Q&A: Paolo Garcia – Executive Creative Director, Publicis Groupe Vietnam

A native of the Philippines, Garcia has been working in Vietnam since 2006 for some of the ad world’s top agencies.

Branding in Asia recently caught up with Publicis Groupe Vietnam’s Executive Creative Director, Paolo Garcia. Originally from Manila, Garcia joined Publicis Groupe Vietnam in August, tasked with leading creative operations of Leo Burnett, Publicis Communications, Saatchi and Saatchi, and MSL.

Prior to that, he spent 12 years at Leo Burnett, where he ascended to the ECD role in Vietnam in 2017. He’s also held creative positions at Dentsu and JWT.

Over the course of our conversation, Garcia talks about his new gig with Publicis, how the creative sector has evolved in Vietnam since he moved there in 2006, recent work, and more.


You moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 2006. What were your first impressions, and what keeps you there?

Back in 2006, the ad scene in Vietnam was very young, yet you could feel the energy that it was getting ready to break out. We could see the country transforming and progressing right before our eyes. And it was a beautiful thing to experience. You can only dream of being part of an uprising like that once in your career.

Knowing that you can be a part of shaping an entire industry and help put it on the map, whether by doing good work, mentoring local talents or building the reputation of your agency – to be in the middle of it at exactly the right time was what made me stay longer. I have grown individually as much as the Vietnam Ad Industry has grown. And that makes me one happy camper.

How has the creative sector evolved since you first arrived?

The community has gotten bigger and more diverse in its disciplines year after year. Vietnam has one of the biggest rates of internet consumption in Asia, and I think the digital boom has allowed the creative scene to connect and collaborate like never before.

International exposure and the rise of the Wanderlust society pre-Covid has expanded the talent pool. Creatives are more confident now. More expressive. And braver too. What used to be a handful of people who were part of the “who’s who” of the creative scene has become a sea of interesting personalities that bring different creative flavors to the table.


In August, you became Group ECD for Publicis Groupe Vietnam, leading creative across Leo Burnett, Publicis Worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi, and MSL. How is it going so far?

The idea of having a Groupe creative leader was to see how we can take advantage of our deep talent pool and get the best people on the right briefs – regardless of agency affinity. Five months in, Saatchi and Publicis have successfully launched a purposeful sustainability project with outstanding brand results.

A Leo Burnett x MSL campaign recently swept the local award show with a Best In Show, 3 golds, and 2 bronzes. Not to mention an innovative A.I. campaign for Kinh Do (Mondelez) by Publicis and Digitas that’s been garnering interest internationally.

“Over the past 20 or so months of our collective experience, I’ve grown fond of the word ‘grateful’.  Because there’s so much to appreciate.”

None of these collaborations was a walk in the park. But the work they produced clearly showed that there is merit to what we are trying to do. I’m excited about the potential of what we can unlock once everyone buys into this new way of collaborating. The work and the results speak loudly for themselves.

You’ve used deep learning AI to bring old photos to life, embraced AR for Heineken. Is there a hunger to experiment and develop unconventional digital and mobile campaigns in Vietnam?

It’s always fun when you have a group of curious child-like-minded teams and a technology team that tells you “Yes, we can do that”. You can see everyone’s eyes glow just by knowing that a “what if…” question can transform into “how did you do that?”

One of my colleagues, Chandu, once said that there is no reference to a never-been-done innovative idea. But once we pull it off, we become the reference. And I think that mindset is what drives us to keep exploring the unknown.

Apart from our technical team from Digitas, we are just a bunch of creatively driven individuals endlessly asking each other a thousand “what ifs…” The market is so ready for these kinds of engagements. The result is proof that our audience is more sophisticated and digitally savvy than most think.

You recently used the sounds of Nescafé’s sustainable farm to create mindfulness music tracks, released on Spotify. How did you get the idea of using the sounds of leaves, soil, water, wind and coffee beans to make music?

The brief was to help communicate Nescafe’s sustainability plan during the country’s longest Covid lockdown. We knew no one would be interested in a sustainability campaign while worrying about their wellbeing. So, we shifted our creative approach from informing about sustainability to making people feel the healing power of nature. That’s how “From Farm to Mind” was born, a soundtrack that inspires people to give their minds a coffee break.

“It always feels good when your work affects people in a positive way.”

We sampled different calming sounds from Nescafe’s farm and used them as the key ingredient in producing the tracks. It was fascinating how sounds that are almost unnoticeable can have real soothing effects on our body and mind. It even gave us a lift during some of the most challenging stages of the project. It really works!

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From there, we collaborated with a top music producer, Hoang Touliver and rising R&B singer My Anh. The lyrics contain parallel meanings between taking care of our minds just like how we take care of our environment. You know that feeling when you know you are on to something really good? This project gave us that feeling.

How have people responded to the album?

It always feels good when your work affects people in a positive way. The campaign achieved 16.3 million streams across 4 music platforms, which helped lift the brand scores up 100% in positive sentiment and up 77% in relevancy.

“I have grown individually as much as the Vietnam Ad Industry has grown.”

Our brave clients celebrated the phenomenal results by shipping Nescafe mindfulness kits to each member of our team equipped with delicious coffee and a free one-year Spotify membership. Happy days!

You also made ‘Music in a Can’ for Heineken where people could make their own music mix and see cans come to life through AR. Does beer really taste better with music?

This was Leo Burnett Vietnam’s most engaging campaign of the year. It’s also their most awarded campaign for 2021. We always dream of doing big things with big brands and bringing technology and platforms to the core of the idea. So, to create this with Heineken was really special. At the end of it all, we realized that beer doesn’t taste better with music. It’s music that sounds better with Heineken!

Both of these ideas involve music and playlists. Are you a musical bunch at Publicis Groupe Vietnam?

I think we are all frustrated rock stars. A lot of us play music as a hobby, which also fuels our creative juices. We haven’t formed a Publicis Groupe band yet though. Maybe that should be my next project… stay tuned. Right now, Weirdcore, Lo-fi beats, futurefunk and video game music are my most explored genres, according to Spotify Wrapped 2021. (I don’t know if this was really me, or my daughter has been logging in to my account.)

It’s been a tough year with Vietnam enduring its longest lockdowns yet. What have you learned personally?

Over the past 20 or so months of our collective experience, I’ve grown fond of the word “grateful”.  Because there’s so much to appreciate – the resilience and dedication of our industry, the resulting groundbreaking work, and being part of a network that immerses me with all of these bold and engaging ideas. I am excited for what’s to come. I am thrilled about the future. And, of course, I am grateful for another year doing what I love.

MORE: Q&A – Kate Bayona-Garcia – ‘Brands Need to Continue Challenging Themselves to be Bolder’ (2022)

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Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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