Staff Reporters
Feb 22, 2024

Creative Minds: Charlene Chua on architecture, advertising, and the poetic presence of Anthony Bourdain

From once being suspended at school to traveling the world for inspiration, Charlene Chua's "fairytale start" as a creative has turned into a lifelong pursuit for growth, underscored by fantasy and passion.

Creative Minds: Charlene Chua on architecture, advertising, and the poetic presence of Anthony Bourdain
In Creative Minds, we ask APAC creatives a long list of questions, from serious to silly, and ask them to pick 11 to answer. (Why 11? Just because.) Want to be featured?

Name: Charlene Chua

Origin: Singapore

Places lived/worked: Singapore and Hong Kong

Pronouns: She/her


Creative director, BBH, Singapore, 2017 to present
Senior copywriter, DDB, Singapore, 2013 to 2016
Associate creative director, JWT, Hong Kong, 2011 to 2012
Senior copywriter, Y&R, Hong Kong, 2010
Copywriter, DDB, Singapore, 2009 to 2010

1. How did you end up being a creative?

At university, I flirted with theatre, fashion and journalism. Then, I got an internship at a design agency and there I was: In awe of the creatives who got paid to come in, have fun and make references to movies they watch and music they love. After graduation, I landed my first advertising gig as a senior account executive. I was so bad at it (I missed an ad buy and the paper ran a blank ad) the executive creative director (ECD) allowed me to try working on creative briefs. I built my book with a mix of portfolio school and real briefs, but what gave me the confidence to finally make the transition was when I scripted, storyboarded and pitched a fun commercial for a collagen drink product. We ended up making that crazy TV commercial, and that was the fairy tale start to my copywriting career.

2. What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

Right now it’s "More Wow Than Ever", a campaign for Samsung’s flagship TV. It was a project of many firsts: First shoot with a live animal as key talent, first campaign for Samsung Lifestyle TVs with a massive global buyout, and my first time shooting in a huge movie backlot. It’s also a classic BBH team achievement repping Singapore to the world, so I’m very proud of it.

3. What's your favourite piece of work created by someone else?

A boy jogs down a road to a voiceover about finding greatness. Nike has made so many influential campaigns, but that spot for "Find Your Greatness" is iconic. A masterclass in restrained simplicity, casting and the power of unexpected imagery against carefully chosen words. Going further back in time, "Real Men of Genius" for Budweiser, I think, has to be my all-time favourite radio campaign. It could still stand today as your typical irreverent beer idea. But what made the parody so fresh then, was how serious the music was. Dave Bickler! The gospel backup! I could play it again today and still have a good chuckle.

4. What/who are your creative influences?

Travel always invigorates. Discovering people who are nerdy about and devoted to niche things like mushrooms and Japanese woodworking is also fascinating. Finally, I’d say my children often school me in seeing the world without baggage and through fresh angles. Their raw and unfiltered human experiences are very inspiring and humbling.

5. What kind of student were you?

A bit hard to define. My report books put me down as polite and compliant. Yet, I have rich memories of being punished by teachers and at one time, even getting suspended. I am proud that contrary to my parents’ and teachers’ expectations however, I excelled in exams.

6. What career did you think you'd have when you were a kid?

I had dreams of being an architect and creating evocative spaces. In order not to wallow in regrets, I tell myself I’ve landed in a career that isn’t too far from that fantasy. I still try to evoke emotions in people. And at its best, advertising can define culture.

7. What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

Don’t let adults define your self worth. Most of us have no clue what we are doing and if we do, we are often terribly unhappy doing it.

8. Who's on your dream dinner guest list (dead or alive)?

Anthony Bourdain. I’m one of those people who misses his poetic, pained presence in the world.

9. Do you work best under pressure or when things are calm?

I know I grow best when I’m right on the edge of my current abilities. Not too calm, because where would be the challenge and growth? But hell no to unrealistic timelines, badly managed processes and toxic clients because those are just soul-sucking.

10. What really motivates you?

I’m conscious that my children who are seven and nine are getting older and soon, won’t want to spend as much time with me any more. So, I’m very motivated now to be more present and intentional with the moments we share together.

11. What would you do on your perfect day?

I love fantasy. Mine starts with a morning hike with clifftop views of the magnificent coastline, breakfast by the beach with family and dogs, catch a few surfs, then off to a massage. I’d be back for dinner with the family, adjourn to our storytelling bonfire by the beach, lights out for the kids, and still have three hours of wind-down time to enjoy a home movie or book.

Campaign Asia

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