Q&A: Hwanjin Choi – The Chairperson of South Korea’s Annual MAD STARS

A conversation covering the latest industry trends and technologies, this year’s MAD STARS event, his vision for the future, and more.

Hwanjin Choi

MAD STARS, formerly AD STARS, an international creative festival is now accepting entries for 2024. The festival, whose name is an acronym for Marketing, Advertising, and Digital content, first launched in 2008 with 3,105 entries from 29 countries and has seen its presence grow considerably over the years with 2023 bringing in 20,282 pieces from 63 countries.

To get caught up on the latest with the annual festival, including some new changes, we recently spoke with MAD STARS, Chairperson, Hwanjin Choi.

Over the course of our conversation, Choi talks about what’s on tap for MAD STARS 2024, a new monetization strategy, the growing presence of AI in the industry, a greater emphasis on sustainability, his vision for the future of MAD STARS, and more.


 

The theme for MAD STARS 2024 is “AIM: Aim Marketing Success with AI.” What are your thoughts on the latest industry trends and technologies, particularly focusing on the role of AI?

Since the AI trend is here to stay, particularly in relation to the open-form platform ChatGPT, significant changes are forecast for the marketing and advertising industries as well.

I recently had a chat with the CEOs of some prominent Korean advertising agencies, and most of them are setting up new divisions responsible for research and development and technical applications of AI with a view to leveraging the technology from a range of angles. Of course, AI has many flaws since it is still in its infancy, but I believe it will rapidly transform various aspects of our work, from marketing to advertising.

For example, AI will be widely used by marketers in everything from product instructions to packaging design, and by advertising firms in copywriting, writing draft proposals and making presentations all the way through to actual advertisement design and video production. In line with this, I predict there will be lot of changes in terms of the scale of production outsourcing and the management and makeup of internal HR.


 

In particular, I think we will see more direct management from advertisers. This is because with the development of AI, the agency structure between advertisers, agencies and production will change in a way such that advertisers directly handle more work in advertisement planning, production, and media planning.

Can you tell us about your recent implementation of the monetization strategy in the expert sector?

You could say MAD STARS made a belated entry to the advertising festivals market. However, we adopted an ambitious strategy of allowing free submissions which helped us embrace creative solutions from around the world, and I think that’s why we were able to become established as a successful international advertising festival.

Now that we are closing in on our 20th anniversary, we are taking on a new challenge based on the unique expertise we have built up so far, and that’s our decision to charge an entry fee for the Professionals division.

Of course, we know that students with good ideas might be hesitant to submit entries because of the monetary barrier, so submissions will remain free for the General Public division, but we have introduced a minimal processing fee for submissions to the Professionals division.

“Now that we are closing in on our 20th anniversary, we are taking on a new challenge based on the unique expertise we have built up so far, and that’s our decision to charge an entry fee for the Professionals division.”

We set a lower fee for seven of the Stars awards including Print Stars, Outdoor Stars, Radio & Audio Stars and SDGs Stars in order to reduce the financial burden on advertising agencies and advertisers in developing countries, and this was aimed at furthering the original MAD STARS strategy of ‘enabling anyone with a good idea to submit their work without any burden.’

The entry fee also works on a sliding scale throughout the submissions period, and we have offered early-bird discounts and other concessions. In the end we’ve added a minimal level of payment to the Professionals division after taking a range of circumstances into account, so I believe any creatives around the world with novel campaigns can still submit their work without too much trouble.

As the marketing landscape evolves, how does MAD STARS approach incorporating these changes into its programs and offerings to ensure continued relevance?

Change in the marketing space is characterized by polarization between the rapid pace of technological development and those who are falling behind, unable to keep up with this pace. The biggest problem right now is that this gap is gradually widening.

Accordingly, we plan to focus on programs that explore human values and human nature in addition to our programs centered on evolution in the MAD TECH fields of marketing, advertising, and technology (conferences and exhibitions, etc.).

“We plan to focus on programs that explore human values and human nature in addition to our programs centered on evolution in the MAD TECH fields of marketing, advertising, and technology.”

Although Technological advancement, especially with respect to AI, has brought rapid change in the marketing and advertising industries, but I don’t think it’s capable of having such a large impact on human consumption or in our life. There are still many consumers who feel burdened by rapid technological advancement, so we will be sure to come up with programs that meet their needs.

MAD STARS is placing a greater focus on sustainable development. What are some initiatives and strategies the organization is implementing in this area?

MAD STARS is encouraging marketing and advertising campaigns in this area through the inclusion of the SDGs (Sustainability Development Goals) Stars in the PSA Group. As an example, we present our highest honor of Grand Prix of the Year to the most outstanding entry in the PSA Group.

Thus, MAD STARS appreciates the 2 Grand Prix of the Year from Product & Service Group and PSA Group. With a view to reflecting sustainable development in our programs, we have also arranged lectures at our conferences that discuss marketing and advertising campaigns linked to the SDGs. Sustainability is a major concern worldwide, so we remain committed to our principles and strategy in this respect.

 What are your key expectations from the marketing industry going forward? What collaborations or initiatives would you like to see to further advance the industry’s goals?

In the wake of digitization, the advent of technology such as AI is driving change in the marketing and advertising fields. In order to adapt and survive to reach the next stage amid these changes, our industry has to minimize the gaps resulting from the constant stream of AI technologies. To ensure our industry survives the AI revolution, I believe small-to-medium-sized marketing and advertising firms from outside the Western sphere need to work together to come up with a joint response.

“In the wake of digitization, the advent of technology such as AI is driving change in the marketing and advertising fields. In order to adapt and survive to reach the next stage amid these changes, our industry has to minimize the gaps resulting from the constant stream of AI technologies.”

For example, in a situation where AI is becoming the norm, they need to find ways to jointly develop more effective marketing or advertising strategies or pool their respective experience and expertise to create a synergy effect. This will require proactive use of MAD TECH platforms such as MAD STARS. Of course, MAD STARS will also be proactive about creating opportunities to help them play a central role.

What sets Mad Stars 2024 apart from previous events?

With the decision to change the Professionals division as payment this year, MAD STARS is focused on enhancing the quality rather than the quantity of entries. We will also strive to improve the quality of the conferences, exhibitions, and networking programs we put together to illuminate trends and changes in the industry and share new solutions, making them venues where people can actively exchange ideas.

In particular, we’re going to create programs that introduce and highlight cutting-edge technology such as AI at our conferences and exhibitions, with a focus on exploring shared strategies for coping with technological advancement in each sector.

 What is your vision for the future of Mad Stars? What are your expectations and hopes for the event’s continued success and impact on the marketing industry?

Ever since the inception of MAD STARS, our vision has been to differentiate ourselves from Western international advertising festivals that primarily cater to Europe and North America. We seek to include countries of different economic and cultural levels from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America to become a platform that respects the diversity each region brings in terms of ethnicity, religion, and cultural background.

To achieve this, we ensure our judging panels and speakers consist of diverse genders, ages, and backgrounds, and we endeavor to showcase pieces from different cultural backgrounds in our exhibition programs as well.

“MAD STARS aims to become a leader in marketing, advertising, and technology by holding standalone MAD TECH conferences.”

Although MAD STARS is still catching up to Western advertising festivals that have been around for 60-70 years, I am confident we will become established as a leading non-Western creative festival that embraces diversity as we write our own 50-60 years of history.

We continue to break with convention, moving beyond a traditional creative festival to become a platform that encompasses marketing, advertising, and digital content. MAD STARS aims to become a leader in marketing, advertising, and technology by holding standalone MAD TECH conferences.


To learn more about MAD STARS visit them on the web here.

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Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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