content over the Internet.

But fortunately, due to the free entry policy, the number of entries has steadily increased and is expected to grow over 20,000 this year. Also, the awareness and image of Ad Stars is increasing.

Particularly, thanks to a joint partnership with ad:tech, the number of paying visitors with high loyalty is increasing. We are expecting that we can soon be able to secure the revenue, even higher than we could get from charging an entry fee,  through paid content with high added value.

What do you view as some of the strengths and weaknesses in South Korea’s advertising industry?

The strength of Korea’s advertising industry is the industry itself that is quickly accepting and actively responding to digitalization, and professional advertisement manpower with expertise and fast performance capabilities.

On the other hand, weaknesses include distorted industrial structures caused by the monopoly of some companies.

In other words, in-house agencies in large corporations have monopolized the advertising agency market. You see this in portal websites such as Naver.com as it monopolizes the advertising media market. This makes it difficult for unique, small businesses in the creative industry and freelancers to grow. This also leads to the diminishment of potential growth of the advertising industry itself.

As a professor, what advice do you give your senior students who are getting ready to seek work in the creative industry?

The advertising-focused creative of the industry should not limit themselves to just cultivating artistic creativity, they should develop practical, problem-solving skills for given tasks such as marketing goals. I think that strategic thinking ability and executive power are important for this.

In order to grow these abilities, it is important to have experience in establishing various strategies such as participating in contests, but it is also necessary to experience actual marketing through entrepreneurship, internship, and on the job experience.

Can you share with us some Korean ad campaigns that you like?

Chair Changes Your Life

For a campaign with outstanding strategy and outcome, I really liked the Effie Awards Korea 2016 Grand Prix winner from Sidiz ‘Chair Changes Your Life’. The campaign targeted the privately made chair buying segment which accounts for 90% of the total market.

It increased engagement with consumers and the purchases of the Sidiz brand.

SSG.com: 쓱 “Sseug”

A campaign that is outstanding in creative is the Shinsegae online shop SSG.com – 쓱 “Sseug” campaign

The harmony and sensuality of the artwork and copy that brought SSG to Korean tastes not only promoted the ad’s appeal but also succeeded in dramatically increasing the number of visitors to their online shopping mall.

Ad Stars will be held in Busan, South Korea August 24–26. For information on submission or attending visit www.adstars.org

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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