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Challenging Conventions with Wunderman Thompson Singapore's Samantha Branson



Senior art director at the agency tells LBB’s Natasha Patel about campaigns she’s worked on that break stereotypes, lead a different conversation and ‘unlock new ideas’

Challenging Conventions with Wunderman Thompson Singapore's Samantha Branson
In the past seven years since joining the advertising industry, Samantha Branson has been sharpening her skillset at Wunderman Thompson Singapore. As she’s risen through the ranks to become senior art director, she’s brought with her a wealth of campaigns that have been inspiring and innovative. From a poop donation campaign for Southeast Asia’s first and only microbiome library to featuring a male choosing a sanitary pad for femcare brand Kotex there’s a lot been a lot to unpick.

To hear about the campaigns Sam’s proud of, the challenges she’s faced with stereotypes and Singapore’s ever-changing cultural insights, LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with her.

LBB> Firstly, we have to talk about #PoopSavesLives that launched earlier this year. Where did the idea come from and what was the client’s reaction to it?

Sam> #PoopSavesLives is a poop donation campaign for AMILI. As Southeast Asia’s first and only microbiome library, they’re addressing an unmet and critical need in Asian microbiome research and treatment.

We needed to get people in Singapore to donate their poop—using it to potentially save lives through Faecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT). It’s the process of collecting poop and using it to treat a whole range of diseases like eczema, dementia, even HIV and cancer. The challenge for us was how do we talk about poop in wholesome, ultra clean, and highly-regulated Singapore? 

Through the brainstorm process we found ourselves using different ways to refer to poop – and the idea was born! We disguised “poop” in a whole load of euphemisms, breathed life into them with tongue-in-cheek stock imagery, and dumped them all over Singapore. We wanted to inject a sense of humour without making light of the potential poop has to save lives – and we felt that using Poophemisms was a cool way to strike the right balance. 

Our Poophemisms went everywhere the average Singaporean went; at housing estates, train and bus stations, social media targeted ads, and of course, the one place that hundreds visit daily—toilets. #PoopSavesLives came out of really wanting to create a fun campaign that would really be an unexpected way of talking about poop, and to bring a bit more light into the world given the dark times Covid has brought.

LBB> Going back to your childhood and early days, was creativity always something you were interested in?

Samantha> I was actually on my way to becoming a photojournalist, studying at Nanyang Technological University Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. It was only after my internship placement in year three with an advertising agency that I decided to pursue advertising as my career. I absolutely loved working on campaigns and how they allowed me to channel my creativity subjectively. 

I think what’s unique about my early years as well is that I never had any formal art training. My current skill set using Photoshop and other creative tools comes from learning through YouTube and from mentors during my internship placement, as well as through my own trial and error, and keen observation. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since figuring out how to mask something out on my own. Beyond technical skills, I think this goes to show that having a creative eye and brain isn’t something you can necessarily learn, and having the right attitude and passion is important.

LBB> That being said, what's been your career path to this point here?

Sam> Actually, Wunderman Thompson has been my first job since graduation! I think it’s quite rare these days in the industry to find creatives in the same company for such a long time, so my path has been quite unique. When I first joined I worked exclusively on campaigns for Microsoft Xbox in APAC, following which I moved on to work on Microsoft Consumer Campaigns and digital campaigns for Kotex Singapore. Since then there have been mergers which led to new creative opportunities for me – working on brands like Treasury Wine Estates, Kellogg’s and Friso. 

Despite having been in the same company for seven years, I’m still challenged every day – whether it’s through the creative process itself, or with new clients and new briefs. So even though it’s been the same company, it’s not to say it’s been the same environment or same box. The world has pretty much shifted around me at times which keeps me on my toes. 

Through the years I’ve grown from starting as a digital designer to my current role as a senior art director, working with some really amazing mentors and creative teams. I would love to pass some experience and knowledge on to future generations of creatives because for me my mentors have been essential to who I am today. I’m also really thankful to have had the opportunity to grow as a female creative within the same company, in part thanks to a highly collaborative work culture filled with positive energy. 

LBB> I love how you like to challenge conventions especially through your work with Kotex. What has this experience been like and what have consumers’ reactions been?

Sam> For Kotex in particular, a brand that champions women’s progress, we have been steadily breaking stereotypes of women and shaping conversations around periods away from the typical girl in a white dress running in a field of flowers. When I started working on the brand five years ago the market in Singapore and even globally was really conservative. For example, you would never see real blood in any femcare product commercial and speaking openly about periods was still quite taboo in Singapore. The femcare landscape both in Singapore and globally has evolved through creative campaigns. 

For Kotex Singapore, we’re about what’s real and you can see that in the tone of our campaigns across the different Kotex products through the years. From day one, we’ve shifted the creative communication away from stereotypical pad ads showing a group of girlfriends at a sleepover to a more empowering message that champions women’s progress in an authentic way.

Creatively, there’s never been a boring project despite having been working on every campaign across product ranges for the past five years. Each campaign is a chance to evolve and relate to our millennial target audience here in Singapore – whether it’s communicating to them creatively from new insights or reaching them via channels in a refreshing way. I’m happy that the work we do for social campaigns, although we are a small market, has led to sales successes for our client. We’ve evolved the brand from number five, up to number two for market share in Singapore to date (based on Nielsen data).

LBB> With that being said, are there many conventions in Singapore that need challenging and how do you tackle briefs to give them a different perspective?

Sam> In any country you can find conventions that are worth challenging – but with Singapore being very open and diverse, and yet highly-regulated it gives rise to more opportunities, broadly speaking. When you add various products and industries to that, the potential is multiplied even further. So we try to push ourselves out of our creative comfort zones, and we convince our clients to take a leap out of their comfort zones as well. 

With every brief we take a step back and approach it from all angles – even unexpected and downright weird ones. Keeping an open mind during the brainstorm stage has really helped me unlock some interesting creative ideas. Having the right type of positive creative energy during a brainstorm session is also key for me – working with my copywriter partner Natalie every session feels more play than work and that’s been key in unlocking ideas from different perspectives.

LBB> In your past seven years at Wunderman Thompson Singapore, what has been your favourite campaign to work on and why?

Sam> I’ve really enjoyed working on the campaign for the launch of Kellogg’s Chocos Magic in the Philippines in early 2021. It was definitely a unique challenge shooting the work through Covid restrictions, and launching in such difficult times. But we loved that the work brought magic into homes of families during Covid with a little song and dance beyond just a TVC but also with a TikTok dance challenge and magic shows on e-commerce livestreams! Creatively, it was also really fun to bring Tony the Tiger, an iconic Kellogg’s mascot, to life as a magician through animation.  

But honestly my favourite has been the work we’ve done for AMILI most recently. It’s not often you get to create a campaign asking people to donate their poop. From the get go it was a creative challenge raising awareness, but we’re glad to have solved that creatively with #PoopSavesLives, using Poophemisms!

LBB> I know you like to do work for the Millennial generation, but how do you ensure that your work is seen by them and how much does social media play a role in this?

Sam> Social media plays a huge, huge role. Naturally we reach Millennials where they spend most of their time – on social media. Although they spend a lot of time there, it doesn’t make it any easier because there’s so much going on in their feeds. 

So to make sure our work gets seen (beyond partnering with great media agencies) we have to do our best to cut through the clutter with our campaigns and really hope to capture their attention – for example through the unusual headlines and use of Poophemisms for the #PoopSavesLives campaign is one way we’ve tried to get through to young Singaporeans.

I also find that using motion graphics animation on content for social channels can really bring visuals to life dynamically and be quite eye-catching and aesthetic, I think it’s rare these days to see content that is static.

Ultimately, I don’t think there’s one trick to ensuring the work gets seen and remembered by Millennials, but that’s what makes my role so interesting – each new brief is a creative challenge. Even within digital and social media there are “new” channels every day whether it’s TikTok, or even e-commerce live streams. It’s my daily job to marry creative innovation in the use of social platforms, along with client briefs and millennial insights to create cool campaigns that work well on social.

LBB> How would you categorise Singapore's creative scene? And what makes it so unique.

Sam> Singapore’s demographics makes it unique – it’s a relatively small market compared to others in APAC, with a unique market mix of locals as well as people from all over the world. This makes collaboration on projects really interesting – to have perspectives from colleagues of many nationalities. 

The everchanging local cultural insights makes it unique. Being a country that seeks to balance between our tradition and heritage, as well as our modernisation makes it interesting too. It’s creatively unique to me – it’s the place I call home, so I’m able to give strong insights from my own experiences.

LBB> Where does your creative inspiration/motivation come from?

Sam> My creative inspiration comes from the world around me – the experiences I have every day or even random things that I observe at the supermarket.

In terms of my own creative process, I’m inspired through daily doodles and positive energy from conversations with friends and family. I find that scrolling through Instagram and seeing interesting creative content triggers my creativity daily as well.

My motivation simply comes from wanting to use creativity and ideas to make a positive change in the world, even if it’s just putting a smile on one person’s face.

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Wunderman Thompson Singapore, Fri, 09 Jul 2021 15:29:00 GMT