Q&A: Soo Hee Yang – It is Still a Challenge to Come up With Ideas That Capture People’s Hearts

Yang is Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Groupe Korea in Seoul.

We recently caught up with Soo Hee Yang, Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Groupe Korea, where she leads the creative team in developing marketing communication for a range of global clients including P&G, McDonald’s, Philip Morris, Diageo, Disney, and Samsung.

Bringing nearly three decades to her role, Yang has seen her work recognized by Cannes Lions, New York Festivals, the Clio Awards, and more.

Over the course of our conversation Yang talks about South Korea’s creative ad industry, trends she sees in the market, challenges heading into 2023, and more.


How did you come to work in advertising?

I majored in Communication Arts with a minor in Graphic Design at Art College in California. After graduation, everything went quite naturally. I found my first job at McCann Erickson Korea and started my career as an art director. That’s how I got into this industry.

What aspects of South Korea’s creative advertising industry make it unique?

South Korea has a unique background. It is a country where modernity and tradition coexist and are deeply rooted in every aspect of culture including advertising. Also, it is a country where celebrities and K-pop are dominant, so this is reflected in advertising a lot.

As the country emerges from the pandemic, are there any particular trends you’re seeing?

South Korea’s international status has increased, and its global image has also changed in the wake of K-Pop and K-Content during the pandemic. K-Content is still growing so it’s safe to say it is likely to lead the trend. Keep an eye out for Producer Na’s “real variety” show formats, which magically deliver astronomical sales for featured brands – so much so, we now have a term called ‘Na’s effect’.

‘Newtro’ is another marketing trend in Korea right now. A mix of ‘new’ and ‘retro’, we’re seeing lots of products, brands, venues, music and bands that are reinterpreting retro styles for the modern era. The girl group NewJeans do this well, while their ‘Phoning’ app is a good example of how Korea’s Gen-MZ prefer personalized connections with brands and celebrities.


What is the biggest challenge you face as CCO as we head into 2023?

Even though the central axis has already moved to digital, data, and mobile, I believe it is still a big challenge to come up with big ideas that capture people’s hearts and resonate with our culture.

Award shows most often focus on purpose-driven campaigns. As a judge do you think that gives them an advantage in the jury room over more creatively-driven campaigns?

I can’t really say “yes”. Purpose-driven campaigns are meaningful, but creativity literally speaks for itself. If it is intuitively creative and moves your heart during the judging, it makes you slap your knee. (In Korea, we slap our knees when you have to say ‘Eureka!’) That’s when insight, purpose, background, or whatever else doesn’t matter.

“South Korea’s international status has increased, and its global image has also changed in the wake of K-Pop and K-Content during the pandemic. K-Content is still growing so it’s safe to say it is likely to lead the trend.”

You launched a ‘Double Internship Challenge’ in partnership with McDonald’s last year. Can you tell us a little about why you launched this program and the results?

McDonald’s Korea has always looked for opportunities to empower its communities and people, while both Publicis Groupe and McDonald’s need to attract and retain good talent. Meanwhile, Koreans in their 20s are going through one of the most difficult times in terms of employment and an uncertain future.

Hence, to fulfill Publicis Groupe Korea’s awareness and talent needs, McDonald’s Korea’s CSR opportunity needs, and Korean young adults’ employment needs, together we created the “Double Internship Challenge”. Six finalists were selected, and they spent 3 months at Publicis Groupe Korea and 3 months at McDonald’s.

The results were really positive. We saw a significant increase in website visitors in line with the campaign opening and there were far more applicants for this challenge than we thought. It has brought really positive changes to the market as well as helped to raise the brand image of both companies. We are now preparing for the second term.

Can you tell us about other recent campaigns you’re proud of?

Last year, we launched an eco-friendly campaign for Samsung DS and it got lots of positive feedback both from the client and consumers.

For Samsung, we also executed the Monthly Logoplay Project. This campaign animated the Samsung logo in line with trending Gen Z topics in iconic global OOH locations such as Times Square in New York, Duomo in Milan as well as Piccadilly Circus in London in order to strengthen engagement with millennials. This was a huge success.

Lastly, we won Silver (Audio) at the 2022 Korean Advertising Awards with McDonald’s “Boseong Surer Harvest Song” campaign, and now we’re working on several more McDonald’s campaigns, but these are all on their way so I’ll be able to share great cases next year!

What is your creative outlet outside of work?

It’s hard to say that it’s a creative outlet, but my own creative inputs are traveling around the world. I am inspired by trips, great and small. I take notes about the trips, archive them, and take them out whenever it’s necessary to relive the feeling of discovering someplace new.

Quick Hits

Book everyone in the industry should read: (Title & Author)

 Make to Know by Lorne M. Buchman

Favorite show you’re watching lately:
Omega Mart, Las Vegas (this is not a TV show but an inspiring experiential art-installation space).

One album you would take to a deserted island: (Title & artist)

A collection of K-Pop songs (it will be very lonely on the deserted island so I’ll bring exciting and vibrant K-pop music).

Something you want to learn or wish you were better at:
Become fluent in 3-4 languages.

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