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Opinion and Insight

‘Every Day’s an Adventure’: MullenLowe Vietnam’s New ECD Adrian McNamara

MullenLowe Asia Pacific, 2 months ago

Fresh into his new role, Adrian McNamara catches up with LBB’s Laura Swinton

‘Every Day’s an Adventure’: MullenLowe Vietnam’s New ECD Adrian McNamara

“There’s a lot happening in Vietnam,” enthuses Adrian McNamara. MullenLowe Vietnam’s new ECD is only a few days into the role but he’s been working in the market for two and a half years. The country has been identified by Goldman Sachs as one of the ‘Next Eleven’, a place with the potential to leapfrog in its development and become one of the world’s biggest economies of the 21st century.

“It’s developing quickly, there’s a fast pace and there’s a real sense of optimism. There’s also a lot of entrepreneurialism and locally the country is seeing investment from the likes of Samsung, who are opening a large manufacturing plant,” says McNamara. 

The speed of change and the optimism in the country means that there’s lots of energy for a creative mind like Adrian’s to feed off – but there’s a lot of hard graft to be done in the ad industry to keep pace. “It’s definitely changing. In terms of the market it’s coming into its own and everything is mobile-first. There’s still work to be done in terms of the standards of some of the work and you can push that thinking a little bit deeper and up that craft quality as well. Hopefully in time it will develop its own style and personality and the work will become more solid.” 

MullenLowe has already made great strides in building up creative confidence and world-class work – in 2014, under the stewardship of the agency’s former ECD Carlos Camacho, the agency brought home the country’s first ever Gold Cannes Lion. Adrian’s goal is to build on that success and take the agency to the next level – the opportunity to do so with MullenLowe was too appealing to resist.

“It’s an agency that already has a creative track record and I hope to build on that. It was really a no-brainer and it was the ideal opportunity to really start to hopefully do some more interesting work,” he says.

At the time of the interview, Adrian had only been at the agency for two days but he’s raring to get started, working with the team and planning out the next few months.

One of the interesting challenges that CDs and ECDs face in developing ad markets like Vietnam, compared to more established markets, is that the role involves more by way of developing the local talent base.

“In the Western market if the CD is not happy they can usually fire people. Here you have to build the team you want; you have to nurture them, you can’t just chop and change and do that usual creative director thing where you clean out the department and bring in a hand-picked crew. You have to slowly build it and nurture your people,” says Adrian.

That’s part of the role that Adrian particularly enjoys – it’s about investing in the country’s young talent. “When I think back to my first time in Vietnam, my regional creative head said to me, ‘your job is to leave this place better than when you arrived; to bring the talent along, so that one day you won’t be able to get a job here because the local talent base is good enough and up to the style and the standard you want’. You can’t just tap ex-pats to bolster the department, you have to work with the local team and mentor them.” 

While Adrian will be sharing his knowledge and experience, the learning and listening goes two ways to make sure the work resonates at a local level. “A washing powder is always going to make your clothes cleaner and a toothpaste is always going to give you clean teeth - wherever you are in the world. It’s just about talking about it in a different way that’s going to resonate. There are subtleties in the region anyway between the Thais, the Singaporeans and the Vietnamese. You have to tap into a local insight and see how that can be used to give more of a local flavour to the message. Nine times out of ten it’s usually the same product that we know and love, but you have to communicate that message in an interesting way that won’t go too far over people’s heads and is relevant to that culture and market,” says Adrian. “It’s like any market: there’s always an insight, a lever to pull, something to leverage or that needs to come across in the communication so that it will hit home as strongly as it can.” 

Another defining characteristic of the Vietnamese market is the fact that it’s very much mobile-first. Facebook is a huge platform for it, as well as local messenger apps, and Adrian sees mobile less as a channel and more as a behaviour. 

Before joining MullenLowe Vietnam, Adrian was a creative director at OgilvyOne Vietnam – and before that the Englishman spent well over a decade in Australia, working for the likes of M&C Saatchi, Clemenger BBDO and Naked. However in that time he had already gained a taste for working in Vietnam – a stint at River Orchid in 2009 and another at Bates Asia. There’s something about the energy of the country that keeps bringing him back.

“Dealing with the culture and a different language is really exciting. It’s got its own challenges and subtleties and nuances but it just makes it all more interesting. There are things that you take for granted in other markets, there are different ways to look at things here from a cultural perspective. Every day is an adventure!” he says.

“It’s a thrilling place and after working in Sydney - which is a great place, a beautiful place with great people - Vietnam has an added layer of excitement and uncertainty to work and life.”