We recently caught up for a conversation with Mark Armstrong, Executive Creative Director for APAC at Bulletproof, a strategic brand design agency with studios in London, New York, Singapore, Amsterdam, Sydney, Melbourne, and Shanghai.
Previously with bluemarlin in the UK, Armstrong has been heading up Bulletproof’s APAC region projects since 2017, helping to open and build studios in Singapore, Sydney, and Melbourne.
Over the course of our conversation, he talks about the challenges of entering new agency markets, motivating creative minds with monthly ‘brand safaris’, his take on AI’s impact on the creative world, what the future holds for Bulletproof in the region, and more.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
With travel fully open again, I have been making a real effort to connect with everyone in person, going in regularly to our Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne, and Shanghai studios. A lot of people have joined us since the pandemic so it’s been great to get to know the team better and grow our culture.
This has also meant that our skillsets have expanded, and we’ve been able to evolve what we offer our clients, particularly in motion and experience design. It’s been really exciting talking this through with them, and the opportunities it opens up for their brands.
A few years back you spoke about entering new agency markets and how success comes down to people and culture. You added that “This sounds obvious but is extremely challenging to get right.” Tell us more about that and some of the challenges in different markets.
I look at it a bit like building a football team. At the core, you need a shared goal and drive. Around this, you need a team with talents and personalities that complement each other. What this looks like in each market is very different.
But fundamentally, we always bring it back to what makes us who we are as a business. Does everyone in our team share our values and champion them? That unity is key to success.
Having worked in APAC, what are some lessons you’ve learned and what do you think the world can learn from the APAC brand and design industry?
I’ve been here for over six years now and the main thing I’ve noticed is the speed of change and consumers’ needs. It’s amplified. Seeing how the different markets evolve and innovate is incredible, but it means you need to keep your finger on the pulse. Complacency is a killer in fast-moving markets so stay naïve and keep your eyes wide open.
The diversity of culture across APAC is huge too. Deep diving into each region and learning about the nuances has been essential, particularly as so much of what we do is about identifying how brands can talk to culture. It’s never a cookie-cutter approach but be willing to learn. The brands that do this are the ones that people will resonate with.
You’ve worked with creatives across markets with different cultural backgrounds, have you found common approaches in how you motivate creative minds to produce their best work?
The biggest thing for me is empowering the creative team to think, challenge and own what they do. One thing we’ve been doing recently is running monthly ‘brand safaris’ where teams go out in search of new inspiration.
“I’ve been here for over six years now and the main thing I’ve noticed is the speed of change and consumers’ needs. It’s amplified. Seeing how the different markets evolve and innovate is incredible…”
This could be new concepts, unusual collaborations, exciting experiences. They then share the best of what they found with the wider team. Creative minds needs constant feeding so getting away from the ever-predictable algorithms of Pinterest and out into the real world has been a great source of creative nutrition.
There is a lot of talk about AI and how it will affect the creative industry. What’s your take on it?
It’s an incredibly powerful tool already and it’s still in its infancy but I don’t think it’s going to be some creative terminator situation. AI is built on what already exists. So, truly original ideas and thinking hopefully stay with the human creative mind.
Take Henry Ford’s famous quote about developing the Model T, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. I think it’s the same with AI. AI would not have invented the car.
What advice do you have for brands to creatively navigate the economic headwinds they could be facing this year?
The main thing is thinking consumer-first. Brands play a huge role in culture and in hard times they can be a source of comfort and reassurance. I have already seen some brands reacting and innovating in a really inspiring, creative way to help consumers navigate the hard times ahead.
“Creative minds needs constant feeding so getting away from the ever-predictable algorithms of Pinterest and out into the real world has been a great source of creative nutrition.”
The Sainsbury’s pop-up, ‘Sainsfreeze’, is an example. The concept store showed consumers how to freeze unexpected foods, saving surplus food from going to waste and helping people save money.
What are some campaigns over the years you’ve worked on that you are most proud of?
Our work for Bintang, Johnnie Walker, and Cadbury Australia’s 100-year anniversary are the ones that stand out for me. All three are iconic brands in their markets and with that comes a huge sense of responsibility. For us, this meant strongly rooting the work in culture.
For example, on the Cadbury project, we worked with a historian to get a better understanding of the deep connection that Australians had to the brand, which led to the ‘100 years of shared moments’ idea. From Cadbury’s factory opening until now, we shortlisted one unforgettable moment from each of the decades to bring to life, no matter how big or small.
These included Cadbury supplying Australia’s armed forces with chocolate during World War II, sponsoring the Australian Olympic team at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and the brand’s dedication to supporting women in sport through its ties to the AFLW, the Australian Women’s Cricket team, the NRLW and the Commonwealth Bank Matildas.
What does the future hold for Bulletproof in the region?
Ultimately, we want to drive growth, standout and fandom. This means solving client challenges around relevance and recognition, and defining their position in the market so that it’s both distinctive and competitive.
But it’s also about creating and activating the rituals and experiences that drive fame and emotion, moving engagement beyond a love of product to a love of brand.