Newsmaker: Norman Tan on leaving Lowe and returning back to his family at JWT China

Norman Tan JWT.jpgNorman Tan has history with JWT. He has worked with the network before and following the departure of Yang Yeo to Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai he was approached as a replacement. In this latest "Newsmaker" column, Campaign Brief Asia speaks to Tan about his decision to leave Lowe China to return to the JWT family.

For Norman Tan it's all about the right timing in the right place to take on the right challenge. He describes his last last relationship with JWT as a really exciting and memorable one. It included three years in Taipei, followed by five years in Singapore responsible for the South East Asia region.

But in 2005 Tan left Singapore for the challenge of China and new opportunities at Lowe. His recent decision to leave Lowe came at a time when he believed he has achieved his mission there - winning business and winning big awards including Grand Prix awards at both the China's 4A and Great Wall national awards and several Golds at major international shows like Cannes Lions and London International Awards.

At the same time, He was excited by JWT's approach for a bigger challenge and to be able to work with Lo Sheung Yan (Mayan), Tom Doctoroff and many of the JWT's talents in China and the region.
The conversation about having Tan come back to JWT, he said, started from mid year, over an afternoon coffee with MaYan, JWT's Worldwide and APAC Creative Council Chairman.

The offer was for Tan was to take on the role of North Asia Chief Creative Officer and China Chairman, based out of Shanghai.

"The conversation was memorable and the decision was emotional, because I knew I was going to miss all my wonderful colleagues at Lowe China." said Tan

His role covers Greater China, Korea and Japan. Besides being closely involved with JWT's key clients, he is also responsible for the creative output of the North Asia region, adding agency value, culture and growth with to all the China offices, and these challenges really get Tan excited.   

Looking at his time at Lowe Tan says he is most proud of the teams there and the people.

"When I first joined Lowe China, I never expected that we could do so much together," said Tan.

"From the trust of the management partners and global leaders to the creative teams we built over the years, we were so confident with our works, we could walk into any "real" new business pitches, and walk out with winning smiles.

"I was the most proud of the people we have trained and partnered with, not just winning many new business including Buick, but also winning both China's 4A and Great Wall national award show's Grand Prix two years (2013/2014) in a row, plus Gold, Sliver and Bronze, with a total of 4 Lions and 12 Spikes in 2014."

Buick_No_Bikes.jpgBuick_No_entry.jpgBuick_No_Left_Turn.jpgBuick_No_pedestrians.jpgBuick_Traffic_light_ahead.jpgBuick_No_trucks.jpgThe Buick safety "Human Traffic Signs" campaign has been a big highlight on the world stage at international and regional awards shows this year. A 2014 Cannes Gold Lion winner the campaign features print and a television commercial with real traffic accident victims who come out to remind drivers and pedestrians to obey the traffic rules.

"I always believe in creating insightful communication be able to own by the brand are more important then just creating an award winning ad," said Tan. "I also strongly encourage clients with big brands and social impact in China's market to be involved with public welfare and to do what they can to help society. This was how the "Human Traffic Signs" campaign came about. We worked on three cars brands for Buick, as soon as we knew that Buick was involved in road safety messages with the national TV station for the public, we initiated our campaign for them to work along with their PSA effort."  

Tan is a native Singaporean who began his career in Singapore but it's the scale of the Chinese market that was the incentive for him to move to China.

Norman Tan_6.jpg"Just imagine, when we work on any brand, or any briefs for any market in the world, we will spend about the same amount of time on the same brief, from planning, thinking, selling, producing, crafting and airing. The real difference is how many people get to see your ad on air. Singapore's population of 5.47 million, compared to China's 1,360.7 million people. This says it all and is the reason why I wanted to be in China. I hope for our creations to be seen by more people. It's as simple as that." 

Do you think the standard of creative work coming out of China as a whole is improving?
Yes, I think so. If you compare the award performance out of China in the past 10 years. The recent 4 to 5 years has definitely showed a big improvement. The volume of winning works might not be large, but the quality of the works has proved that it is worth a Grand prix.

What did you do before getting into advertising?
As a Singaporean male, as soon as we graduated from school, we all have the same first job for at least two years in National Service. This job required us to be physically and mentally strong; we trained as a soldier and to be able to fight with M16 riffles. After the three months of basic military training, I was posted to the military band as a clarinet player due to my performance and experience in school band and satisfied audition.

After completing the National Service, I was recruited by a life insurance company as an insurance agent. I sold more then 30 polices in eight months to my relatives and close friends. Eventually, I ran out of clients and contacts. I got bored.

Why did you first get into advertising as a career?
Curiosity!

When I was still working as an insurance agent, I was also attending night classes for graphic design as a hobby. I remember, in one of the lessons about basic printing, we were asked to use a magnifying glass to take a closer look at photo/printing material on a magazine, and what I saw actually triggered me to find out more about design and print. I was amazed by the simple four colors CMYK and that the different sizes and combinations of dots can create every image on paper.

What was your first big break in advertising?
That will be Taipei in 1997 when I made a brave decision to move out of Singapore to be based in Taipei with my family for JWT as my first ECD role. I was attracted by the beauty of Chinese language advertising in Taiwan, the booming economic market and the task given to me by the company.

At that time, JWT Taipei was the No.2 biggest agency and was profitable, but the creative ranking was No.14, my brief was simply to improve the ranking and build creative reputation. We completed the mission in two years, becoming the No.2 creative agency by ranking. And most importantly, we cultivated a lot of good talents in the market, whom I personally got to work with, and met the most wonderful people in the industry. 

LindaLocke_2.jpgWhat is your career highlight to date?
I was very lucky to be able to meet and work with numerous smart marketers and colleagues in my career. Without them, nothing would have succeeded.

When I worked with Grey Singapore, I met the "Golden boy of India's advertising", Chris D'Rozario, my new boss who transferred for India.

When I worked at Leo Burnett Singapore, industry's godmother Linda Locke (pictured right) was on board to be our leader, guiding me to work on McDonald.

When I worked with JWT, we have brands such as DeBeers, DoubleA Paper etc... and many trusted colleagues and friends in the network.

When I moved to China, the market and the creative/brands challenge such as Buick and Unilever was right in front of me, welcoming me with open arms. These moments and achievements are the highlight of me.

Lowe China win.jpgWhen I worked with Lowe China, I had global creative leaders Jose Miguel Sokoloff and management's trust. I had great partners, Kitty Lun (second on right collecting the AdStars Grand Prix prize this year) who had given me freedom, trust and support to perform.

My career highlight was by far winning Cannes Lions, and winning the Grand Prix at the National 4A two years in the row and the Great Wall award shows in China 2013 and 2014.

What are your two favourite ads or campaigns that you have been involved with?
I will pick one of my earliest and the latest works we've worked on.

NoJam.jpgOne of our earlier ad "No Jam" 2002 Double A Paper's launch campaign, was one I worked with Joji Jacob and Benson at Singapore JWT.

The 30" TVC shows a slice of plain toast printing out smoothly on each sheet of photocopy paper from a photocopy machine non-stop for the whole commercial, with the ending super "No Jam" appearing over the toast. The TVC was only awarded "in book" at D&AD, but what I like about it was the attention the ad created in the market for a serious product launch, while most of our industry peers still believed that this was a scam ad created for the award show.

The latest is the "Human Traffic Signs" PSA campaign I worked with Zeng Qiang at Lowe for Shanghai GM brand Buick.

Is there one or two campaigns that make you green with envy?
Too many great campaigns I admire and respect.

Volvo_Splits.jpgThe latest would be "Dumb Ways to Die." by Metro and "The Epic Split" by Volvo Trucks. Metro was so unexpectedly fun and effective. "The Epic Spilt" is created to be the next iconic, timeless, classic advertising.

Do you have a 'worst mistake' or a most embarrassing moment in your advertising career to date?
Sure, we make mistakes along in career, luckily nothing worst till I can remember how embarrassing it was. Hopefully it will not happen in the future too.

Is there a person you have enjoyed working with the most?
One person is never enough. As we all know in the creative business, we live with the work; we live with our working partners to keep searching for creative solutions that might not be easy to find. We live in an unknowing life. That explains how important we have to enjoy with the people we working with, to inspire each other for ideas. I have a long list of people I enjoyed working with; most of them become friends for life.

Who is the most interesting, or most inspiring, or funniest person you have ever met or worked with?
My mom, my wife, and my two daughters, SiQi and SiLi. My mom is the first, most inspiring woman I've ever met in my life. She not only just taught me to be responsible in life, but also demonstrated with her life how and what's important in life. My wife has everything to do with my achievement today; she is my life partner without a doubt, and my two little princesses who just keep adding color, happiness and meaning in life to our family. 

What's your favourite leisure activity/hobbies outside of advertising?
I love good food, enjoying any kind of good food around the world. I also love jazz very much, it's a pity I can't play it too well, I can never tire of listening to jazz music especially live performances.

Favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere have good food, good weather, good-looking people, great friends and jazz.

NormanTan_Durian.jpgFavourite hotel?
Banyan Tree Hotel by Singapore's group.

Tell me something about yourself that not many people would know.
I am my mom's 8th child. I have 7 sisters and 5 brothers. So don't mess with me.

I also very much enjoy treating the western jury members, when we have award judging in Singapore, with great local hawker food, and the King of Fruits, the durian.

Read Campaign Brief Asia's previous Newsmaker profile stories:
Ronald Ng - BBDO and Proximity Singapore
Matt Eastwood - Global CCO, JWT
Yang Yeo - Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai
RajDeepak Das - Leo Burnett India
Rahul Mathew - DDB Mudra West, India
Rob Sherlock - ADK Asia Pacific
Masako Okamura - Dentsu Vietnam

3 Comments

Joji Jacob said:

Congrats, Norman. All the very best!

Nice story said:

I don't know Norman but he sounds like a guy I'd want to work for.
Just spent an hour reading all these newsmaker stories. Great reading.

Siqi Tan said:

Such an inspiring interview, I loved it. Sending lots of love and congrats, Papa!

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