Natalie Lam reflects on the creativity, optimism and diversity of APAC and MEA ahead of Cannes Lions, and tells us why the rest of the world needs to sit up and take notice
Since joining Publicis Group as its chief creative officer for Asia Pacific and the Middle East, Natalie Lam has been on a mission to support, elevate and champion creativity from across the regions. Natalie will be heading to Cannes Lions to head up the Print and Publishing jury - but before she touches down in the South of France, we caught up with her to find out about a bumper creative year across the regions she oversees and to find out about the creative trends she’s seeing across APAC and MEA.
LBB> Why does the rest of the world need to sit up and take notice of the APAC and MEA region?
Natalie> There’s pretty much only one headline for “Asia,” another one for “The Middle East” and “Trevor Noah” as the answer to “Africa.” In reality, there’re at least 3,000 languages spoken, and a population of over 6 billion across APAC & MEA – that’s 20 times the size of the United States. So a lot is going on, yet I find people are too busy living their lives here instead of sharing their stories with the rest of the world. In the unicorn race, India and China are catching up to Silicon Valley; Hong Kong has sanitizing robots everywhere and one of the world’s top five contemporary art museums; Saudi Arabia is building Neom, a future city that’s the size of Belgium.
In these regions, there’s true diversity, an optimistic future-facing outlook and a deep cultural heritage, I’m still learning and discovering something new every day. It’s really a breath of fresh air and I’m constantly wowed by pleasant surprises. There’s a lot of “can-do” attitude everywhere filled with optimism. People here don’t dwell on the challenges, instead they’re very pragmatic and love to take action. Both clients and customers are also very experimental and a lot more receptive to innovation. The rest of the world needs to be exposed to the amazingness and venture outside the echo chamber a little.
LBB> From the Saudi IKEA poster ads to the Metaverrrrr, it seems that humour is back in a big way across your regions! What's driving that?
Natalie> A lot of people forget that the creative industry is a ton of fun. People who come into this world are naturally pretty crazy people (in a good way) who’re able to look at everything with a sense of play. Coupled with the light-hearted nature of a lot of local cultures, humor is always there, it never went away.
LBB> We're seeing some really fantastic local art direction and design, and also the melding of traditional local culture with tech in a lot of your big pieces of work - how are you encouraging teams to bring that local flavour and why is it important?
Natalie> I’m a huge advocate for work that’s “modern, relevant with great craft” as this type of work is always timeless, inspiring, and does not fit into any mode. I always encourage teams to be proud of, and flaunt their local culture, instead of following outside trends they see in awards shows. I help them build their confidence in celebrating true cultural diversity, as all of these are naturally abundant in each of the markets, as opposed to (at times) the tokenism that’s seen in some other markets.
LBB> We also see some purpose-driven case studies, the likes of McDonald's Classrooms which showed just how big an impact brands can have during difficult times - what have the teams learned about the role of brands from that Covid experience?
Natalie> In this part of the world the notion of “community” is paramount, everyone is very aware of each others’ needs, and always willing to roll up their sleeves to help out in authentic ways when needed. With this fundamental “glue” to the society, often the separation between brands and customers are blurred, the role of a brand becomes a helpful pillar for the community. I’m very grateful to see a lot of these genuine gestures in action from some of the biggest brands in the world. It’s what we always shoot for: walking the walk, instead of talking the talk.
Publicis Groupe APAC & MEA’s Cannes Contenders - 2022