Group creative director at McCann Singapore on what he’s looking forward to ahead of this year’s AD STARS and why Singapore is gearing up for a digital tsunami
As McCann Singapore’s group creative director Alfred Wee is no stranger to staying abreast of the creative industry. Point in hand is that while he’s been in this role, he studied and completed a master’s in digital media management from digital creative business school, Hyper Island. He’s also on the jury of this year’s AD STARS with an interest in seeing how well brands have pivoted themselves to align with consumers over the past 12 months.
It’s no surprise that Alfred is passionate about brands as he previously held senior roles with Sony, Sony Ericsson and headed up McDonald’s APAC while at Leo Burnett. With such incredible experience it's only fair that Alfred believes he should share it with the world and a few years ago he received a certificate in higher education teaching, which he applies during his posts at Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore.
As Alfred counts down to AD STARS, LBB’s Natasha Patel picks his brain on why he views digital consumption as a tsunami, attending a fine arts university and what he believes have been Singapore’s success stories.
LBB> How has your background in fine arts played a part in your career over the years?
Alfred> I majored in visual communications at an academy that is still renowned for its long-standing reputation as an academy for fine arts. In our foundation year, we were taught to appreciate the different forms of artistic expression. The skills I picked up and the art I was introduced to taught me that a creative mind will bend this way and that to find new ways to express an idea.
LBB> Following on from that, you have a masters in Digital Media Management from Hyper Island. What was the experience like and how does it fit into your current role at McCann?
Alfred> Hyper Island was an incredible experience. Yes, there was definitely pressure being recruited as part of their inauguration batch in Singapore, but beyond that, my Hyper Island experience gave me many tools. I am thankful for the support from McCann when I decided to sign up for higher learning. Till today, I’m still applying leadership tools that I’ve picked up. I walked away from the experience believing that there are always ways to push for positive change in our line of work, whether it’s for the work, the organisation, or even the industry.
LBB> What does your day-to-day look like as group creative director at McCann Singapore?
Alfred> Since 2019, it feels like everything has changed and yet nothing’s changed. We’ve had to adapt to new ways of working, but the need to stay connected to your creative community is as relevant today as ever – maybe even more so, as we navigate feelings of isolation while working from home.
Creatives are complex and sensitive individuals who can either thrive or struggle when left to their own devices. So to reintroduce routine and stability into their days, my team starts every morning with a scrum session. It’s a safe space that (hopefully) gives them a sense of grounding.
LBB> You’ve headed up so many big brands from McDonald’s Singapore to Sony and worked at some of Singapore’s biggest agencies. Where does your passion and inspiration come from?
Alfred> I had an ECD who once told me: “We earned the title of creatives because our job is to create.” At the end of the day, after we take away the jargon, the buzzwords, the trends, the memes – that’s what it comes down to—the work. I’ve been passing on his line ever since.
LBB> You’ve been on the panel for a few award shows but as part of the Jury for this year’s AD STARS, what are you looking forward to seeing?
Alfred> AD STARS has always been close to my heart. I was a mentor and juror when they first invited me. I felt AD STARS saw the need for jurors to be educators and inspire both the industry and students. Seeing the world still suffering from the pandemic’s toll and country leaders and governments coming together to set the world on the course for recovery, I am hopeful to see brands do their part as well.
LBB> It’s hard to not talk about the pandemic, but from your perspective what impact do you think it will have on the future of advertising in Singapore?
Alfred> Much has changed; the ones that are still adapting are focused on survival, the others that adapted the quickest are already preparing for how the reset will turn out. And this can potentially influence the value chain for the industry and brands. Stepping into this new unknown as creatives, we can perhaps ask ourselves what we thought about how things were usually done. With the possibility to reset, what can we do differently?
LBB> I read that you’re gearing up for a ‘digital tsunami’. Can you tell us more?
Alfred> The Gartner’s Hype Cycle graph for emerging technology constantly reminds me of Katsushika Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa. And that’s how I got my analogy—observing innovations inching their way upward along the curve till mass adoption prompts me to stay watchful and to keep learning.
LBB> As a believer of the power of social engagement for brands, have there been any campaigns that you think do this well?
Alfred> Brands get driven along by great marketers. And the brave ones let the work speak and give it a soul. Surely there are many international campaigns that have done this well. Surely there are many international campaigns that have done this well. Why not look to the Singapore brands?
Every country has its own success story. As a young nation, we have a unique cultural identity that focuses on integration rather than assimilation. Like before, when we were able to travel, we can (almost proudly) identify a Singaporean by the way they carry themselves. Those who have chosen to plant their roots here also exhibit that same identity, and it’s highly subtle. It is our “language”, our way of coming together, and we want others to experience “us” as well. And it’s remarkable to see communications express the richness of our identity to our neighbours.
LBB> As an advisor at the NTU and NUS, what advice do you give to young students entering the industry now? And how do you advise lecturers?
Alfred> Success stories get a flashy headline, but journeys are remembered. So, don’t let setbacks stop you. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.
LBB> Outside of work, what do you do to wind down?
Alfred> Well, this is tough. I’m saying it because my harshest critics are my family with regards to my weekend cooking. I do enjoy it, but I’m still a long way to the clean plate club.