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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > creatives >  Thirasak Tanapatanakul
Thirasak Tanapatanakul
thirasak inside Thirasak TanapatanakulWorldwide Chairman
Creative Juice, Bangkok

There’re always grounds for suspicion when an award show jury is announced and Thirasak Tanapatanakul’s name isn’t on the list.

Or on the shortlist, as is the case. During his six years tenure at the helm of Creative Juice Bangkok, he scored major accolades at all the local and international award shows, taking home everything from Gold Lions, Gold Clios, D&AD Yellow Pencils and two Grand Prix at AdFest. Perhaps most notably, his Bangkok Life Insurance campaign was the fourth most awarded TVC in the world in 2006 according to the Gunn Report.

On a personal level, Thirasak was awarded the extremely coveted No. 1 Creative in Asia crown for 2006-2007. He was also named Asia Pacific Creative of the Year in 2005 by Media Asia.

When I was in Bangkok last June, I had the chance to catch up with him and listen to how his phenomenal career came about. As I was walked into his office, I have to admit I was a bit taken back by the ridiculously cool finger recognition technology they use to get around. As soon as I came down to my senses, and stopped making superfluous spy film references, I sat down for a very informing and inspiring chat with the man everybody calls “Guy”.

ihaveanidea: Tell us about your first baby steps in this business. The Pre-Worldwide Chairman days…

Thirasak: I started as a graphic designer in Bangkok some 16 years ago, and then I went to the United States to study at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. After I’d graduated, I got a job at Y&R San Francisco and worked there before moving back to Thailand.

ihaveanidea: And what were the main differences between working in Thailand and the US?

Thirasak: One of the biggest differences is that over there they do a lot of research, whereas here, many Thai clients believe in the instinct and use their gut feelings to approve work. They’re braver about it and more likely to approve something that’s fresh. But as an Art Director, my job in Bangkok and San Francisco was pretty much the same. It’s the same everywhere. It’s all about finding fresh and new ideas.

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ihaveanidea: Lots of people I’ve spoken to tell me “Oh, I wish I could work in Thailand. Their consumers actually love advertising, so the clients are more inclined to buy crazy ideas”. Is it really that easy to push the funny crazy ideas through?

Thirasak: Sometimes it’s easy, but most times it’s still pretty hard!

Again, it comes back to the clients using their gut feeling to approve the work thing. Some clients are more emotional than others and some clients have better taste than others. (laughs)

So, it’s good for us, and it’s a very good environment for creative people.  It’s also true that we have a very unique, fun loving culture, and maybe that makes it easier too.

ihaveanidea: How do you get around the language barrier in award shows?  It’s usually the countries that speak English who end up cleaning up for the most part, but you guys consistently do very well in that regard?

Thirasak: We’re very proud that people in the rest of the world love our communication pieces.

I think the language barrier is good. Usually when you have your own culture, it’s pretty hard to adapt and reach people that might not share the same values. I am so proud that the rest of the world can understand and love our works.

You’ve got to understand that sending work to international competitions generates very good PR for the client. And for the agency obviously.  It’s important to have an international proof that you’re good.

My favourite award show is Cannes. I’d say it’s the most important one for Thai people and it gives the industry the best PR since it’s got more of an international reach than the other ones. The Clios have that as well.

But I have to say that the One Show and D&AD are starting to catch up on that front.

ihaveanidea: You sat on the jury for Neil French’s World Press Awards a few years ago, were you the youngest person on there? Tell us about that experience

Thirasak: I think so (laughs). It was all the gurus and masters of advertising so I had a lot of fun hanging out with them. I was so glad to be chosen.

The main thing was that it was all about print work obviously. Every judge had a very strong opinion and would defend a piece of work they liked till the end. But I think that was one of the good things about it. They’re very honest and very fair towards the work. Very nice people too. And of course Neil French is like the godfather. He’s a slick entertainer; people laugh and it’s a very relaxed atmosphere as far as juries go.

Compare that to Cannes where it’s very serious. It was kind of nightmare for me to be honest. I was judging film 2-3 years ago. First of all there were so many entries (it was a record year) and everyone kept fighting…it was like an advertising world war! (laughs)

ihaveanidea: And did you feel the need to raise the bar a little bit higher when you were with Neil French & Co than when you judge a local award show?

Thirasak: No. Same standard, always. It has to be fresh work, and ideas that touch people and move the brand forward. That’s how my philosophy is and always will be. International or local.

ihaveanidea: Your Thai Insurance campaign in 2006 was one of the most awarded TV spots in the world. How did you come up with that idea and how did you convince such a traditional client to go the humour route?

Thirasak: At that time Bangkok Insurance was ranked number two in terms of notoriety and our goal was to make it number one.  We had our initial workshop meeting with them to brainstorm and show off the initial ideas and wanted to do something different. Many insurers at the time used very emotional ads. So we knew we had to do something different.

They hadn’t advertised for about 25 years, it was the first year they did something. Brand awareness went through the roof. A lot of the credit has to go to the client for being brave and for approving those types of ideas.

ihaveanidea: And do you find it harder to sell those types of funny ideas to local clients than it is for international ones?

Thirasak: It’s different. Local clients understand the market.  Some international ones do as well, because they’ve been in Thailand for a while and learned. Maybe they ate too much Thai food, and that’s why they like and understand the hot and spicy tone we have. (laughs)

ihaveanidea: The Bangkok Yellow Pages ad that you did last year had a lot of positive feedback. Tell us a bit more about that.

Thirasak: As you know last year was pretty hard for everybody and the client had cut the budgets quite severely. We usually we do TV commercials for them every year. But this time, the brief was to do a print and that’s what we came up with. We took a map of Bangkok’s train station and it works very well.

We bought the photo from Google Maps and used CGI to cut the buildings so that we could press the Yellow Pages ads one by one. The buildings in Bangkok don’t have a perfect shape, they aren’t as square as they are in Manhattan for instance. All in all, It took four months. It was huge.  It had to be done one building at the time. The guy who did the retouching has yellow eyes now (laughs).
Four months for a print ad man. Think about it. It’s crazy.

ihaveanidea: Thailand has been known for doing some pretty amazing TV commercials and it usually shows when award show season comes along.  Why do you think it’s easier for you to express yourself in TV as opposed to all the other mediums?

Thirasak: We’ve also been doing a lot of branded content recently and a little bit of interactive, but not much to be honest.

Thai people love to watch TV, it’s the medium that reaches the whole nation. Thais are also very visual; they like to look and to feel things but not so much to read. It’s not like in India or Singapore where they love to read.

This year many clients dramatically cut their budgets, so we had to come up with other stuff, but TV is usually the best way to reach the whole nation.

ihaveanidea: What do you think about the creative rankings that go on every year in Asia? Do you think it’s good to care so much about it, to the point where there is a league table, as you would have for a sports league? Or is it a bad thing?

Thirasak: It’s hard to tell if it’s good or bad. What I care about first and foremost is creating work that’ll resonate with the clients first. If you do well on that front, I think the results will be good and that the rankings will follow. But it’s not a major thing for us.

I’ve never looked at the rankings to hire somebody. It’s not like that; I always look at the work and most importantly the person’s attitude If they’re willing to do good work and are very honest people, that’s what will make me choose them.

ihaveanidea: Are the turnover rates in the creative departments as big here as they are in North America?  For instance, back home a few thousand bucks will make most people jump ship, how does it compare?

Thirasak: Sometimes it’s like that. But you have to let your man go without being bitter about it if they get a very good offer. One of my Art Directors just moved to Saatchi & Saatchi New York and I encouraged him to go out there  and check it out.

Some people go on to be CDs somewhere else, or sometimes as you said just for a bit more money. That’s why I’ve always got to keep my eyes open for young talented people. We often organize workshops to recruit new people and give them a chance to shine bright here before they become too expensive! (laughs)

ihaveanidea: Is there anything that keeps you inspired outside of advertising, or does this business keep you too busy to think of anything else?

Thirasak: Right now I am doing my own personal project. I bought a piece of land in Khao Yai, two hours away from Bangkok. It’s a Unesco site. It’s called “Burg Barn Buri” which means “The Village of Joy” in Thai.

I am building an inspiration and creative camp. People can come to take seminars or give them if they want. On any topic they’d like. All the seminars are done in fresh air, by the water. It’s all about green energy. When I do workshops, I sometimes like to invite my clients. It’s a great place to look for inspiration and to think of new ways to move a brand forward. It’s a very natural atmosphere. I’ve cut a canal around the land so you can navigate around it.

It’s a creative village.  There are many small resorts for people to stay, a big library, …etc. Hopefully it will work.

You can give a talk anytime!

Interview by:
Rafik Belmesk

Operations, AKOS

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