Q&A: Cheil Worldwide’s Wain Choi on Korean Advertising, Celebs in Ads and ‘Pure Ideas’

Cheil Worldwide’s Senior VP and CCO, Wain Choi is on a mission to steer Korean agencies away from celebrity-driven advertising towards “pure ideas”.

Choi actually began his career in Canada, but for the past 10 years, he’s been busy translating some of the lessons he gleaned there into a strategy for the Korean market.

More: Q&A with Wunderman APAC CEO Caspar Schlickum


At Cheil, Choi is playing an important role in the success of the agency’s more innovative ideas for Samsung – campaigns like ‘Look at me’ and ‘Power sleep’. He spoke to Branding in Asia about his creative philosophy – as well as his upcoming gig at ADFEST 2017.

What can you tell us about the creative culture in Canada, where you grew up, versus the creative culture in Seoul?

Starting my career in Canada has taught me to focus on the purity of concept and the essence of the idea. Most of the projects were handled under a very tight budget, so we had to work around pure ideas rather than executions with big budgets in our hands.

I am going onto 10 years in Seoul. When compared to my experience in Canada, I find that the ad industry here is more fixated on celebrities. When you use celebs relevant to your brand, then it’s great. However, Koreans tend to use celebs that are famous at the moment to promote brands regardless of relevancy. Without a clear concept, it is very difficult to come up with great work.


What I’m trying to instill in Seoul is that an idea comes first before anything else. I am trying to bring what I’ve learned from Canada (and internationally) to Seoul, while at the same time trying to understand how everything works in Seoul.

Samsung’s new approach to communication is “launching people” instead of products. Is this the secret to Samsung’s success?

The “Launching People” campaign focuses on communicating people (the user) more than the product. I would describe it as an approach that Coca-Cola took – giving that positive ‘glass half full’ perspective and making the world a better place.

Samsung’s new approach adds humanity to the technological world. When we partner you as a consumer and Samsung’s technology, the result is an amazing potential. We don’t launch a product; we launch people to have an amazing start.

Can you tell us how the idea came about for Samsung’s ‘Look at me’ campaign?

‘Look at me’ came from the Launching People campaign. Before ‘Look at me’, we did a campaign named ‘Power Sleep’. We developed an app that pretty much looks like an alarm clock. When the mobile phone user sets their wakeup time, small packets of CPU power are transferred to cancer research servers during the night when the user is asleep.


The campaign launched in Austria and the following ‘Look at me’ was launched in 10 different countries. Both campaigns looked at how technology can help a person or a group of people.

The idea of ‘Look at me’ came from a story of a famous singer in Korea. He said that everyone recognizes him when he is walking on the street yet his autistic son would or could not look at him. So ‘Look at me’ started from thinking ‘what if we had an app that connects these autistic children closer to their parents’.

What is your proudest achievement?

My two kids. I am a proud father. My kids both work in a similar industry as I do. My son is a copywriter and my daughter works in a production company.

If you could change one thing about the advertising industry, what would it be?

I think anyone who works in the ad industry should love what they do. We are very privileged to do what we do, especially the creatives. We are given a blank page and we can put out our ideas good or bad. We make a living by doing that. In my opinion, if you are not happy doing it, it may not be the job for you.

What are your goals for 2017?

This goes back to my answer to the first question. At Cheil, I look forward to creating works that provoke emotions of consumers, creating works that consumers can talk about. That will be my goal for 2017.

You’ve been invited to be Jury President of Film & Radio at ADFEST 2017. What are you looking forward to most about being part of this year’s jury?

I look forward to seeing great works that can provoke one’s emotions; works that make you smile, laugh, cry or question.

Especially in Film, I will look for works that have great content and see how it was executed.

As for Radio, I think it has been somewhat put aside compared to other media. However, Radio is a pure form of creativity. I will look for great works that conjure up images just by listening to it.

ADFEST is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017. Who or what has had the biggest influence on your career over the past 20 years?

First of all, congrats on ADFEST’s 20th anniversary.

When I look back on my 20 years in advertising, two people who had a huge influence on my career are Phil Knight and Steve Jobs. They are the people who had clear goals and amazing passion. They knew exactly what they wanted to do since the birth of the brand, and stuck to it no matter what.

Barbara Messer

Barbara Messer

Barbara is a Sydney-based content strategist, writer, editor, and communications consultant.

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