Source: Little Black Book
Group creative director of Hakuhodo Vietnam on nurturing creativity and how great work transcends barriers
Truth be told, I struggle with this question.
It’s like asking a person why they think they are cool.
And coolness, like creativity, is observed.
Not by you, but by other people.
I don’t have a template for what a creative person looks like, as we come in all shapes and sizes.
I’ve been told I am creative, at times when all I did was just solve a problem.
If that is being creative, then I guess I am creative.
As you can see from my musings above, every creative has his or her own doubts. I’m always questioning whether the last piece/campaign I did was the best that could be done for that challenge. I guess I’m an evolving creative, learning from everything, absorbing everything. Filing it all away in my brain and pulling it out again when a challenge comes along that requires it.
And that’s how I see creativity as well. It’s something that you nurture—through the things you observe, the stuff you read, the art you consume, the TikTok videos you like watching. I know this is not a very sexy analogy, but for me it’s like maintaining a healthy bank account—you make your bank balance grow by feeding it with things you absorb every day. And when the time comes, you withdraw from your mind bank the seed of the thought. Once it’s out, you shape it into the best possible creative it can be.
So it follows that one has to be careful what one feeds the mind.
That’s why I love reading all sorts of things. I prefer listening to talking. You learn more that way. I’m a keen observer. I am intrigued about why people do what they do or feel how they feel. I like quiet. I like hearing my thoughts. I like creative works that linger in my mind long after I’ve finished seeing them. If your work is living rent-free in people’s minds, then I think that’s a job well done.
True creative work transcends barriers.
Such work can tear down obvious barriers like language and culture, and unseen ones like prejudices.
Such ideas can get people of different nationalities on the same page, even for just a minute, to collectively say: “S**t, I wish I’d thought of that!”
I think these basic criteria still hold true. The difference is that now we have a lot more tools to deploy in our creativity. Creators are being born every day and they are taking creativity further and further, we’re a long way away from the boxes we used to play in.
I get maybe a thousand briefs every year, and what I do is to try to pinpoint one or two that are worth the time and energy. By that, I mean that the problem is challenging and the client is open to new ideas.
It’s a personal mission to have at least one truly excellent piece of work each year and, thankfully, I have been able to stick to this mission throughout my career. And since I am only as good as my last work, I would say the last three years have been remarkable. Notwithstanding limitations like budget and the Covid pandemic, I was able to do something to be truly proud of.
I’m excited with where creativity is going now, how we are mainstreaming inclusivity and re-evaluating old tropes. I love how people are calling out bad advertising and tone-deaf messages. It’s the age of accountability and, with that, we are truly thinking deeply of the brand messages we put out there. One thing I hope that we don’t lose is the ability to tell good stories: stories that require more than 10 seconds of attention, stories that really make you sit down, watch and be moved.
My creative process is quite simple.
When I get the brief, I read it thoroughly, clarifying all the questions in my head.
Once I have all the facts, I give my brain a day to just sit on everything I just learned. I put myself into “creation” mode by being quiet, looking out the window and having conversations with myself in my head.
“What about this?” “What if?” “Are you serious?” “Would that work?” “Is there something there?”
When I have the seed of an idea, I write it down on a folded sheet of recycled paper. (Yes, I want to save the environment. I don’t have a notebook, but collect all those printed sheets that would otherwise end up in the trash. I fold them and I use the clean half to write my ideas on.) When I’ve filled one sheet, there’s immense satisfaction in ripping it to shreds. For me, when I rip the sheet, it’s like a visual cue that what I’d written there was not great yet. But if a sheet survives, then I know that there’s probably something in what’s written there.
Then I sit on it again for a day or two. If I still find the idea strong, I write more. I flesh it out. And if the writing just flows, I know what I have is solid. After pouring everything I have into it, if I can tell myself, “Yes, I’m happy with that,” when I read the whole thing again, I know it’s done.
I believe that during brainstorming sessions, everyone should bring something to the table. I like those sessions when we build on each other’s ideas, making them stronger.
Another kind of collaboration I like is when the idea/story is formed already and you bring in geniuses from other fields (directors, content creators, music composers, etc.) and they help complete the missing pieces. I like it when I’m learning from different perspectives beyond my profession and working with these geniuses to make sure the execution matches the vision.
I grew up in the Philippines at a time when commercials were a big deal: like they occupied half the airtime of the most popular shows. We all know how annoying commercials are right? But my brother and I turned them into a game by guessing what the commercial was for. So at an early age, I already had an idea about how taglines and jingles work. By the way, I would always win these games.
I always had a fascination with words and writing and knew I had a seed of talent there, so I pursued it in college and in my career afterwards. I have had the best luck, stumbling upon great mentors along the way who challenged and improved both my thinking and crafting.
Mentors are one thing, clients another. And I find that when I’m faced with clients who push me to do my very best for their brand, that’s when I really get inspired and fly. I like clients who jump into the abyss with me. I still remember one who told me, “Hey, this idea makes me scared, but that’s how I like them to make me feel.”
I think fear can either make or break a project. A healthy degree of fear is necessary. A fear of things not working out, fear of failing. Some people are uncomfortable with this so they stay in the safe zone, and that’s where all projects rot and die.
For clients looking to get the best out of their agencies, trust your gut a bit. Creativity is not a set of checklists you need to tick off. Did the idea move you? Did you get a bit scared? Then there’s probably something there. This advice goes to the agencies as well. Because if we are not moving people to an action, an emotion or a thought, then we’re failing.