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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > creatives >  Victor Ng
Victor Ng
victor ng inside Victor NgExecutive Creative Director
EURO RSCG Singapore
His old boss Linda Locke describes this guy as the hungriest creative she’d ever seen.
And you would think she’s seen plenty. When I met Victor, I could immediately see why Linda held him in such high regard. I’ve never come across anybody who shows as much enthusiasm for what they do. It’s infectious. And effective too it seems. Over the years Victor’s work has been awarded at every major award show on earth. Some of his campaigns have topped the very exclusive Gunn Report and Campaign charts. After stints at Publicis and Leo Burnett in Singapore his journey had him sharpening his creative pencils at Mother London for a bit – he was the first Asian creative to ever work there. And while working at Mother was a lot of fun, he decided to head back home where he now holds the none too shabby title of youngest ever Singaporean ECD.
Victor makes it a point to give back to the industry and to nurture the next generation of creatives. Not only was he one of the seven heads behind the latest Portfolio Night in Singapore, but he regularly lectures at the local AWARD school and co-chaired the Crowbar Awards (the local student award show). I had the chance to sit down with him at his office just when “the real day” as he calls it was about to start, at 8 pm. Yeah, he works fucking hard.
ihaveanidea: So, tell us how you got your start in advertising?

Victor: *phone rings*

Well, there’s your answer… (laughs)

I was an economics graduate doing my honours year and something happened that made me change the way I look at work and life.

It was 8am on a Sunday morning, and I had a paper to submit the next day. So I went to the school library to do some last minute research, thinking I’d have the library to myself.

Then I saw my classmates — hogging those thick economics books — reading, laughing as if they were flipping through Playboy. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe these guys were there on a Sunday morning and that they were actually enjoying what they studied.

That made me think really hard about what I wanted to do. Work is about 30 years of your life, so you sure as hell want to do something you’d enjoy. I quit my course.

I gave myself five years to make something of myself. I knew advertising is a tough industry but I also knew that in this business your work gets published and seen by everyone – including your peers, your next boss and your mom. Good or bad, your work is going to be visible. It’s impossible to keep a good creative guy down.

It was in the thick of the Asian economic crisis but I decided to be a copywriter. I spent months putting together a marker-scribbled, plain A4 portfolio and took my chances. I had one interview at Publicis and I told the ECD: “Honestly, I don’t have the experience but I know I can do the job. So why don’t I work for free for three months. If you don’t like my work, you don’t owe me anything and I am out of here. But if you want me to hang around, you’ll have to backpay me. I think three months is more than enough for you to see if I can do this.” I was lucky, he gave me a job on the spot.

“You have to be your biggest fan but harshest critic.”

ihaveanidea: And where were you five years later? What kind of goals did you set for yourself once you got in?

Victor: A pretty decent place. I was at Leo Burnett working for Linda Locke who was the regional ECD at the time.

To me, it’s about finding your own niche, finding your own voice and being true to yourself. Don’t try to be someone else, because you may succeed but not on your own terms.

Singapore is a very competitive place, and it shows on the worldwide creative map. It’s not just about being the best in your country. It’s about showing up on the world map. Doing something that inspires someone in Brazil, surprises someone in South Africa, and makes someone in New York say “Damn! I wish I thought of that!” A great idea is the closest you can come to immortality. If you came up with a great idea, there’s going to be an intern five years from now who’s going to say “That’s amazing, how did they do this?” and that, to me, is leaving a little legacy.

Some say “You’re only as good as your last ad”, but I believe you are only as good as your next ad. Your portfolio is a nice track record of what you’ve done. But it doesn’t really say much about what you’re about to do. This is why hunger and passion are so important. The question should be: does the person represent the work he is showing? Make no mistake, you’re always represented by your work, but at an interview, is this person likely to do work like this?

I’ve actually seen one same piece of work in three different portfolios. I had no idea who really created it, and whose name was casually slipped in there. But I believe that everyone gets found out, good or bad, sooner of later.

ihaveanidea: You’re the only person in the world that can claim to be the first Asian creative to work at Mother. It’s not a bad place, by any means. Tell us how that happened…

Victor: It was Mark Waites came to Singapore to judge the local Creative Circle Awards, and that year I was the most awarded creative.

That night, a colleague took me aside and said : “I met Mark Waites last night and he said he would like to meet you.” I told him, “No way. Get out of here.”

He then told me apparently Mark had seen my work at the CCA and liked what he saw…

ihaveanidea: Imagine if Linda heard that conversation!

Victor: (laughs) He probably upped his life insurance before talking to me! Anyway I decided to give it a shot.

So I showed up at his hotel lobby, and obviously no one was there. Ten minutes went by. And then fifteen. So just as I was about to leave, Mark shows up. He had already seen the work, so he was very straight forward and just asked if I’d like to go to work for him in London.

Of course I said yes. But as fate would have it, it didn’t happen because they were restructuring (Yes even Mother restructures). It was cool, I was happy to be even considered.

The next two years at Leo Burnett was pretty fruitful as I went on to do some interesting work. I was able grow creatively and gain a bit more confidence in what I do, and who I am.

I went to Cannes that year because of Leos 7+ incentive program. I met Mark again, at the Gutter Bar. A few months later I was working at the most interesting agency I know.

“Some say “You’re only as good as your last ad”, but I believe you are only as good as your next ad”

ihaveanidea: Can you tell us something surprising about working at a hot shop like Mother? Everyone thinks: “okay, you’re gonna work long hours, be surrounded by great minds, etc…”. But what about something you wouldn’t expect?

Victor: The truth about Mother is about the respect. It’s not so much about the industry respect that they’ve certainly earned, but about how they respect their ideas, their people and most importantly, their identity. Mother doesn’t really care what the rest of the advertising world is doing, they will do what they think is the right thing anyway. Which, in a full circle sort of way, leads to industry-wide respect.

And long hours? Sure we worked hard. But I remember it was the hottest summer day in the UK, and at around 11 am everyone received an email from Robert Saville saying: “It’s too hot to work, everyone go home. Go to the beach, get an ice cream cone, a beer, whatever. Just leave the office now”. And he was the first one to pack his bags and walk out. That’s who they are, they do what they want and it’s usually the right thing.

ihaveanidea: How do you keep yourself so motivated and hungry? What pushes you?

Victor: Every day, I come to work telling myself, “This could be my last day at work. I could get fired”. Every single day when I was working at Leo Burnett I had that on my mind. Even today. Then I remembered I have an interview with ihaveanidea and I relaxed a bit because that means I must’ve done at least something right.

I am never too comfortable. I do believe you have to keep yourself uncomfortable to be better. There will always be someone out there who’s hungrier, quicker and more talented than you are. Be that someone.

Someone told me once that I am the youngest ever Singaporean to be an ECD. While the ad industry here may not necessarily view youth as an asset, I see it as a challenge and responsibility that drives me to bring my best everyday.

When I joined Euro RSCG Singapore early last year, my goal was to build a new creative culture that would help us challenge the big boys in town, or at least give them something to think about. The agency had just lost Dell via global realignment and was rather abysmal creatively, so there was a lot work to be done.

The first thing I wanted to do was to instill a sense of creative pride in the agency. While I know that passion and pride cannot be taught, I wanted to at least give the guys here something that’s worth fighting for – their own creative identities. Who are you really? How do you want to be known as? OneShowFinalistIn1998 Smith? GoodGoingGreatWriter Jones? BrilliantArtDirectorWhoHatesSuits Johnson? Represent yourself.

The results are showing in heaps. Already, we are the most awarded office in Euro RSCG Asia Pacific — with success at Cannes, Clio, One Show, Asia-Pacific Adfest, New York Festivals, Creative Circle Awards and the Hall of Fame Awards.

What is just as gratifying is how our new creative edge has led to a streak of new business wins in a recessionary period, including DBS Bank, Orange, Carlsberg (KL), NTUC FairPrice, Fraser & Neave and Singapore Post.

With our combination of award and business wins, Euro RSCG is arguably Singapore’s hottest agency over the past 12 months. The previous sentence would be unprintable 18 months ago.

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ihaveanidea: Life often throws a curveball at you when you least expect it, especially in this industry. Any memorable stories spring to mind about over coming difficulties and walking through minefields to get to the top?

Victor: It was one night after Leo Burnett Singapore bombed out of the Creative Circle Awards. We were ranked an embarrassing 19th. 19th! Imagine that. I was just a fresh-faced copywriter who had joined the agency less than five months prior and a lot of the entries were my work. Naturally I was devastated. One night in the office, I was inspired and foolhardy enough to write a Jerry McGuire-ish manifesto.

In it, I threw an open call for everyone in the creative department to mount a creative comeback and prove our detractors wrong. To silence our critics and prove why we’re still Leo Burnett. Because I believed our agency stood for something.

I remember this definitive moment when I moused over the “send” button and didn’t release the button because if I did, I might just get fired the next day. But I thought I’d rather get fired for believing in what was right, than to stay hired by pretending that nothing was wrong. I sent the email, went home and slept well that night.

I came to work the next day and everyone was looking at me funny. I saw Linda at the corridor and she gave me a little cryptic smirk. So I asked her if she was going to fire me. On the contrary, she said was glad I’d done that. Later that day, the managing director gave me a raise. It was a very strange day for me.

But I also I knew I had put an undue amount of pressure on myself. I wanted to walk the talk. So I promised to shut up and get down to work.

Fast forward to the next CCAs and Leo Burnett did make a spectacular comeback to rank first overall. The stars aligned for me to help the agency win 19 of its chart-topping 20 medals. It’s a personal journey more than anything — on how you often have to fail to succeed. It’s always about how you respond to failure, adversity and doubt. I had knowingly put a lot of pressure on myself because I knew that would motivate me. You have to be your biggest fan but harshest critic.

A great idea is the closest you can come to immortality”

ihaveanidea: You’ve just judged Outdoor at Cannes. Do you put yourself in a different mindset when you judge an international award show than when you judge a local one?

Victor: Not quite. The biggest difference usually is the quantity of work you’re going through.

I was judging Integrated Advertising at D&AD a couple of years back and it’s easy to think that judges get into the “this is the toughest show in the world, let’s kill everything in the room” kind of mood. But D&AD is D&AD for a reason and I actually think its degree of difficulty is the somewhat perverse reason why agencies enter it to begin with.

Clio judging, which I was a part of earlier this year, was probably the most inspiring for me. Cannes, the most exciting because of its scale and visibility.

But truth be told, if you put a group of respected creative directors in the same room as jury, great work will always prevail — regardless of the show.

Sometimes it’s about how the chairman directs his jury, or how he massages opinions out of the quiet ones. Because for every opinionated judge there’s going to be an unassuming one – usually from Asia (laughs), who’s got a great point of view, but is too shy to share it.

ihaveanidea: What’s the campaign you’re the most proud of? If your portfolio only had one ad in it, which one would it be?

Victor: Oh… that’s a tough one.

ihaveanidea: I will give you two then.

Victor: Okay. I’ll talk about something more current.

I am quite pleased with the Nikon campaign. The client had a brief that essentially said, “We have industry-leading face detection technology of up to 12 faces.”

It was about finding the truth in the product. When you take pictures you’d see those frame detection boxes on the camera screen, we tried to get the message across in a way that would highlight the negative of the product feature in a humourous way.

Philips Lighting “Monsters under the bed” is more of a sentimental favourite. I thought the challenge of the brief really was, “come on, it’s a lightbulb, anybody could screw it on. How do you make an ad that’s different from what was been done before?”

The visual idea of homeless monsters sleeping rough, without actually seeing the monsters, just felt right for me and made the line “Banishes monsters under the bed” work really well.

“There will always be someone out there who’s hungrier, quicker and more talented than you are. Be that someone.”

While we’re on this here’s another recent campaign, something I did for the Singapore Crowbar Awards, a regional students creative competition. There is a bit of added pride in this choice because as the Crowbars chairman I actually did roll up my sleeves to do the call-for-entries campaign.

I thought creatives these days are getting younger and better. So an idea came up to push the limits of youth and brilliance. We introduced Billy Lee, the world’s first advertising child prodigy with an IQ of 207 and an ego that is more unbelievable than his genius. We created a mini-documentary on him, in it he claims to have 300 new ideas everyday and is dead set to win the Grand Prix before he turns 12. We even put his “not good enough for Gold but good enough for everyone else” ideas (in the form of crushed paper balls) on ebay — with opening bids of $1500. There were hate sites, online protests and even a plot to “take him out”. Poor kid. But we did achieve the highest school participation rate in the history of the competition.

Having said all that, I hope my next ad will be much better.

Rafik Belmesk
Operations, AKOS

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