DDB Asia CEO David Tang on the Rugged Pragmatism of Asia

“Every agency can cover a new slogan, but what does it mean?” are DDB Asia’s CEO David Tang’s opening words when we discuss the agency’s global new focus under ‘Unexpected Works’.

He continues: “I do think that the whole Unexpected Works does encourage a lot of innovation, but far more importantly, we have to begin to relook at what has worked in the past, to begin to rethink the future.”

For a role that spans Asia’s Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Korean offices the mantra of looking back before you look forward is going to be key over the coming months. In fact, one can go back to David’s own past to understand how it’s driven his way forward. He started working as a consultant “back when consulting was the cream of business school” until he realised his “left brain hurt so much” so he switched to advertising. “I ended up at DDB with a bunch of creatives, strategists, planners and then increasingly, brought in the technologists, digital, data analysts and content makers.”

He’s been at DDB since 1998 and with his student days filled with the stories of David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach and George Lois he learnt so much more from those three than just what he was taught at business school. “They practised a form of intelligence that makes you smile, laugh, cry and then buy. It’s helped me see marketing in a very different light – that creativity can add a very powerful edge for business. I liked the open-endedness, the blue sky of consulting, it is very smart, but it’s not as clever as creativity.”

The notion of creativity as being clever is something David believes the world needs more of “in these times” along with innovation and fresh thinking. Looking at the direction the DDB offices in Asia are heading, this seems to be at the forefront of the minds of employees.

“Unexpected Works encourages more ambition for innovation, especially in Asia. The honesty and the courage to say that we must find better ways as we go forward – what really works, what really matters to marketers, that we don’t get stuck with a formula. It actually brings out that creative spirit that is always within us, to be applied for tomorrow.”

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