MAMUN M. ADIL: Your presentation at AdAsia 2019 on ‘Imperfect Beauty’ centred on why brands should use ‘imperfect’ people in their advertising. Do you believe this should apply in all instances?
TAY GUAN HIN: The work we do is also determined by the clients we work with. In the first few rounds, you share your vision and express how a campaign should roll out and what stories you want to tell. Sometimes, along the way, difficult decisions have to be made, because clients want to adhere to certain guidelines; therefore, I have my own share of horrible ads that feature wonderful looking people whose presence does not make any sense. However, I definitely believe that if you push something too perfect or predictable, it will not be as effective. I also think people who look too good somehow do not connect with consumers and the results are not that engaging. Unfortunately, that is something a lot of clients want, so I then look for ‘imperfect situations’.
MMA: What do you mean by that?
TGH: If you think about it, most ads centre on a problem that has to be solved; the problem caused the ‘imperfection’ and the brand comes in and provides a solution. I don’t think this structure has changed over the years, but the way we tell stories has, in order to make them more emotional and engaging.
MMA: Could you give an example?
TGH: We did an activity for Lux that won a Grand Prix at Spikes Asia. It entailed selling fragrance with sound and no visuals – so the ‘imperfection’ in this case probably was finding a way of doing things differently. We hijacked a song dedication programme on radio by ‘punking’ the DJ who was supposed to play songs callers dedicated to their loved ones. Part of the ‘imperfection’ was to make the DJ think that all the different men who called him were either proposing or dedicating a song to just one girl – Kareena –leaving him confused. At the end of the show, ‘Kareena’ called in and apologised for causing so much confusion. She said “I am sorry; I am using Lux fragrance and it is so alluring that I can’t make male admirers get off me.” So that was a nice way to communicate a brand’s fragrance using only sound.
MMA: What other factors come into play when you decide which way your work is heading?
TGH: Whenever I see or do any work, I ask myself three things. ‘Is it relevant?’, ‘Is it relatable?’, and ‘Is it real?’ I think these three Rs are important because they make for better content. They help me teach other people as well. For example, if a creative comes to me with a fairytale-like storyline that has a happy ending featuring beautiful people, I ask them if they think it is relevant, relatable or real. If their answer is no, I ask them why they are giving me work that has no relevance. So these three Rs serve as a checklist for me.
MMA: Globally, an increasing number of brands are steering towards ‘purpose’. It was also a talking point at AdAsia 2019. Do you think this is a trend catering to Millennials or is it here to stay?
TGH: Whether it is a trend or not, the important thing is that brands cannot just keep on selling or pushing their products, they have to turn their selling into serving, which can translate into helping their community to give meaning to the work that they do, or even making donations. For me, this is a bigger and broader theme, because it cannot be classified as a trend; it requires brands to do more than selling, otherwise they will start to lose customers.
MMA: You have described yourself as a ‘vertical storyteller’. Could you elaborate?
TGH: It is a way of telling stories on a mobile platform, because 94% of the time we hold our phones vertically, yet quite a lot of brands still continue to shoot horizontal content and upload it on social media or in a banner. I have been pushing for content that is especially created for mobile phones. For example, we did a piece of communication for Kit Kat using their tagline Have a Break, Have A Kit Kat specifically for the mobile platform in a vertical format. The insight that led us to create it was that one of the things that frustrate people when they are online is a slow connection, requiring them to wait for the content to load. Keeping this in mind, we encouraged people to have a Kit Kat while they waited. Ultimately, vertical storytelling is short-form content done specifically for the mobile phone in the 9x16 format in an engaging manner as opposed to the 16x9 [horizontal] format. This is becoming increasingly important in today’s world, when mobiles have more screen space and no buttons. Yet people don’t know how to tell vertical stories. They assume that shooting and uploading vertical videos is all they need to do, and that is not the case. They have to find ways of creating vertical content that engages audiences and creates better recall.
MMA: What is preventing this from becoming common practice?
TGH: Part of it is ignorance and partly higher costs in terms of editing and animation. It also has to do with stubbornness; people do not want to adapt and the fact is that a lot of work has to go into creating vertical content that is immersive.
MMA: Do you think the ‘vertical trend’ is relevant in spheres other than advertising?
TGH: Yes, music videos are increasingly shot in the vertical format and they are more engaging and have better recall. Taylor Swift, for example, releases all her videos in the vertical format and TV channels in China that stream content are beginning to do so as well. Samsung earlier this year, created a vertical TV and a month ago, they created the world’s first vertical stage for concerts. However, it is important to remember that it is not a contest between horizontal and vertical; it is about the importance of vertical storytelling due to increasing mobile phone usage.
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