Andrew Lok
Jun 18, 2013

Lessons from Doctor Wong

Andrew Lok, founder of Civilization in Shanghai, explains why agencies would be wise to adopt the principles espoused by his long-time family physician.

Lessons from Doctor Wong

Some agency folk refer to themselves as creative professionals and brand specialists, especially in this so-called digital age. However, I think with the growth of a new breed of tech-savvy clients, who not only wield the final cut over their brands’ communication, but also sometimes produce it themselves, I prefer to see myself as a general practitioner, albeit a sagely one. A family doctor, so to speak.

Doctor Wong was my family physician for as long as I could remember. Before he passed away peacefully in his sleep from heart failure two years ago, he operated a general practice in my old neighbourhood for more than four decades. He was silver-haired, grandfatherly, kindly and generous to a fault. He gave you the jabs you needed when you were a kid. He never fed you antibiotics you didn’t need. He always made you feel better just with his reassuring presence.

He attended the latest medical seminars and courses to keep up with the newest developments in treatments. He was indisputably professional to all who sought him out, but he reserved a special fondness for, and paid extra attention to, his most familiar patients, with whom he shared relationships built upon years of mutual respect.

I think Doctor Wong is an example of the kind of advertising professional that most clients need right now.

As a 'family doctor', we should think holistically about the health of the brands under our care, and we should not be afraid to take a broad and long view, even when our patients do not. We should not feel insecure when it comes to recruiting the help of specialists who can solve specific problems for our clients. The patient comes before our egos. And most of all, we should be thinking about not only helping a brand stay healthy, but also nurturing it to fulfil its potential. After all, health is not only about preventing what could go wrong—it’s also about laying the foundation of what could go right.

That’s what we used to do as an agency and I believe that’s what we should do again. To paraphrase my hero John Hegarty, we should help clients own that space between the consumers’ ears.

Andrew Lok

So dear clients, ask yourself, if your agency were your family doctor, what would he or she tell you? I suspect it might be something like this.

“Not all patients who seek a doctor are really sick.”

Maybe they just require a simple health check. Maybe it’s just mild hypochondria. Maybe some bed rest and drinking lots of water is all that’s called for. I’m not surprised at how little agency-client trust exists right now, as agencies try to get their clients to spend money on unnecessary blood tests and body scans, as well as expensive medication when the generic versions work just as well.

Do we really need to conduct multi-city focus groups and extensive planning sessions (forgive me, my brilliant planner-brethren) to confirm something that our gut and years of experience already know to be true? I suspect we would be better off just shooting the damn ad and testing it in a tiny market (for China, that would be a city of under half a million denizens) with inexpensive media.

An American brand paid us to help them change their Chinese name and, after careful consideration, I told them not to change it, knowing full well we might lose the business in spite of all the reasons we offered on why their current name is actually good, but just not fully leveraged yet. That client, bless his heart, had the humility and courage to change his mind. That’s our version of “take two aspirin and call me in the morning”.

“It’s your body; you have to take responsibility for it.”

As a physician, I’m here to advise you on the best possible way to care for your brand. I will prescribe the most suitable medication when necessary. I will give you my honest counsel. I will map out a path to recovery and lasting health. But it’s your prerogative to heed or ignore me.

If you refuse to stop smoking after my constant reminders that it’s harmful, surely you will not blame me when you develop emphysema? I am not your crutch; I am your guide. In my two decades of creating advertising, I can count on two hands how many clients have actually declared out loud that the “buck stops here”, that the success and failure of any campaign are ultimately their responsibility.

“Please seek a second opinion if you wish. In fact, let me recommend a specialist.”

I am a doctor, not a god. Stop looking for gods; you will be disappointed. Trust your family doctor. And if he does not meet your expectations, ask him to recommend somebody he trusts to look over the problem again. Any agency worth its salt would not feel slighted when asked to introduce other experts to help the brand. Any client worth its salt would learn to treasure such an agency.

“Technology changes. The human body has not.”

I love it when science catches up with ancient wisdom, especially when some traditional remedy is proven effective under the keen microscope of the medical profession. For brands, the social-media era we are living in now is no different from any other era before. It’s just a reorganisation of how we communicate.

What we communicate and why we communicate are still grounded in a human being’s desire to form bonds with other human beings for self or mutual benefit. That hasn’t changed since humans were humans. Family doctors understand human nature because they see patients on a daily basis—real people. Medical researchers on the forefront of technology sometimes only see the tumour and not the patient it resides within. Don’t be blinded by technology. Be dazzled by human insights instead.

“I am a doctor. I am also a person.”

When you treat a doctor like a mechanic, there just to fix you when you are broken, chances are he or she will treat you like a machine. As a doctor, I am bound by my code to care for you, but it is my decision if I want to care about you. A relationship of genuine care and concern stems from years of mutual respect, professionalism and, believe it or not, good manners. I want to make you better. In doing so, I become a better doctor. We are here to help each other. Let’s behave accordingly.

Doctor Wong made it his policy never to charge medical students a dime when they fell sick and needed his attention. He believed they chose to walk a noble path as he did, and his service to them would only contribute to their service to others. So whenever I am invited to lecture a bevy of eager young students, or I task myself to coach nervous interns, or I write an essay, such as this one, for my peers. I remember Doctor Wong. Advertising is a business, but it is a business based on ideas. And what good are the cleverest ideas if they do not serve the highest ideals?

Thank you Doctor Wong. Your kind is sorely missed.


Doctor image Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos


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