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5 Minutes with… Chan Woei Hern


VaynerMedia’s head of creative for APAC chats AI, gaming, and a reboot of “the internet’s wild west” with LBB’s Adam Bennett

5 Minutes with… Chan Woei Hern

Since starting life in the region four years ago, VaynerMedia’s Asia Pacific team has grown to more than 250 employees. Amongst the most recent additions is Chan Woei Hern, the seasoned and decorated creative leader with more than two decades of experience helping brands to engage and connect with audiences. Or, as he charmingly puts it, “making unicorns”. 

In fact, the depth and diversity of Woei Hern’s experience makes it quite hard to find a starting point. Having set out as a copywriter, VaynerMedia’s new head of creative for APAC has touched virtually every kind of campaign you can imagine, drawing inspiration from sports, technology, gaming, music, and countless other sources. The result is a creative mind which reflects life as it truly is; with all of its excitement, messiness, and ambition taken into account. 

Here, Woei Hern reflects on the origins of his creative roots, why AI isn’t the only defining trend in the industry today, and how brands can stand to learn a lot from role-playing video games… 

LBB> Chan Woei Hern, let’s start at the very beginning. What kind of a kid were you growing up, and at what point did you start thinking about yourself as a ‘creative’ person?

Chan Woei Hern> I Love this question.

I was that kid imagining I’m a character in one of those kung-fu series that my grandma used to watch on TV, running around with a ruler as a sword. Reading choose-your-own-adventure books (thank you, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson!), I’d imagine myself as a lone warrior eating in a cave by taking my lunch to some dark corner of the house. I didn’t have anyone to play RPGs with me but I’d still buy D&D rulebooks and role-played through my day, imagining friends as party members at school and teachers as NPCs.

I’ve never felt that there was a specific point where I started thinking of myself as “creative”. I do have a point in time when I was truly curious about the creative process in a commercial sense, and that’s when I played basketball as a kid. Not being the most athletic or skilled, I was never picked for the school team, but that never stopped me from playing and loving every minute. That’s because of the one person who kept me going –– Charles Barkley. I’d see him on the Nike ads in Sports Illustrated on newsstands, and he inspired me to play. 

One day, I realised that it’s actually someone’s job to write those ads. And I thought to myself, “wow, wouldn’t it be great to have a job that can make a 13-year-old kid believe in himself, put a smile on someone’s face, inspire them to call their mom, or make someone’s day with what you do”?

LBB> Fast-forward to today, and you’ve recently been appointed as head of creative for VaynerMedia in APAC. Can you tell us about your goals and ambitions for the role, and why now was the right time to join the VaynerMedia team?

Chan Woei Hern> To show that social-first creativity isn’t the tail-end of the marketing centipede, to unlearn and discover more “what if?”s and “how might we?”s, to define how brands can be more authentic and make someone’s day, and most of all, to do it with like-minded people around me every day. 

It’s a great time to be part of the VaynerMedia family. Tim Lindley and the leadership team are an amazingly smart and empathetic bunch, and that permeates throughout the agency. VJ Anand has assembled an amazing creative team across APAC, and it’s time for the world to see more of what we can do. 

More brands are willing to be braver in engaging with audiences in an authentic manner, so it's an incredibly exciting time for all of us at VaynerMedia.

LBB> APAC is such an enormously diverse region. How do you keep on top of it, and are there any industry trends which you would describe as affecting the whole of the APAC region right now?

Chan Woei Hern> We have an amazing team of Post-Creative Strategists that scout for platform and cultural signals across APAC daily, so the team is constantly at the forefront of culture and stays up to date. We don’t have to search online to look for trends or updates on social platforms. They are delivered to us right in our inboxes, in our Slack channels –– so as an agency, we constantly listen, learn, apply, and share with our clients on a daily basis.

Most industry folks will probably talk about AI right now, but I’d like to talk about another trend that is impacting us all right now - economic uncertainty.

As an industry, we need to help clients weather and thrive together, not just from a campaign-to-campaign basis, but from a ground-up audience level, every single day. We’re obsessed with underpriced attention - finding platforms and cultural opportunities that give the best returns.

LBB> In an interview a few years ago now, you talked about using data to ‘humanise’ brands. Do you think that brands have been successful in doing so and, in 2023, do you think that the majority of brands are sufficiently ‘human’?

Chan Woei Hern> This is where I’ll throw in that ‘AI’ word! It’s amazing to do a throwback to check in on conversations we’ve had before; just a few years makes such a big difference when we’re talking about data.

2023 is the reboot of the “Internet’s Wild West” again. Data has never been so accessible and malleable. It’s back in the hands of the people. We’re so happy to see so many people from all walks of life learn and play with all the generative tools and toys like ChatGPT. 

Now audiences are taking centre-stage when it comes to the use of data and humanising brands – starting with their own. They’re redefining who they are and how they can express themselves, and they will set the pace and demand for brands to acknowledge and involve them in an authentic manner.

LBB> Would you say that you have a ‘leadership style’ - and how would you define it if so?

Chan Woei Hern> Coach and cheerleader. Student and servant. Listener and Let’s-F*ckin’-Goer.

LBB> Looking back on your career to date, is there a specific project which stands out in your mind as especially meaningful or significant? If so, which one?

Chan Woei Hern> There are just so many highlights on this journey. If I had to pick one though, it’s The Land of Light Bulbs for PETRONAS. It was meaningful because it was audacious – an idea that started with asking “Why present Powerpoints to a roomful of policymakers and stakeholders in India where nobody knows PETRONAS?”, when we can instead tell a story of India through the lens of their spirit of ingenuity. I could go on, but I’ll stop here. The best project is always the one ahead of us.

LBB> Speaking to LBB last year, you mentioned that you were on a quest to complete all of the highest-rated PS4 games on Metacritic. How have you been faring in this quest since, and have any of these games inspired you creatively?

Chan Woei Hern> I made it to games ranked 86 on Metacritic before swapping to a PS5 to play God of War Ragnarök. I love story-driven RPGs because the attention and immersion in character-building are second to none. You want to talk metaverse? I think RPG world-builders are the original metaversal experts.

Think about it - RPG gaming, and what we do every day as creators and marketers. If your brand is a character or an item, what kind of role does the brand play to become an essential part of your audience? Will it add 20% to his charisma? Will it increase mental toughness by 5 points? Will your brand be a Bard that increases morale when the chips are down? 

LBB> Finally, imagine you have the power to travel back in time and give one piece of advice to your past self. What would you say, and why?

Chan Woei Hern> Enjoy the journey - it’s always better than the destination.

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Genres: People

VaynerMedia APAC, Thu, 27 Apr 2023 07:34:00 GMT