Hakuhodo Asia-Pacific jolted the industry when it made a dull-as-ditchwater brief, a print campaign for a floor cleaner, into a controversial work of art. The Penguin Multi Surface Floor Cleaner campaign, which ran in Thailand in March, turned an ad into social commentary by depicting child prostitution, bribery and violence in the reflection on a floor, with the tagline: ‘Filth has nowhere to hide’.
“The agency works off the concept of ‘irrelevant relevant’,” says regional executive creative director Woon Siew Hoh. “There is some wicked humour here; everyone knows what a multi-purpose floor cleaner can do, so the idea goes deeper than just the surface. We are not promoting these actions, but we are revealing them. People know about these issues, but they just don’t talk about them.”
Woon was named Hakuhodo Asia-Pacific regional ECD in 2010. Based in Bangkok, he oversees the creative teams in the region, excluding China and Japan. His client list includes Canon and Kao Bioré.
Malaysian-born Woon graduated from the Graphic Design School of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1992. His passion for advertising was triggered when he was roped into a focus group for a Nescafé TV commercial more than 25 years ago and found the process fun.
After graduation, Woon worked as a freelance graphic designer, but decided to turn agency art director when his peers started winning awards. “I thought it would be cooler,” he laughs. “So I went for it.”
He joined Spider Darcy, a creative hothouse in Malaysia then known as Spider Network, where he worked with legendary creative-turned-lecturer Kins Lee and Janet Lee, now trainer and director of advertising academy, 95 Percent. “Kins is microscopically detail-oriented and has mentored many ECDs, including [Ogilvy Shanghai’s] Kevin Lee. My stint there also taught me to think in terms of universal ideas.
Janet Lee remembers Woon as a very driven person with both passion and heart. It was Woon’s ambition that led him to leave Malaysia for international markets as local agencies at the time did largely promotional work rather than craft regional campaigns. He joined Darcy Beijing, at the time a popular first move for Malaysians, but returned a year later to join McCann Worldgroup and work with famed creative duo, Huang Ean Hwa and Lee Szu-Hung. “Szu and Hwa drove me very hard and they have a lot of great ideas. Then they sent me to McCann Indonesia for two years, where I managed to increase the agency’s ranking within the network.”
Despite his success there, he left McCann because of an event which is still called ‘Black Friday’. In 2005, it laid off around 30 members of its creative team to streamline an agency that wasn’t as financially strong as it needed to be, according to a source.
“To my understanding, the layoffs were done professionally, with compensation. Some were offered jobs in other markets and support was provided, but the cuts were so dramatic it was still a shock to the team,” said the source.
Woon disagreed so strongly with the layoffs that he chose to join Hakuhodo Indonesia, a much smaller agency back then, but one which gave him a chance to shine.
“Hakuhodo was the ideal place to explore and sell new ideas and vision. I was given a free hand to mould the agency. Irfan Ramli (president director of Hakuhodo) and I work together like brothers. We trust each other, which is very important.
Woon’s current goal is to bring the region up to the same standard as Hakuhodo Japan. “The Indonesian and Thailand teams are stable, so next on the list is Singapore and Malaysia. I believe the best training is still hands-on work and investment in both hardware and talent.”