October 29, 2018

Tay Guan Hin is currently the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of TGH Collective. For over 25 years, Mr. Tay Guan Hin has helped global brands like Shell, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott, P&G, HSBC, and Unilever brands improve market share and solve business challenges. Guan started his career with West Coast LA agency Kresser/Craig after he graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He joined Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore at the height of its success, producing award winning work for Toyota, Navy and P&G under the stewardship of David Droga.

In 2008-2009, he played a critical role in the Asia Pacific Creative Council to achieve Network for the Year in both Adfest and Spikes Asia. In 2010, Guan became the first Singaporean to serve as a Cannes Outdoor Jury President. He was also the first Asian to serve as a D&AD Jury Foreman and was the second Asian to ever chair a CLIO jury. Over 25 years’ experience, Guan, an engaging speaker and judge, has frequently been invited to the APAC Effie, Cannes, One Show, NY Festival, Spikes and Adfest.

Devoting the same passion and energy that goes into his work into mentoring young talents in Asia, Guan was instrumental in setting up the Singapore Crowbar Awards, AdFest’s Young Lotus, and the Award School Asia, which has worked assiduously to foster the nurturing of budding talents in this region. APAC Global Advisory (AGA) has recently appointed Guan to bolster its team of change architects. Prior to that, Guan was the Creative Director for JWT’s South East Asia region.

During the recently held Communication Summit, where Guan was keynote speaker, he sat for an exclusive interview with Bangladesh Brand Forum, excerpts of which follow.

Bangladesh Brand Forum: How would you define creativity and why do you think it matters?

Tay Guan Hin: Creativity comes from understanding what is relevant, like tapping into pop culture to create something that is engaging. Creativity, most of the time, ensures that a brand is special. If not, all brands would be the same, then how would a brand stand out? In terms of helping brands grow, creativity is about creating relatable stories that best portray the brand.

Can creativity be taught?

I think it’s a myth that creativity is an inherent talent. The myth is somewhat plausible because sometimes when someone is born in an environment that is creative, they absorb what is in their surroundings. For example, if someone’s parent was an artist, he/she is susceptible to be influenced by those artistic values, but I don’t think one is born with it.

Passion trumps talent. What that means is that when someone is passionate about something, they surely learn. Working with passion means that you will be obsessing about every little detail and you will do the work over and over again until you have achieved perfection. Michelangelo copied other artists to hone in the skill to sculpt. I am not suggesting you have to copy to be creative, but once you polish your skills and achieve mastery then things will come naturally to you.

I’ll tell you something about myself, to be honest, I have just started my journey as a public speaker. Before that I was shy when I told my story, because I had self-esteem problems, yet today I am here talking about something that I believe in. I would not have become a public speaker if I didn’t have the drive to better myself.

You have over 25 years of working experience in the communication industry, how has the field transformed over the years?

When I first started this advertising journey, it was based on emotions, creating big ideas and also about the effect it would have on the bottom line. But now, it has completely changed. Digital has taken over, disrupting and transforming the industry. The advertising industry aside, you see businesses like Toys R Us or Kodak, which were profitable a decade ago, faltered as new technology emerged. So, I think in today’s world as a creative you have to be able to read the signs and crunch the numbers. There is this TV series called Mad Men, where Don Draper is one of the top ad men in the 1960s, but that sort of system no longer exists nor does Don Draper. Mad Men have now become the Mathematics Men. The person who best interprets data and who holds the numbers is the king. I think there should be a balance between creativity and data. Trying to understand both well, would serve us in making sure that we create the best possible outcome. Without data, I don’t think we can be that innovative because we need to understand some of the information that makes good creatives. On the other hand, I don’t think data should drive creativity, which is happening now, where creativity is not valued as much as before. The marriage of both the components is important.

How has the fourth-industrial revolution reshaped the advertising landscape?

It used to be an ad industry but it has now become an ad business. There are three factors that set apart the ad business: The first is forecasting; predicting what consumers want next. To be honest, anything that you post online is data that is being harvested and sold to big corporations who study data to enhance their predictions. The second is that with so much data availability, the guessing game is over and businesses can plan ahead more effectively. The third is that product testing is more responsive as you can get immediate reaction from the users, which speeds up the process of launching a product by many folds.  Clients feel that these three factors make the business more efficient compared to the good old days when advertisers tried to create wonderful content and hoped it reached out to the mass audience. Now we know where the audience lives, sleeps, and goes on holidays! With so much data that is available about any person, data privacy and protection will be the next big thing moving forward. Who knows it could come to a point where people do not want to share their data anymore and when that happens, maybe we’ll come back to square one, were we use creativity as a tool to reach our audience.

You have developed creative business solutions for global brands like Shell, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott and Unilever. Could you tell us something about a campaign that is memorable to you?

I worked for Unilever for 8 years and I was the global Executive Creative Director for Lux too. We had to promote fragrance and one way to promote fragrance is to create some tension between the senses. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of fragrances is smell, but what if you could see fragrances? So, in order to capture that fragrance, we created a viral video called, ‘Perfume Portraits’ featuring Katrina Kaif and a visually impaired photographer. The video starts off like an ordinary photoshoot until it is revealed that the photographer is actually visually impaired, which left a lasting impression on the minds of the consumers. This not only helped to promote the brand, but also I think redefined celebrity endorsement and we also gave some purpose to the photographer in realizing the dream of capturing one of the most beautiful Bollywood actresses of our time.

You have recently exited JWT and joined AGA, could you share a few words concerning the move?

With a lot of networks around the world, clients are cutting costs while also demanding more from the network agencies. I think there is a need for small agencies who are dealing with projects to projects and there is also a need for agencies to be more flexible. Part of what I am trying to do is give that much-needed flexibility. The third thing is about being nimble, you have to be specialized in some stuff because gone are the days when clients gave everything to a one stop shop. Clients are looking for specialists and the industry has evolved so much that if you don’t start to change you will die out.

You were South-East Asia’s first Cannes lion jury president. How was the entire experience?

It was fantastic. In 2010 I was the Outdoor jury president and it was a real honor. I had to decide upon 10 or 12 different jury members. Outdoor is one of the oldest mediums but it is one of the most exciting, because anything can happen. There is digital outdoor and ambient outdoor. At that time, we also looked at work that was breaking new grounds on the outdoor category. It was not only fascinating from a judging point of view but it was also a fantastic personal experience.

Any parting advice for the new generation coming up in the advertising industry?

With all the changes that is happening, it is very easy to give up. There is a lot of people out there who say that there is no longer a need for creativity and that big data is everything. I think young creatives today need to keep the passion alive. If you look at all the great leaders like Elon Musk or Richard Branson, these leaders had the gung-ho spirit to cross any obstacles they faced. I encourage the next generation to keep on doing what they believe in and embrace whatever comes their way.

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