Interview ANGEL GUERRERO
Words JEM SAGCAL
Born in South Korea, studied in Canada, worked in Belgium, and found success back in Korea, Wain Choi has come full circle and has taken the world of advertising with him.
Seven years ago, Choi accepted the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer at Cheil Worldwide, headquartered in Seoul, Korea. At the time, Cheil wasn’t that well-known and he made it his mission to get its name out of Korea. “Within Korea, we are the New York Yankees,” he explains. “Everyone knows you, but outside, not really.”
Winning awards, he says, is how an agency can get known quickly, however difficult. And that is exactly what Choi did for Cheil. He skyrocketed the 44-year-old agency into international recognition. It began with their client, Samsung, and Choi’s unique way of seeing creative advertising campaigns that’s relatable and relevant.
AN ARTIST AND AN ADVERTISER
Before entering and graduating the highly acclaimed Ontario College of Art & Design, Choi was a Fine Arts graduate contemplating what else he’ll be doing in the future. He was considering a job as a high school teacher, teaching arts and gym, and his girlfriend (now wife), suggested that he would be great in advertising. During this time, he was already working at a paper mill factory. He was going on interviews and showing his portfolio while still working his eight-hour job.
“I kept working and I got a call, and a letter that says ‘you got accepted. This semester you could start.’ I went to my foreman and said I’m quitting this job, and he said, ‘Are you crazy? Do you know how difficult it is to get in here?’ I said, sayonara,” he recalls in between laughter. The Korean’s use of the Japanese word for “goodbye” would presage his work for a Japanese agency later in his career.
He officially joined the industry in 1992, working in agencies in Canada. He was Associate Creative Director in Cossette Communications before moving to Belgium in 2003 to work for Dentsu Brussels as Executive Creative Director.
By 2007, he got an offer in Oglivy, Seoul to work as Vice President and Chief Creative Officer. His homecoming to the land of his birth was an opportunity to share his heritage with his children who were 13 and 11 at the time. “It’s a complete circle for me to come back and have my kids understand where I was born and learn where their grandparents are from. They’ve never been to Korea before,” he says.
In 2010, he came to Cheil and has since remained, garnering award after award from Cannes, to Clio, to Spikes—with their number one client, Samsung.
ALWAYS SOMETHING NEW ON THE TABLE
Some 90-percent of the time, his work goes to the promotion of Samsung mobile. The only challenge is, as he points out, is how to keep things different every single time. Though Samsung continues to incrementally evolve its products after every release, the campaigns for each new product launch requires a fresh and different approach each time.
“It’s finding a different way of frying your eggs in the morning,” Choi explains. “So we’ll do it with the yolk, without the yolk, we’ll do it with onions. So everyday it’s the same thing that you’re eating, but you have to generate different ways of doing it. If not, then you’re stuck in the moment.”
However, launching the product itself is a long, grueling, and ever-changing process that Choi knows and understands too well. It’s adjusting to the new changes of the product, which would adjust the storyboards, the ideas, and the entire timeline, while still fulfilling a variety of directions that can keep the audience excited. “You’re actually changing your ideas and storyboard right to that last possible deadline, so it’s a lot of stress, so everyone’s on their tippy toes for sure.”
“We try to elevate the things that could make the videos or the films more interesting to the viewers,” he adds. “There [will be] no seating, there’s people very interested in the actual launch of the phone, so you have to deliver it with lifestyle, key features.”
While Choi sits at the helm of things—leading his team to a successful introduction for the client’s new product—his passion is beyond the hard selling aspect of digital marketing. It’s the work beyond the product launches that allows him more time to find a story that’s heartwarming and relevant and at the same time can be tied into the product. This is where he can enjoy his time in conceptualizing and directing corporate social responsibility campaigns (CSR), wherein the continuous evolution of devices, and Samsung’s resources, can be used in telling inspirational stories of real people with real experiences.
FINDING THE STORY
“When you do CSR direction, sometimes it’s very fruitful because it’s not just selling. It’s really selling the brand, the essence, the personality, the character, the characteristics of Samsung,” Choi excitedly explains. “It’s more about human truth and human insight versus the product launches.”
Choi and his team in Cheil were brought in to pitch an idea to Samsung. Back then, Samsung’s branding was too technical, and they wanted to change their image to become a brand that’s sought after, loved, and identified with. Cheil pitched the idea of “consumer + technology = amazing.”
“Anytime you as a consumer meets the technology of Samsung, something amazing happens,” he says. “Amazing in a sense, [when] you’re a shy person able to [speak your] voice.”
“They loved it. I still remember, after my presentation, it was a standing ovation. One of the guys from Samsung France, he got up and said ‘this is the company I want to work for,’” he adds with enthusiasm at the recollection.
One of the first stories he found was a 52-year-old Austrian named Alfred, a hydro-plant worker and a DSLR photographer, shooting in Mumbai and New Delhi, India. Alfred wanted to get closer to his subjects, the locals, without making them feel uncomfortable in front of a long-lensed DSLR camera; he wanted his photos to show real human emotion. “A face where you can see the life, that’s what I love,” as Alfred says in the video. He began using the Samsung Also an avid sportsfan, Choi contributes his talents for a campaign for Nike. Galaxy S3 to help him capture human emotion, such as by taking a happy selfie with the subject.
“So he became a DSLR photographer to mobile photographer, and we love that story. We interviewed him and made a film out of it, and it wasn’t a commercial. It was him talking about his life and how he became a mobile photographer,” Choi says. “At that time, nobody realized it was CSR. But it felt honest. It was a human truth, it was very insightful.” This campaign was called ‘Launching People.’ and this initiative was the beginning of many award-winning campaigns that delve on human connection.
Among the most innovative campaign projects he had with Samsung was an app, Power Sleep, which they developed to aid the University of Vienna in powering their facilities to research possible cures against cancer and Alzheimers.
“Your smart phone is probably three times as powerful than the CPU in the 1990s. What if we actually donated the data processing power while we were asleep,” Choi says. “[Power Sleep] is like an alarm clock, so when you go to sleep, keeping it on for seven hours, you’re donating your data processing power to the University of Vienna.”
According to Choi, the trend in advertising is not about just selling the product, but the communication with the advertisers and the consumers. It’s the kind of communication that questions everything, down to the details of every “why?”
“Because you’re looking at it from a consumer’s perspective, why do you need that? Who would ever want to use that? Sure, you have the technology to do it, but why would you make that? You question everything that’s made, such as what goes into the phone, or into that television,” he says. “When that happens, all of the communication would be a lot more intrinsic, it would be a lot more immersive.”
WAIN AS A FATHER AND SPORTSFAN
Choi loves sports. When he is feeling stressed, he runs. "Running is just theraputic for me," he says. Also a part of his spare time is watching sports on TV, such as basketball, hockey, and baseball – all the major sports. He has never pushed his children, but like father like kids, as according to Choi, they also like working out. A loving father, he also always finds time with his children. "I have a lot more energy with my kids," he concludes.
This article was published on the September/October 2017 issue of adobo magazine.