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5 Minutes with… Sven Huberts



Isobar Asia Pacific’s regional MD on pirates of innovation and being a sucker for tech

5 Minutes with… Sven Huberts

Harder, faster, stronger – the Asia Pacific market is the centre of the always-on mentality. And for Isobar’s Asia Pacific MD, Sven Huberts, the pace and the scale of the region means it’s exactly the right place for him to be. And what’s particularly exciting for Sven, who previously headed up Isobar Netherlands, is the dynamism of countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea. 

LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with him following his Asia Spikes talk with Coca-Cola’s Pratik Thakar on humanity and technology to find out more…

LBB> You’ve been in Singapore as regional MD since November last year – what was it about the opportunity that appealed to you and what has that transition been like?

SV> Both my parents were born and raised in Asia and as a kid I was lucky to get a lot of exposure to the region. What appealed to me was being able to travel and witness all those cultures from both a personal and a business perspective. The other thing which attracted me was the speed in which these economies are growing. People make decisions faster. People will meet with you instead of saying they are too busy and people think bigger by sub regions and multi market opportunity.

LBB> What was the biggest thing you had to get your head round when you moved to Asia Pacific in terms of work culture?

SV> Being 'always on'. In a regional role, as part of an ambitious global network, things happen at lightning speed. It takes time to understand and find ways to balance things out so life doesn’t seem as hectic. After my third week I received a multi-market pitch brief on the Thursday and was requested to come in and present our ideas on Wednesday. That didn’t include the half day of travel we were required to make to present in their offices… that’s fast.

LBB> And what’s been the most memorable experience since you moved?

SV> We are located in 14 markets which means I am lucky enough to get exposure to a lot of new things. So it’s not just one experience. It’s the accumulation of many things. When you’re travelling and suddenly you see a mountain rise above a massive see of orange, red and pink clouds in Japan, to the moment you hit the ground to have a the best lunch ever on the corner of the street, to when you have a meeting and see someone draw a beautifully crafted character with his coffee. I’ve had so many experiences here - it’s rather humbling. 

LBB> Amsterdam and Singapore have a lot in common, historically, as both were trading ports and important regional hubs, attracting people from all over. Do you feel the cities have much in common today? And in terms of their ad industries?

SV> I think they have both emerged as two of the best places in the world to live in and have become models for creating a sustainable urban future. As Singapore is still only 50 years old it still has work to do when it comes to cultivating independent creative thinking. This also applies to the creative sector. As both cultures have developed in very different ways it is important to understand and respect the challenges they bring. The speed and tempo in which things are done is much faster in Singapore, which makes process a very, very important thing. As a result of focussing a lot on process and timings, less time can be spent on the origination, execution and overall craft of the creative work. 

LBB> As the regional MD for Asia Pacific you’ve got a lot of the exciting ‘Next 11’ countries in your remit. Which of these countries is particularly exciting for you at the moment in terms of its creativity and digital innovations and why? 

SV> There is a clear tectonic shift happening in these markets. Boundaries have been lowered because of technology. It’s democratising knowledge and it’s getting people to connect with each other in isolated places. The countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea are benefiting from an influx of capital and ideas. The startup scenes are booming and the scale they have access to is enormous. For those markets we are talking about nearly 400m consumers!  The pace in which these economies are growing, along with readily available tech, makes me so excited to be part of it. 

With near universal mobile penetration and the speed of smartphone adoption, access to the internet to connect friends, products, services & entertainment is really taking place through a mobile device in Asia Pacific. It’s giving rise to new business models as everything starts on a mobile device and it allows for brand commerce to really take place e.g. brand storytelling combined with commerce and technology.  

LBB> Asia Pacific is such a culturally and economically diverse region – as regional MD how do you balance the need to understand and respond to the various challenges from each market with the need to retain a sense of consistency across the region?

SV> We have a very clear global strategy which helps drive the understanding of how we see the world and what it is we need to do to help transform the businesses and brands we work for. Our focus is providing clients with game changing ideas which are enabled by technology, powered by people and informed using data. With the right leadership, local markets and their talent it will help drive that strategy forward within their respected markets. From a regional point of view, we help to find ways to increase the efficiency and performance of those businesses.

LBB> At Spikes you joined Pratik Thakar from Coca-Cola on stage to talk about technology and humanity. What’s the main thrust of your session and why should people check it out?

SV> A lot of people are talking about technology’s role in society and how it’s causing us to fall out of sync with our emotions. If there is one brand that constantly innovates and since the dawn of social networking, the green movement and how it is leveraging all that the internet has to offer, it’s Coca-Cola.  So who better to discuss what we call, Being Human: Creativity X Technology? 

LBB> How do you think brands and agencies can best harness technology without losing touch with that humanity and empathy? Is it about behavioural research? Or common sense? Or just plain old getting out of the office?

SV> A lot of really great insights can be found by analysing raw data, however an insight translated to the creation of an idea must still come from a human being. 

LBB> You’ve been part of the Isobar family for some time and, globally, the agency seems to be going from strength to strength. How do you feel it has evolved since you got involved (when Marvellous merged with Isobar)? 

SV> We have a lot of momentum as we are looking to innovate within a bigger frame, rather than just improving the current agency model. There is a lot of confidence being installed by Jean Lin, our CEO. It’s helping us fuel the mind set of being ‘pirates of innovation’ with a forward thinking and quietly confident attitude. That helps because as you are innovating you tend to break a few things here and there along the way, which is fine as long as there is progress. 

LBB> What’s the most exciting thing happening in digital for you at the moment?

SV> Going beyond incremental change and saving peoples’ lives through disruptions within the medical space. For example, we are working on a project in China looking at how wearable technology can help save children’s lives through a patch which helps provide medical data to both child and doctor, for example reporting on their temperature. It might sound strange, in the lower tiered cities in China, access to medical care is very limited. In addition parents cannot afford to take a day off to visit a doctor, with many people forced to stand in long queues to buy simple medicine. We are working together with a large platform player and a pharmaceutical company to help provide better access to medical care in the early stages of a child being sick.  So ideas that make a valuable contribution to society, business and beyond are the ones I get really excited about. 

LBB> Which recent pieces of work has Isobar Asia Pac produced that you’ve been particularly excited about and why?

SV> ‘Share a Feeling’ the latest installment of the world-famous ‘Share a Coke’, created by Isobar Singapore and Droga5.  It’s using the universal language of Emoticons, on packs, on DOOH, and online, to encourage young people to express themselves via emoticons on Coke cans and bottles. It’s a simple but powerful twist on Share a Coke, that is both relevant to Singapore’s digitally native market and millennial consumer, and a creative idea that can live and breathe on multiple platforms as well as social. It’s a great example of how digital is interwoven in all of our actions today – even our language. Another great example of how Coke stays relevant.

LBB> Outside of advertising and work, what inspires/interests you?

SV> The outdoors. Jumping off things; paragliding and or skiing off a patch of fresh powder. If I’m not travelling I like to read up on people who are changing the game. People like Elon Musk for example. In his recent keynote he launched Tesla Energy, where he talks about his ambition to supply the world with renewable energy through batteries and solar energy.  Even though at times you could see that he was nervous you could still tell he had so much fun in what he was doing. He even mimicked Dr Evil by restraining his hand from doing the one billion thing. Look it up. People like him manage to cope in a fast-paced and demanding world in very different ways. Not only do I admire their vision but they can also operate and demonstrate a way of leadership very few in the world can do. 

LBB> Are you a big tech head in your down time or do you prefer to unplug?

SV> I’m a sucker for tech, I couldn’t live without connectivity, computing and the cloud. That said, if I didn’t work in advertising, I’d probably live in the mountains or by the waves and help the lady luck with her start up ‘The Pillow Room’. 

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Dentsu Creative UK, Fri, 11 Sep 2015 09:59:37 GMT