One Malaysian Agency's View on Creativity in the East and the Importance of Human Connections
Naga DDB Tribal’s creative directors Jeremy Yeoh and Suryadipura Salleh are all about human connections and perhaps that’s one of the biggest secrets behind their ability to constantly create campaigns that resonate with their audiences.
In recent months, while Malaysia has been under lockdown, they have put their creative minds to the test by working on a campaign for KFC to serenade diners with a Spotify playlist of songs all about being lonely while preparing for the country’s Independence Day - one of the many festive seasons dubbed ‘the Super Bowl of Malaysian advertising’.
Jeremy and Suryadipura speak to LBB’s Natasha Patel about how Malaysia has fared over the past few months and why looking outside of the advertising world for creative inspiration is what they advise junior members of staff.
LBB> Tell us about the situation in Malaysia at present.
Jeremy> So the situation is under control here – surprisingly – it’s pretty good. In fact most of us are actually back to work. Strangely working from home is kind of working out for us.
Suryadipura> We’re at the recovering stage now. I’m quite surprised by Malaysians actually; I thought it would be kind of hard for Malaysians to follow standard operating procedures. But we’ve been quite good at it!
LBB> What would you say the mood is like at the moment?
Jeremy> The mood is pretty good, better than it was a couple of months back when this whole thing began. I think it's been about three weeks now since the movement order has been lifted so most of the businesses have reopened. In fact, we see a lot of people going back to the shopping malls now but there are social distancing measures. So far everything is under control, but life is getting back to normal.
Suryadipura> I would say it's mixed, I feel the government is more optimistic than the people in general. They say they’re going to lift the MCO [Malaysia movement control order]. A lot of people are saying ‘are we sure? Are we ready?’.
LBB> How have you found production and working in general through lockdown?
Jeremy> Shoots had to stop altogether. I guess as Malaysians we are a resilient bunch as well. One thing I saw was a lot of animation coming into play and with animation you need a bit more time for the complexity of it, but we had to do it within a short period of time. Most of the stuff that we did was shifted towards animation.
LBB> Did you do any remote shoots?
Jeremy> The recent one we did for KFC was a remote shoot.
Suryadipura> I’m pretty sure the production guys would be happy to continue that!
Jeremy> The director would be happy because he doesn’t have us hovering around him and making all sorts of comments. It’s surprisingly more efficient. Most of us do miss shooting as well, we miss the human interaction. When we first started working from home, the nature of our business is brainstorming so the toughest part was having to communicate over video calls.
At the same time, it was quite surprising to us because most of us started working a lot more efficiently and the team were less dependent on the seniors telling them what to do so they took the initiative to figure out things on their own.
LBB> The KFC clip was so great, talk us through what inspired it.
Suryadipura> It was a nice challenge thrown to us from the KFC client. I think one of the perks of working on this account is the KFC brand from different markets set a very good benchmark. We are aware about the work that is done by Mother in the UK and South Africa. But somehow the situation is a little bit unique in Malaysia, we realised that in a lot of countries it’s a total shut down for fast food restaurants. But it's different for Malaysia, since the MCO, KFC is actually available but only through delivery and takeaway. The only service that is unavailable is dine-in. Based on that situation, the team came up with a nice idea of the furniture and the dispensers in KFC outlets missing people the most.
Jeremy> We imagined the store to be a really lonely and quiet place so it would be quite nice if you hear it from the store’s perspective, how much it's missed you. The team came up with the idea of serenading people through song, hence the Spotify playlist that we put together was all songs about telling people how much we miss them. We actually started brainstorming this midway through the MCO because we knew for sure that eventually the stores were going to reopen.
LBB> What a great idea. What was the client’s reaction to the presentation?
Jeremy> They bought it lock stock. They were absolutely in love with it. It was a fun presentation over video call. Our clients have been saying “you guys are more efficient working from home.”
LBB> What about from a consumer perspective, how have they reacted?
Jeremy> Very, very positive. In fact there were a lot of comments about people saying “oh I miss KFC too and now I’m going to get me some”. It’s quite nice to see that your ad actually worked.
Suryadipura> People get it. When we do something that’s a bit offbeat, people get our point. A lot of comments quote back the tagline ‘KFC you soon’!
LBB> Generally, how would you describe the creative industry in Malaysia?
Suryadipura> We used to talk about how multi-racial we are and in this current world some would say that it doesn’t matter anymore. But for us that’s quite a challenge. That’s why even if you look at our playlist in the KFC campaign we include three languages: English songs, Malay songs and Chinese songs.
In all of our ads we have a version in English, a version in Malay and a version in Chinese. It’s not cool to be stigmatising people by race, but unfortunately we need to know [what race people are] because that’s how they behave. To me it's quite interesting because it forces us to learn more about each other. I’m Malay, I studied in English but at the same time working on a mass brand like KFC I need to understand the Chinese market as well.
Jeremy> In most times we have to say the same thing in four different languages. There is a huge appetite for humour actually.
Suryadipura> There’s a lot of religious and cultural sensitivity so humour is always the thing that appeals to everyone.
LBB> It’s interesting that you speak about being multi-racial and racial stigmatisation especially in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movements across the world. Have any waves of this hit Malaysia?
Suryadipura> For us right now, we also have our political instability but Malaysians are not a very confrontational bunch. We deal with it, we talk about it a lot but there are things that happen at home too. We are aware of what’s happening in the US especially and how it spreads around the world but in our own home we also have things to focus on.
Jeremy> Generally Malaysians, I think we all get along, but also we have our own issues in terms of race and everything.
LBB> What are you working on next?
Jeremy> It’s pretty full on for KFC. In the UK you have Christmas as your main season with the John Lewis commercial and similar in the US you have the Super Bowl commercials, that’s the season when everyone flexes their creative muscles.
Here in Malaysia because we’re a multi-racial country we celebrate many different festive seasons, Christmas we don’t usually do much because of the religious sensitivities. But we have our national day coming up soon, our Independence Day. We call it our ‘own Super Bowl’ where brands and agencies flex our creative muscles.
Suryadipura> Just like the Super Bowl, the festive seasons are the most interesting times for creatives because it’s a time when people look for branded content. For instance, during Eid and Chinese New Year, people actually type in and search for ads to watch.
Jeremy> We’ll probably look at how else we can break the boundaries for KFC. Last year we launched a streetwear collection with a local brand and then before that we worked with a local band and turned food into musical instruments. Part of our efforts are to appeal to a younger generation of consumers. KFC has been around for a long time, around the globe its changed its tone and manner closer to the spirit of the colonel; a bit bolder, bit younger, less of the wholesome family oriented tone and manner that it was before.
Suryadipura> What we really want to achieve for the brand, is making KFC a part of the Malaysian pop culture.
LBB> As creatives, where does your inspiration come from?
Jeremy> Basically everything we see in life! We always tell the team that creativity doesn’t come within the four walls of our office. You kind of have to get out, eavesdrop, observe and absorb culture. You need to be in touch with society and what’s going on, what’s trending, what’s popular. At the end of the day it's all about human interaction and connection. Ideas don’t come within the four walls of an office, they come from what’s all around us. It's just about who has an eye to spot that unique point of view that you might see in life.
Suryadipura> I know a lot of creatives, including myself who think it's nice to be in the creative industry but we can’t just be watching ads. When I first started working I was watching ads and branded content because there are so many good ones to watch but I don’t think that’s healthy. You’ve got to actually check out what’s going on and go out, see people. You’ve got to be human to talk to humans.
Jeremy> That’s something we remind ourselves of quite often. With social media we’re not just competing with other commercials we are competing with Netflix, memes, branded and non-branded content out there. So we have to take inspiration from these things and see beyond the advertising world.