The CCO at BBH Singapore on an ambition that began in small town Germany, took him to Dubai and landed in Singapore where he’s been breaking creative boundaries ever since
Chief creative officer at BBH Singapore, Sascha Kuntze is a creative who, like many others, somewhat fell into the advertising industry. After a childhood spent in a small village in Germany, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming an Oscar-winning director via an Audio-Visual Media degree.
What followed was a career in advertising that’s seen him work across plenty of different brands and regions while also causing a stir in the United Nations. Today, he’s CCO at BBH Singapore after joining the agency in 2018 and working himself up to this position. LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Sascha to hear all about his creative journey and why his son is his creative hero.
LBB> Where did you grow up and was there an inkling that the creative industry was for you during those younger years?
Sascha> I grew up in a really interesting area in the south of Germany. There was this duality of being quaint and humble on the outside, but also fiercely innovative and entrepreneurial. I didn’t know what I wanted to become when I was younger or appreciate the uniqueness of Stuttgart enough, but as an adult, I take inspiration from its contradictions and imaginative spirit.
LBB> Did you go to university or film school to hone your craft?
Sascha> After graduating secondary school, I applied to film schools but was rejected by all of them. A few years later I was then nominated for a young directors’ award by one of those film schools that originally rejected me. My plan was originally to win an Oscar one day…
I then went on to study Audio-Visual Media but became disheartened by it, so transitioned into studying Marketing Communications. The course covered everything from history to media planning and everything in between. There were two mandatory internships, and so that's when I tasted creativity in an agency. I loved how you could just have an idea one day and produce it the next.
LBB> Do you plan/hope to be able to continue with your film dream at some point in the future?
Sascha> Winning an Oscar has been on my bucket list since I was a teenager. I guess there's only one way to achieve that goal...
LBB> Your first job post-graduation was for Mars on the brand side, how did that come about?
Sascha> I finished studying and landed a job at Mars in brand management for Snickers. That was fascinating because I could eat all the candy I wanted, and I learned everything about working on the client-side of things. I still had a creative ambition that I wanted to change the world and do famous things.
LBB> Before you left, you made your mark with your thesis, and saved Mars from spending potentially millions of euros on what could have been a failed launch. Tell us more!
Sascha> Snickers wanted to launch a new type of candy bar and Germany was meant to be the test market and they had it all lined up. They had already invested over a million in developing the product. I then joined the team to analyse the line and brand extensions that were being planned and determined it probably wasn’t the right product to launch at the time, so they shelved it.
I was young and slightly naïve at the time, but now it is cool to say – you know that failed product that never happened? I did that.
LBB> How did you then transition from client-side at Mars, to agency-side at Ogilvy Dubai, where you worked for over a decade?
Sascha> Working client-side has its perks and you really get to know a brand through and through. I’ve always had big ambitions, so after my time at Mars, I wanted to flex my creativity in new ways. That's when I heard that a creative director that I used to work with moved to Dubai to shape up the Ogilvy office there. I remember thinking, wow, Dubai sounds very sunny, and Germany sounds like the exact opposite.
So I packed up everything and moved to Dubai without really thinking about it. I knew nothing about it, and I still remember my first night, lying in a high rise and all around me was all this buzzing construction going on. I was a junior copywriter but skilled for my age. I stayed for ten years, and in that decade Dubai had completely changed as well as my own life. I was married then and had a son who was born in Dubai.
Then I moved here to Singapore to join BBH because I admired the work they were doing and was persuaded by the CCO at the time. I came here and then everything felt possible, the culture is so open and fosters creativity in a way that is very different to what I had experienced before.
LBB> Tell us more about Singaporean creativity, what makes it so unique?
Sascha> Singapore as a market is very traditional and also very small I think. But then if you ignore the industry, and if you just look at the market in itself and where it is in Asia there is incredible innovation in everything. There’s so much newness here and so much originality, and I think it's probably one of the best places to get into this field. It is a prime example of what is beyond the traditional ways of working.
LBB> I heard that you became something of a hot topic at the United Nations when you were at Ogilvy with a campaign for UN Women… tell me more!
Sascha> It was in 2013 that we did a campaign for UN Women in a way that put them on the map. It all really started small, and we were working with the Egyptian satellite office and we presented them with a campaign, which then became very famous. We sent the idea to the New York office for approval and when headquarters saw it, they got really excited about it and immediately got involved. Within just a few months it sort of blew up and became viral.
For the campaign, we took Google searches where the autocomplete was quite shocking. We had phrases like “women should…” “women can…” and then the autocomplete answer reflected what society was really looking for, or thinking, and we put those responses on women's faces. What people could do, was a Google search in their own country and see what their results were, that interactive part made it a very social campaign.
Later we were then invited to share our thinking and learnings from the campaign in front of the United Nations. I don't know whether we can claim credit for it or not, but that was sort of the emergence of a lot of comms around gender empowerment.
LBB> Who is your creative hero and why?
Sascha> There is something about the way my sons see the world which I admire. It reminds me of how I saw the world when I was a child. It was full of wonder and there was a story lurking around every corner and in every object. Anything could be the start of a world to get lost in with endless hours of play. The connections they make because they're experimenting with logic is so inspiring for me.
LBB> What advice do you give people joining the industry now?
Sascha> Be hungry but be patient. You can't build a career if you try to race through it. Take your time to observe and learn while applying the hacking mentality of your generation to shortcut some of the processes. But just because you can download a reference or a plugin in seconds doesn't mean you know it all, there is still value to be learned from the old school ways of thinking. It is important to enjoy learning and embrace it because you will never be done with it.
Lastly, I say this with a bit of caution, but take risks. The earlier the better because you've got nothing to lose and everything to win. Do work for the audience and not your peers. It'll be more rewarding in the long run.
LBB> Outside of work, what do you do to relax and who is Sascha away from advertising?
Sascha> I play with Hot Wheels (Go big! Go Hot Wheels!) and Lego. I am robbing banks but sometimes I'm also the police. I like to draw funny animals on my hand. Sometimes I'm a pirate at the pool. Sometimes I'm just looking for treasure. Sometimes I read about the Olchis or Mickey or dinosaurs. All of this is made possible by my kids which give me perspective, meaning and immense pride. My adult hobby is beer, which I make at home. I also log every beer I drink of which I've had thousands of unique types already. I can geek out on that subject for hours.