A NEW controversy over the standard of commercials could well rear its head, even as finalists head towards the winning post in this year's advertising industry's 4As Creative Awards. The presentation gala, which will take place on Saturday, May 28 at the Hong Kong Convention Centre, is considered to be one of the largest award shows of its kind in Asia. But that high status has not saved it from criticisries. This year, the quality of commercials could well come under the spotlight again. The timetable of the judging - which takes place three weeks before the awards' evening - is already well advanced. The judging for the Chinese award took place on May 3 and the judges will complete judging for the main show on Friday. This year's theme, ''The Next Decade'', is billed by the industry as ''a reflection of our commitment in the future of Hong Kong's advertising''. But, according to one of the judges, Jimmy Lam, vice-chairman of the Lintas Group, there had been little to celebrate about the general standard of advertising in the territory. Mr Lam, who was recently involved in the preliminary judging for another industry awards' night, said that after watching two to three hours of ads for the other awards' event, most on the panel had been left feeling ''extremely disappointed''. Mr Lam said: ''There were very few that made us want to sit up and stop yawning.'' Ken McKenzie, the publisher of Media magazine, said the quality of work coming from the territory's advertising industry had been on a plateau for some years and this year nothing in radio, print or television advertising had been particularly memorable. ''I think there's been a plateau of the past four to five years simple because no one seems to have come up with any ads that break away from the mould.'' Mr McKenzie said the trouble was that Hong Kong's creative directors fell into the habit of spending money, rather than coming up with ideas. ''The continuing failure is the inability to find the central idea reflecting Hong Kong's way of life. It happens in other countries; there's absolutely no reason why it can't happen here.'' He said it was sad that Hong Kong's creative troubles were part of a broader problem effecting the Asian advertising industry. ''I can't for the life of me think of a commercial I like and it's really sad. Some of the Japanese ads were interesting once and some of the Thai ads were good in the past. But since they have begun to make money, they are spending it all on production values. Everyone should pretend their advertising budget is $500; the idea has to shine through.'' Yet one of the judges, Winnie Yu of Hong Kong Commercial Radio Broadcasting, who has been judging the Chinese awards, said there were encouraging signs in the quality of the entries. ''There were quite a few good pieces of work,'' Ms Yu said. ''Overall, I would say no one yawned: the air-conditioning was freezing and we were on our toes.'' Conrad Chiu, director of client services at J Walter Thompson, said standards of advertising had been much the same this year, compared with previous years. ''One of the significant factors influencing the market is that it is getting more and more competitive. [Things are becoming more] sales driven,'' he said. That trend, said Mr Chiu, was having an impact on the creative element of Hong Kong advertising. Entries for this year's awards come from about 50 categories, including Print, TV, Radio, Outdoor, Direct Marketing and Design. These will be judged by a panel of seven international judges. Entries for the Chinese awards section were judged by a panel of seven Chinese judges. As in the past, gold, silver and bronze awards and finalist certificates can be won in all categories except the Kam Fan section. This section will honour the most outstanding piece of advertising or an advertising campaign.