5 Minutes With… Marc Wesseling
Since 2007, UltraSuperNew has been creating some of the most eye-catching work to come out of Japan, and they’ve been doing the same in Singapore since 2016. And all whilst fiercely maintaining their independence, something that’s becoming rarer and rarer in the modern industry.
Behind it all has been Marc Wesseling, a director and creative originally from the Netherlands and veteran of agencies all over the world. Having worked in Hong Kong and California, he set up UltraSuperNew in Harajuku in a bid to offer something different to the Japanese market. And it worked. Soon after another office opened in Tokyo, and the agency is now expanding across the region with its Singapore office.
To talk through it all, Marc spoke to LBB’s Adam Bennett
LBB> You've been living in Japan since 2002. What first took you there, and why did you decide to settle?
Marc> After living in Hong Kong, NY, San Francisco and Amsterdam, I wanted to go back to Asia and was offered a position in Tokyo. I’d been to Tokyo before - somewhere in the ‘90s - and although I thought it was weird, it was also very intriguing. So I thought - why not? Part of the deal was me undertaking a one-and-a-half year comprehensive Japan course; learning the language, culture, politics and economics. Going back to school was an amazing luxury, and in retrospect, also a must in order to be successful in Japan.
LBB> Growing up, was it always your intention to work in advertising?
Marc> Not really… I always enjoyed creativity and advertising, but it wasn’t really a long-term dream to work in advertising. Actually, I always wanted to become a jet fighter pilot.
LBB> What motivated you to start UltraSuperNew?
Marc> Two reasons. The European agency I worked for at the time didn’t really understand the cultural nuances of working in Japan, and I saw an opportunity to set-up a digital creative agency in Tokyo. Funnily enough, there was no such agency at the time and Japan’s advertising was still stuck in the ‘80s, revolving around traditional media, celebrities, billboards, etc. There were some digital production houses in Japan, but no agency that could fully help clients with their digital strategy, creative and production… Hence, UltraSuperNew. Because it was quite a new offering (and the name simply works really well in Japan).
LBB> Looking back since 2007, is there an especially defining campaign that helped make UltraSuperNew into the agency it is today?
Marc> The launch of the Philips Arcitec razor in Japan, when we just started the agency. Their marketing director at the time hated the global ad campaign and gave us 10 days to come up with an alternative campaign. Our objective? To make a lot of noise and spark awareness. We created a campaign around the insight that Japanese men hand over their salaries to their wives in return for a small allowance. Japanese women control finances and buy all the luxury items they want, while the men live on a tight budget.
So for our campaign, we created Salaryman Sato. An everyday businessman who starts a protest movement after his wife doesn’t allow him to buy a luxury Philips Arcitec razor. USN obtained an official protest license from the police, made a protest truck with propaganda materials and sent Sato-san into Tokyo, protesting for equal rights for salarymen to be able to buy whatever they want - including luxury razors.
The Salaryman Sato campaign made an incredible amount of noise with massive coverage on (digital) media, newspapers, etc. and over 40 minutes coverage on nationwide television. Our campaign was the most successful launch of a Philips razor in Japan and made our agency’s name known across Japan. The ad industry press wrote: ‘never was a protest used to promote a product in Japan’. That’s the kind of break that every agency needs.
LBB> What makes UltraSuperNew unique in the Japanese and Singaporean markets?
Marc> After winning the full Red Bull account in our second year as an agency, we were pushed to become a full-service agency. Working with Red Bull was a defining moment for our agency to be where we are today: specialising in millennial and gen Z advertising heavily across digital, social media and activation.
We’re proud of our Asian roots, being born and raised in Harajuku and extremely local in Singapore clearly differentiates us from foreign, western-minded agencies.
In both Singapore and Tokyo, we also operate our own galleries, where we promote emerging Asian based artists and talent with creative platforms. Our galleries have turned into the central hub of our agencies and gives us a strong finger on the pulse of each creative scene.
LBB> UltraSuperNew is an independent agency. What advantages does that give you as an agency?
Marc> As an independent, we can think freely and without politics. We don’t have double agendas to resell clients’ media or services from affiliate agencies of the same umbrella group, or push an expensive celebrity talent in a campaign because of some hidden deal, etc. We have a simple, flat working structure with no bullshit. We strongly believe in our ideas and fight hard for them.
LBB> What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd had earlier in your career?
Marc> When I told my old European boss that I was setting up my own shop in Tokyo, he told me, “We in Amsterdam are the Champions League and Asia’s just the B-league.” That was the best inspiration to start UltraSuperNew and show the world we’re making kick-ass work in Asia. Thanks, man.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes, and why?
Marc> John Hegarty. Especially all his recent interviews, where he’s challenging everyone who’s saying that technology is taking over our industry. I totally agree with him that creativity is still the future of our industry, and besides that, he’s simply made fantastic work throughout his career.
LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time? Any current obsessions?
Marc> I love spending my time in the Japanese Alps. Snowboarding in winter, and hiking, swimming or going to Fuji Rock in the summer. Obsessions? That I can’t kitesurf yet.