The worst kind of advertising is the one which is neither hot nor cold, sort of lukewarm. If I pour lukewarm water on you, your reaction will be nothing. But if I pour hot or very cold water on you, you will have a strong reaction. Advertising has to be like that... The work needs to provoke one’s emotions... Most clients don’t like that, because if you do that, there can be some trouble, but if consumers are talking about it, whether negative or positive, it’s a good thing. Advertisers are sometimes spending a lot of money to go under the radar – spending so much money on a front page ad that doesn’t say anything. That’s the dilemma we face.Wain Choi joined Cheil Worldwide in September 2010 as Global Executive Creative Director to lead its global creative division. His global experience, success and extensive knowledge of the Korean advertising business is a true asset to the agency. Born in South Korea, Choi spent most of his years living and working in Canada and Belgium, before heading back to his roots. Q. You said Samsung is now trying to maintain consistency and similar style across its communication. Do you think that would work as each country has its own culture and consumer behaviours?
On graduating from Canada’s highly regarded Ontario College of Art & Design, Choi joined Bates in October 1992. He quickly established himself as a force in the Canadian advertising scene, working on brands such as Hyundai, Warner Lambert and Hilton Hotels.
From there, he joined Canada’s largest advertising agency, Cossette Communications, as Associate Creative Director. He had the opportunity to leave his mark on such recognisable brands as Nike, Coca-Cola, GM and Bombardier.
In May 2001, he made the leap to Young & Rubicam as Vice President, Group Creative Director, where he worked on notable brands such as AT&T, Campbell’s, Colgate-Palmolive and Ford.
In January 2003, Choi made the move to Dentsu Brussels to become its Executive Creative Director. He worked on some of the world’s biggest marketers such as Toyota F1, Lexus, Bridgestone, Panasonic and TDK, and helped transform that office into a respectful creative shop.
In March, 2007, Wain was honored to join the Seoul office of Ogilvy as Vice-President and Chief Creative Officer.
Choi’s work has been recognised by some of the most prestigious award shows, including Cannes, The One Show, Communication Arts, London International, New York Festival, Clio, Eurobest and Spikes. He has also been part of the jury at the Marketing Awards Show (Canada), Cannes Young Lions Challenge National Competition, Spikes (Singapore) & Chair Jury of Young Creatives at Busan International Advertising Festival (Korea) and other Korean local award shows.
Wain Choi talks to Deepika Bhardwaj of exchange4media about his maiden trip to India since he joined the network in September last year, the agenda for the visit, his plans on boosting creativity in the network and his idea of advertising...
Q. Have you found that voice? At the moment we are still searching. We do have the brand character and brand personality, which is inviting, dynamic, but we still need to make it tighter, sharper. Taglines are great if you follow through all your communication.
I think yes. We have such a wide range of products that it becomes important that the voice coming out of Samsung is the right one. And if you look at all of the strong brands of the world – be it Virgin, Nike, Apple – there is a fair consistency in the way they communicate. Phil Knight and Dan Weiden from W+K did not brand Nike as pair of shoes. They voiced it as an honour to athletes – past, present and future athletes. That took it from basic nuts and bolts of functionality of issues to very God-like. That’s the communication. So, it’s very important for us to have the right voice for Samsung. It’s not just about detailed Galaxy S II or Galaxy Tablet or Smart PC, it should have a voice. Q. Has the agency been successful in changing the perception of marketers too?
Sure. One of the main reasons GM approached us was because we did great work for Samsung. Cheil has been at the heart of Samsung’s success and that’s what appealed to GM. Q. Is there any global initiative to shed that Image?
Well, we now have a mandate to go after local clients in each office. For example, from our headquarters in Korea, we just picked up General Motors business for Chevy and have finished working on two accounts – Alpha and Malibu. They are very happy with the work we have done and have given us another product, Aveo. Hopefully we can pick up all of their business from HS (chuckles) and once we are secure domestically and have all the power in India, China, Shanghai and Beijing, we can pitch for Asia or South East Asia for the GM business. Imagine that. So we are going step by step. Q. Do you think having a Global Executive Creative Director helps? What is your contribution to the operations? What do you get yourself involved in?
No! It’s a waning position; no one needs it (laughs). But you can look at it from this point of view – if you have someone at this position who is really passionate about the work and does not have a political point of view, treat the creative regardless of ranks and hierarchy, its good. But if you do things that are political and not valuable, then it’s useless. My focus since last year has been on building a strong creative team - people who are hungry and want to do great work. That has been my focus since last year. Q. What is your success mantra for the team?
Work, Work and Work. It sounds simple, but the truth is that we are what we are because of our creative reputation. Sometimes it’s just not about the awards, but the kind of work that you do, work that engage, work that people talk about. You are most satisfied when you are sitting in a public transit and someone is talking about your work. That is the power of engagement. Cheil Worldwide in Korea has a great reputation, not just because it is the largest, but because of the kind of work we do. One thing I want to do before I go from this organisation is earn the same reputation for each of our offices. That’s my goal. Q. This is your first visit to India since you joined the Cheil Worldwide network in 2010. What’s on the agenda? What marks your visit here?
This is more of an internal visit from Cheil network. Samsung, one of our biggest clients, has a new brand guideline and new brand personality, so my job was to come here and have a training session for the Indian team. The idea is to grow brand consistency. Samsung is a large network with a wide product range; we want to be as consistent as possible wherever we go in terms of look and feel, personality and presentation manner. Most of the successful brands like Nike, Apple have a consistent presentation - design, graphics and voice. The voice that comes out of a brand is very important. We have been fragmented until now, but we feel the need for making everything the same. It doesn’t mean we would do Canadian type of advertising here, but our brand’s voice would be consistent - a voice that resonates with the consumer. Q. So it’s purely for Samsung? Any other to-do?
This is the first time I am visiting India since I joined Cheil last year. So I am meeting the team, especially the creative talent, looking at their work to see the calibre we have in this office. On the personal front, I like creating an A-list of creative people in my network, kind of a SWOT team, so that if a very big project happens, then I just hit the button and get these people involved. Q. And what kind of work would bring that reputation?
Work that touches the consumer’s heart! I believe, we can do stuff, but if it does not touch the consumer’s heart, it’s useless. The worst kind of advertising is the one which is neither hot nor cold, sort of lukewarm. If I pour lukewarm water on you, your reaction will be nothing. But if I pour hot or very cold water on you, you will have a strong reaction. Advertising has to be like that. I don’t like to produce work that makes one neither hate it nor like it, but just lingers. If you produce that kind of work, you better not do it. The work needs to provoke one’s emotions. Make you cry or make you angry, if you have done that, you have done your job. Most clients don’t like that, because if you do that, there can be some trouble, but if consumers are talking about it, whether negative or positive, it’s a good thing. Advertisers are sometimes spending a lot of money to go under the radar – spending so much money on a front page ad that doesn’t say anything. That’s the dilemma we face. Q. Cheil has for long been known as Samsung’s in-house agency. What have been some of your moves to step away from that image?
Unfortunately, worldwide having that baggage of in-house agency has a bad connotation. People who work at in-house agencies are not considered to be creative enough to work in a real agency, which was bang on. But if you go to Korea, in-house agencies are agencies with all the talent in the city, because they have the revenue, they have the resource, for example, Samsung has Cheil, LG has HS, Hyundai has Innocean. But the idea of an in-house agency reporting to only that brand has changed. At Cheil, in order to move away from that image, we have decided to work, work and work. We have decided to prove our differentiated work. We won a Grand Prix this year for the Tesco campaign. If every office in our network produces award winning work like that, we are happy, we are there! Lot of big agencies had advertising culture since birth, we did not have it. We are now bringing in world class talent. Elvis has joined the team in India. So bringing in great talent and doing great work are two efforts to shed that image. Our goal is to make Samsung just 25 per cent of our whole profile. We want that Samsung is just one of our client and not our only client. Q. You have been the creative head for one year now. What do you think about the manner in which Cheil’s India operations are developing, especially from a creative standpoint?
At Cheil, we share a lot if similar information. We share a similar awards book, same leg of communication for the ads, so we have a very similar mindset. Our reference points are similar - same books, films, work, ads, etc., which makes exchanging ideas easier. But while the end product is similar, the approach all of us take to reach that point is different. Though this is my first visit here, I have been very fond of the creative work coming out of India. I was fortunate to be on the Jury this year for Spikes and a lot of Indian stuff was just amazing. Q. While it was one of the best years for Cheil Worldwide at Cannes with a Grand Prix, India could not even get a shortlist. How would you describe that and how important are awards to you as a network?
It cannot be like you decide okay this year we have to win an award and we work for it. It needs a lot of luck and tapping opportunity at the right time. It takes years to get there. The Indian team has seen changes. Now Elvis is here and we are giving him a lot of support from the headquarters. Unfortunately, we did not have something this year, but that doesn’t mean we would have nothing next year. We just need to work and deliver. There is no magic to it.
For me awards give great confidence to an agency and clients also say they want work like that. The industry also notices you. An agency that wins a lot of awards has a different walk. Wherever you go, you carry a different aura because your work speaks for you. This year, Cheil was in great demand, winning a Grand Prix.
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