It was, in Din Sumedi’s words, “the dark ages”. Computers were not widely available when the diploma holder from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts began work as a visualiser in a small Singaporean advertising agency in 1996. Illustrating storyboards depended on manual labour, although ‘labour’ may have been an understatement, as Sumedi was the sole artist churning out storyboards for seven art directors.
“I was really abused,” he recalls with a slight chuckle.
Starting out on the bottom rung of advertising, however, was all part of the game plan. Sumedi did not set out to land a corner office in ad agencies. Instead, he sought humbler positions to figure out what makes the industry tick.
The plan worked — today, the 44-year-old is Ogilvy & Mather Indonesia’s chief creative, a position he took up in January. Prior to this, he had a good run as chief creative at Lowe and Partners Indonesia and creative director at Ogilvy & Mather Asia-Pacific, among others, winning over 100 awards along the way.
Eugene Chong, regional creative director at Ogilvy & Mather Asia-Pacific, lauded the Singapore-born Javanese as “categorically, the best creative director we’ve ever had in our Indonesian office”.
Sumedi, however, tries to play down the accolades. “I really, really, really don’t think that I’m a superstar. Whenever people say, ‘Oh, the great Sumedi is coming to Indonesia’, I’m not comfortable with that. It may sound clichéd, but my successes would not have been achieved if I had not had the people around me.
“Advertising is not about one person. I really believe in collaboration and teamwork.”
Sumedi thrives on relationships and connections. Ogilvy attracted him because its agencies globally pool their resources and expertise to support each other, thanks to the tight network they share.
Another attraction is the work culture at Ogilvy. Sumedi says its staff always seek new challenges and get excited about fresh ideas. This energy appeals to him as he is tired of hearing industry players lamenting that being inventive in advertising is easier said than done.
However, Sumedi admits most brands prefer to spend their money on traditional media such as TVCs, print, and radio. Only about 30 per cent of brands he has worked with allocated budget for commercials in digital media.
He does not deny that TVCs are still effective in announcing the presence of a brand or product. Yet with Indonesia being home to the fifth-most number of Twitter users and fourth-most Facebook users in the world, engaging target audience through social media campaigns is the way forward. He also believes the future lies in maximising the potential of mobile devices.
He may be in for a rough ride, though — a study by Yahoo and Mindshare in 2013 showed that most Indonesian brands are still sceptical about making the jump to these new mediums.
Perhaps that is why Ogilvy put their best man on the job. Sumedi’s superior, Ogilvy Indonesia CEO Katryna Mojica, says Sumedi “understands the complexities of Indonesia”. After all, Sumedi has been leading the creation of award-winning ads targeted at Indonesians for six years.
Selling to the world’s fourth-most populous nation is no easy feat, but Sumedi believes that as diverse as Indonesian audiences are, what really draws them is emotional content grounded in reality, and humour. He believes the industry will be better off if the top positions are led by local talents “trained from the ground-up” on what makes Indonesian audiences tick.
“If you look at the international advertising firms in Indonesia now, most of the CEOs are expats. Give it a few more years; I believe the local [talent will] be able to rise to those positions as well.”