Q&A: Damisa Ongsiriwattana – ‘Together, All of Us Will Pass Through This’

After 10 years working in advertising, Damisa Ongsiriwattana noticed how often she was the only female creative in the room and decided to launch Thailand’s first female-focused agency, SOUR Bangkok.

Together with business partner Saharath Sawasathikom, Managing Director, Creative and Partner at CJ Worx, she has grown SOUR into one of Thailand’s most awarded boutique agencies.

Ongsiriwattana is also joining the final jury panel at the Ad Stars 2020 Awards, which is scheduled to take place this summer in Busan, South Korea.


 

What does your typical workday look like now that you’re working from home?

I love all my work and every working day. With this passion, I usually am the last one to leave the office in a regular workday. Working from home is creating a new experience for all of us. Even when the epidemic passes, I think we might be familiar with this behavior and millennials will ask to work from home more.

Creativity can bring people together in times of crisis: are there any inspiring initiatives taking place in Bangkok right now?

In this crisis particularly in Thailand, the mix of humor and creativity with brand relevancy is one of our focuses to alleviate Thai people supported by brands. I’m positively confident that, together, all of us will pass through this.

Why did you launch an agency specializing in female consumers?

For 10 years before launching SOUR Bangkok, many times, I was in a situation where I was the only female creative in the meeting. The advertising business was driven by decisions by males – even for products for ladies. I often found that Thai ads don’t actually understand women.

At the same time, according to global statistics, women have 80% of buying power as decision-makers, yet there are merely 11% female creatives.


 

Therefore, I took this opportunity to establish SOUR Bangkok, an advertising agency that understands women, created by women for women for every platform. We didn’t only aim to work with women brands but also any brand that women take part in the decision-making for such as drinking water, cars, houses, and even men’s razors.

Who are your business partners and how do you complement each other?

My business partner is CJ Worx, the largest independent agency in Thailand, managed by “Chy” Saharath Sawasathikom.

Our company relationship is like “brother and sister”. We support each other like family members do. We gain business and management expertise from CJ Worx. They have a large digital team and the intelligence to support a wide range of clients at any scale. Just the same, for any brand demanding a female perspective, we can support them, too.

In what ways are women in Thailand unique to women in other parts of Asia?

Thai ladies have a distinctive characteristic, which is soft outside but strong inside. From the outside, we are kind and polite. However, inside the house in many Thai families, women make the final call in many situations.

Why do you think SOUR has been so successful?

From my point of view, it’s because we have advanced through business model innovation. Since we are an agency powered by women, we set female consumers as our first priority and customize our business model to fit with our clients’ objectives. We’ve created real experiences for our audience beyond ordinary advertising.

“In this crisis particularly in Thailand, the mix of humor and creativity with brand relevancy is one of our focuses to alleviate Thai people supported by brands. I’m positively confident that, together, all of us will pass through this.”

For example, when our client GMM Grammy, the largest entertainment company in Thailand, wanted to engage with a female target audience, instead of promoting TV shows and programs in an ordinary agency role, we turned our agency into a creator ourselves. We produced a 13-episode long-form TV series for women. The series became the talk-of-the-town. We also sold the series to other platforms like Netflix in the China market. Season 2 is in progress for next year.

For Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), we partnered with our client Oriental Princess, the leading Thai cosmetic brand to inspire women to take a journey through Thailand via the items they most love, cosmetics. We created “Palette of Thailand”, a cosmetic palette inspired by the colours of Thailand sceneries. And we also run the campaign to promote it.

Has the #metoo movement changed the work you make: are brands willing to be braver today?

My perspective hasn’t changed. I’ve usually pushed for all creative pieces to empower women. Based on our philosophy, most of our clients always entrust us to deliver great campaigns with a women empowerment message especially when it comes to gender equality.

Can you name one campaign that you’re especially proud of?

We are the first ever agency in Thailand to create a 13-episode series to empower young girls, ‘Girl From Nowhere’. We provided plots, screenplay and series production for GMM Grammy.

It’s a mysterious fantasy series based on a true story from 13 scandals from 13 schools in Thailand. It tells the story through the eye of “Nanno”, a girl who is a new student in every school she enters. In each episode, Nanno gives an idea to change a girl’s destiny, from victim to victor. It launched in 2018 and the series became the No.1 top hit show on the channel with Netflix signing up for the uncensored version for worldwide airing.

In many awards shows I’ve heard that juries discussed that the work didn’t really fit in any categories: they discussed whether it’s an advertising campaign or not. At least we are proud to have initiated a conversation among them and made it into the global broadcasting market while winning awards honored by LIA, Spikes Asia and AD STARS.

If you didn’t work in advertising, what would you do?

Interesting question… I would be a female artist composing art projects to empower women. I guess!

“Many times, I was in a situation where I was the only female creative in the meeting. The advertising business was driven by decisions by males – even for products for ladies. I often found that Thai ads don’t actually understand women.”

What are you most looking forward to about judging Ad Stars 2020?

I’m looking forward to seeing the works or ideas that make me feel jealous and push our advertising industry forward: fresh works that can’t be defined to any categories but are really effective for consumers. I also love to share a different cultural perspective in the judging room.

Furthermore, Busan is one of the best film festival cities in the world that I have always wanted to visit because I love movies. I want to accidentally walk by Bong Joon-ho on the street.

Damisa Ongsiriwattana is judging the Film and Video Stars categories at AD STARS 2020. The awards are free to enter – submit your entries online via www.adstars.org before 15th May.

Barbara Messer

Barbara Messer

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

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