Q&A: Terence Leong – Executive Creative Director of AKQA Tokyo

We recently caught up with Terence Leong, the newly appointed Executive Creative Director of AKQA in Tokyo to discuss his new role, the Grey-AKQA merger, and advertising in a world consumed by a pandemic.

Leong has years of experience in the creative industry across Asia from Singapore to Hong Kong and beyond. He has most recently made the jump from Shanghai back to Tokyo.

He’s run campaigns for global clients at some of the region’s most notable agencies including R/GA, Wieden + Kennedy, and now AKQA.

 
 

You went from Tokyo to Shanghai and now you’re back in Japan. Tell us about the differences and similarities between the two markets when it comes to consumer preference and advertising in general?

There are many differences and similarities but I’d pick the ones that are the most obvious.

Difference:

 
 

Japan’s after perfectionism. Hours and hours and sleepless nights for weeks will be spent perfecting the craft. There’s a commitment which some might mistake for obsession when it comes to giving something the best possible version of what it can be. I love that by the way.

“I’m proud that we’re best students in the world, but I also wish growing up I was more of a cowboy, a pioneer, adventurer, renegade, rebel or an innovator.”

China’s after progression. Timeliness, striking while the iron’s hot is China’s winning strategy. They’ve perfected the art of going with the flow and building the plane as it’s taking off.

In tech language, China’s forever in beta. They adapt fast, make all the mistakes and learn from them. In Chinese culture, this is called “paying the school fees”, which simply means you got to suck up all the failures till you’re good at it. I love that philosophy as well.

Similarities:

We Asians are way too obedient. The late Kobe Bryant once said “The Chinese (and this applies to the Japanese as well) are the best students”.

I’m proud that we’re the best students in the world, but I also wish growing up I was more of a cowboy, a pioneer, adventurer, renegade, rebel or an innovator. As a creative, in my humble opinion, obedience didn’t serve me well when I was younger. We all need a bit of crazy, wildness and opinions.

AKQA recently merged with iconic ad agency, Grey. What was your reaction to the move and how do you see the combination of DNA benefiting clients?

I literally said “What? How? What’s going to happen?” It’s still early days, I can only say I have great respect for the work they’ve done for P&G and I’m ready to be a team player. This partnership, I believe, will benefit the WPP community and our clients as a whole.

How has the pandemic affected creativity for you and for the industry? Do you see any of these changes affecting the creative approach long term?

COVID made me work more efficiently. It made me more hands on. But I’ve always been a hands on Creative Director. If I was a football player, I’d be Kenny Dalglish the player-manager. Why sign up to be a creative if all I do is to attend meetings and play golf – or whatever Creative big shots play nowadays. I’m not growing any younger, I need to keep my knife sharp and keep working like every other creative to stay relevant.

“I would love to make this world a better place, and the only way I can do that is to help my clients find a voice that’s purposely and relevant to the lives of the consumers they want to touch.”

I’ve also learned to conduct hot-houses, workshops and brainstorming sessions using Zoom, teams, hangout, and whatever collaborative tools to help bridge the gap of being physically together. I must say I’m getting really good at it. I might just keep doing it and never ever want to step foot into an office again.

You’re a believer in utilizing technology to help brands. What are some trends in that area you like and how do you see technology and creativity coming together in the future?

I believe in technology being able to create magic. AR, AI, MR, you name it. It makes things that were previously impossible possible. Technology also makes the workflow better. It has the power to create better and more bespoke experiences for consumers.

But more importantly, I believe in purpose and not all brands have a clear one. I would love to make this world a better place, and the only way I can do that is to help my clients find a voice that’s purposely and relevant to the lives of the consumers they want to touch.

What are some of your favorite campaigns that you’ve been a part of over the years?

Nike Find your greatness

Let the run tell you why

Any pandemic campaigns created during the WFH era that especially impressed you?

I’m only jealous of one spot. “You can’t stop us” the most.

 

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