Q&A: Tobias Wilson on Getting off the Bench and Going Beyond Mediocrity


In 2010 Tobias Wilson co-founded Singapore-based creative engagement agency @ccomplice. At the helm as managing director, Wilson and his team cultivated a long list of well-known clients along the way, including Toyota, Panasonic, Standard Chartered and the Development Bank of Singapore.

In 2015, @ccomplice was bought by Australian digital marketing and commerce specialist, Asia Pacific Digital, where Wilson now serves as CEO. The combined agencies, under the name APD, provide digital services to over 1,000 clients across the Asia Pacific region.

Since February of last year, Wilson has also doubled as Chairman of the Interactive Advertising Bureau Singapore, a globally affiliated trade association tasked with promoting investment in interactive advertising.


 

Branding in Asia’s Nazhath Faheema recently caught up with Tobias Wilson to talk transitions in advertising and the need for Southeast Asia to move beyond mediocrity.


As the Chairman of Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Singapore, what are some common concerns you hear about making the transition from the “see and feel” of traditional advertising to digital? What reassurance do you offer?

Interesting question. I can’t say that anyone has tried to defend the ‘see and feel’ side of traditional marketing, at least not to me, yet!

A repeat concern we often get asked about at the IAB SG is visibility, especially in Southeast Asia. People are scared of being monitored too closely by their bosses, of having to say that something didn’t work.

There are simply not enough industry luminaries stepping up and leading the way. This makes it very hard for the up-and-coming talent to aspire to anything but mediocrity and safety. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing companies and people in this part of the world but most people are sitting on the bench watching.


 

It’s surprising that this is still the case because if something fails, traditional or digital, that means it’s not working for your consumers or your business, so surely it’s a good thing to know about this as early as possible.

On the reassurance front, the main thing is that pure-play digital only works for some brands. So, we’re not asking marketers to turn off their traditional marketing, we’re asking them to think more broadly and assess their plans from all angles, vs what worked in the last decade.

IAB has a vision of “an interactive industry that delivers 20% of all marketing expenditure by 2020” in Singapore. What is the current number and what are the challenges in reaching that goal?

We’ve raised our standards this year, as 20% simply wasn’t good enough. We’re in one of the most dynamic regions in the world and aiming for less than 50% of the ad-spend of some of our western counterparts just didn’t add up for us.

Read More: Interview: Patrick Tom Talks Creativity, Savvy Clients and China

At this moment, I’d estimate it’s sitting around 15% but you’ll have to wait until we release the IAB SG ad-spend report at the end of this year. As for the challenges, the fear of being visible and the safety that traditional provides (for the time-being) in this market are key challenges for our industry.

I would also add education to that list, people need to invest in their talent more.  

Another big one is the fact that there are simply not enough industry luminaries stepping up and leading the way. This makes it very hard for the up-and-coming talent to aspire to anything but mediocrity and safety. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing companies and people in this part of the world but most people are sitting on the bench watching.

Last year, in a cautionary tale to marketers, you wrote about the increasing number of people that are “hiding behind hyper-technical gobbledygook that aren’t there to help you to deliver better marketing.” Can you talk about that and how best to avoid this tribe?

Educate yourself. Hire the best talent (external or internal). Measure what counts and never settle for ‘average’.

You experienced incredible growth with @ccomplice in a relatively short time. What were some of the major factors behind the rapid rise?

We shaped our team and business around our clients. We weren’t trying to sell them just creative or media or social or tech, we were looking at their entire consumer journey and telling them where NOT to spend money so they could focus on the mediums and metrics that counted. That story is pretty powerful when it hits the desks of the C-suite / board and it really helped to set us apart from the rest of the industry who were still thinking in silos.

Before becoming part of APD, one of the hallmarks of @ccomplice was having the flexibility and dynamism of a small agency. Is it possible for a larger organization to maintain those qualities? If so, how best to accomplish it.

Yes and No. APD is effectively a bigger version of @ccomplice, we think efficiently and effectively and that’s one of our main points of differentiation.  That dynamism, flexibility and ‘challenger’ mentality allows us to bring a completely new perspective to the table when speaking to clients. To be honest, a lot of clients don’t expect it from a business our size (nearly 500 heads in APAC) and that’s where my ‘No’ comes from.

We weren’t trying to sell them just creative or media or social or tech, we were looking at their entire consumer journey and telling them where NOT to spend money so they could focus on the mediums and metrics that counted.

Unless dynamism and flexibility is ingrained into your DNA from the board down (and back up again) then it’s going to be a very long and arduous process stripping out all of the layers and legacy processes that are stopping you from being able to make decisions at a velocity that helps, not hinders.

Can you tell us about your experience working with projects such as “I’m FINished with Fins” and “Orphanages Not The Solution”?

In a word: unforgettable. It’s not very often you get an opportunity to work with a cause that you feel so passionately about and be able to actually do something that makes a difference. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do it twice. Both times under inspired leaders, Jon Luu and Tessa Boudrie who take commitment to the next level and are true inspirations.

What do the next few years hold for you? Anything new on the horizon?

APD is growing rapidly with a lot of that growth originating in Asia, so we’re investing heavily which is keeping me very busy. Some key areas of focus are around technology and mobile. I see huge potential for a business like ours to up the ante, put pressure on some of the legacy businesses in those areas and produce some serious results for our clients.

 

Picture of Nazhath Faheema

Nazhath Faheema

Nazhath Faheema is a digital branding and marketing enthusiast based in Singapore.

Read More

subscribe & get more brand in your diet

newsletter

get more brand in your diet

We never share your info,
we only share ours