The art director at BBDO Korea on finding advertising at an early age and going down the route of broadening her horizons internationally before settling down in a role, writes LBB’s Natasha Patel
If you were to ask Yeibin Lee to discuss her early years in Korea she jokes that she was that one kid in school with extreme parents. Point in hand is the amount of extra-curricular activities she did: “Piano, clarinet, drums, tennis, squash, soccer, golf, taekwondo, kumdo, Latin, dance, swim, math, science... you get the idea.” While she admits to hating the classes at the time, now that she works in the advertising industry, Yeibin has realised that there is a direct link between tackling the unknown and her job. “Whether we are familiar or not, we always work with various brands and different products and we have to really study and actually get to know the product in order to make ads.”
She grew up very aware of the advertising industry and recalls the ad breaks between her favourite cartoons for catching her eye. “People still debate whether or not TV commercials aimed at children should be banned. But even as a kid, I was fascinated by how TV commercials could have so much influence over people’s decision making in such a short amount of time, because it worked on me too (which I guess was what they were aiming for). In my case, it was a Cadbury commercial with a Beach Boys song. They changed its lyrics to “wouldn’t it be nice if the world were Cadbury?” Every time that ad was on, I wanted it! It was such a catchy, fun ad that I still remember.”
Yeibin’s childhood had a profound impact on the way she saw the world. She grew up in Korea and at the age of 12 her family uprooted to New Zealand for two years. “I was amazed by how different their lifestyle was compared to Korea. I realised I wanted to explore more and learn new cultures, so I applied for a high school exchange program in the US and stayed there until college.”
However, when the time came for her to apply to college, Yiebin and her parents had many a debate about what would be best for her. Yeibin always had a “fantasy of going to art school” and was accepted into every art school she applied to, yet her parents wanted her to do anything but art. Eventually the family reached a compromise and she went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, majoring in advertising.
She returned to Korea after graduating and like so many in the industry, calls her first role a “happy accident”. “I applied for a part-time job as an assistant director at a production company. When I had my interview with the director, I told him about how I love coming up with new ideas and he said that I would be better suited in a creative team and sent me to a small agency within his production company. The next thing I knew, I had started my career as an intern copywriter!”
She then went on to show off her potential in design before her boss gave her a role as an art director. And despite going down a “longer route” to becoming an art director, Yeibin is thankful for the lessons she learnt in those early days. “I ended up doing what I wanted to in the first place and was equipped with more skills and experience beforehand. All of these experiences made me who I am today, for which I’m very thankful. I learned that I don’t need to panic or try to rush things if plans don’t work out, but to just try to do what you think is best for that situation. Eventually, without even knowing, you’ll be at a great place doing what you love!”
Having now had enough experience to hone her craft, Yeibin is able to look back at her early days in a frank and honest way, in particular the campaign for cosmetics brand Innisfree showed her the true power of advertising. “Before, I was so ignorant and had this prejudice that cosmetic ads are boring and only about big-name models looking beautiful and that’s it. But I was totally wrong. I learned that there are so many different ways to approach ideas for cosmetic ads and that today, it’s not just typical ATL/BTL anymore—there are so many platforms and mediums to work with.
“There are no boundaries in advertising and that’s what I like about it.”
Outside of work Yeibin is a keen explorer, and has travelled from California to Alaska in an old converted school bus and lived to tell the tale. “It was a very old, rusty bus so there were so many unexpected incidents along our way—the back door falling off, the muffler falling off and dragging everywhere, running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, not to mention almost freezing to death! But the people and scenery we encountered along the way was just indescribable, and it was one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken.”
It’s no surprise then that new experiences are one of the things that inspire Yeibin the most, both in and out of work. “Whether it’s seeing new things, learning new things, hanging out with people, spending time alone, or NOT DOING ANYTHING AT ALL, it truly is just the unique things in everyday life which really motivate me, both personally and professionally.”