After spending six years abroad, D&AD Black Pencil award winner and advertising legend Roy Wisnu returned to Indonesia in 2014 to lead Lowe as its Chief Creative Officer replacing Din Sumedi who returned to Ogilvy. Roy’s presence at Lowe was felt almost immediately as the team went on to become Citra Pariwara advertising agency of the year in 2014 with multiple awards for works done for various Unilever brands, Google Indonesia, and Tempo Scan Pacific.
We spoke to Roy recently about his decision to return to Indonesia, what drives him, the challenges he seek, and his views on the evolution of the Indonesian advertising industry since the time he left the country.
On his return to Jakarta
To be honest, there are two things. I have a kid and I felt that it’s time that she knows about her roots, her family. That’s the most obvious reason, that’s what I always tell people when asked about it. Job wise, I just needed a challenge. Over time, I moved from Jakarta to Singapore, from Singapore to New York. I always needed a new challenge.
I was ECD at Ogilvy at that time and I wanted to do something more as an art director because I love art directing, so I moved to New York. I needed a bigger challenge because it’s the center of advertising in the world and the challenge was so big.
Later, I thought, I’ve been in New York for six years, I could be comfortable, I could stay there, but there’s a point when I thought I needed a bigger challenge. At some point things became rather predictable in how I did things. You wake up and you know what to do, and it’s a sign you have to move on but I didn’t know here to go.
I thought about moving to another agency in the United States, there’s a lot of challenges there, but I was leading an agency. Maybe if I wanted to challenge myself I should go back to leading a team again, so I thought, Indonesia is it. It’s something I’m familiar with. I was sure I could do it and it’s still challenging because I’ve been away for so long.
Obviously if you wanna do a bigger challenge it should be at a bigger agency, not a small agency. It should be big enough for me to challenge myself, and one of the agencies is Lowe, because Lowe is big, and it’s probably not the sexiest agency but that’s the challenge to turn it around
About Those Awards
Winning awards is not about the metal. I never thought about the award shows that way. By winning agency of the year title we have a renewed energy and that’s what’s most important because eight months ago, at Lowe, I felt that something needed to be changed.
Lowe has been a really good agency business wise, everybody knows about it, Lowe has been very stable, steady, profitable, but I think the talents at Low really have potential, but they needed… there’s something about the energy.
It’s all about having more energy at the office. The people are more excited, more inspired, and that’s the most important thing. The process to get there, the transformation in eight months was immense and I think we deserved to win agency of the year because we made a lot of changes not just to make better ads but in terms of the drive, it’s much bigger.
It’s almost like a proof that you know, you need a certain kind of mindset and energy to win something and we achieved it in a short amount of time. That what makes us proud the most, not necessarily the metals.
Changing Work Dynamics
What I noticed actually, it’s all collaboration, I wasn’t alone. My partnership with Mita (Paramita Mohamad, head of planner) and with Joe (Joseph Tan, CEO), changed everything. The collaborative environment feels a lot more alive.
I’ve been in a few agencies but there were periods at many agencies when the creatives had a bigger role, or the planners dominate… there are some agencies that are for creatives, agencies for planners, agencies for suits, but here, I think we’re more balanced. Creatives, planners, and suits have more balanced roles and hopefully it’s because of our collaboration”.
Lowe has other divisions like design that not only has potential but also crucial for business. It’s something I saw would be great if we collaborate with them more.
Changes in Indonesia
Obviously talents in Indonesia now are more driven that they used to be. Driven meaning that they now know better what’s great in the advertising world, more literate about creative excellence, award shows and all the great stuff from the west. They know about that and it made them hungrier.
You can feel the hunger from the advertising people here to excel, to succeed, and to be on par with the rest of the world. Back then, people felt that being good locally is enough for me, winning Citra Pariwara is enough, but now the standard is pretty high and they want to do more and win more and that is obvious especially from the younger ones, they know more of what they want.
In terms of business, what is clear is that old clients who were big eight years ago, in terms of spending, like Unilever, Nestle, P&G, they’re not as big anymore. They’re multinational companies, they spent a lot eight years ago but now it’s the locals that are spending more, so there’s a big shift there and I think that’s good because I believe that we have to be kings in our own country. Not just clients, everyone, even local talents.
[The reduction in spending] I think it all comes down to efficiency. Multinational companies, Unilever, all these big boys, they share a lot f brands with the rest of the world. There are brands sold in Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Asia, and even America, so instead of each regional office spending their own money, why not pool everything into one hub? That’s the pattern I’ve been seeing, so it’s about efficiency in spending.
Say they sell to five Southeast Asian countries. They make one communications campaign that can be applied to all the countries so the spending falls dramatically and it’s s obvious. You see regional ads being run here, while local clients don’t have that kind of network so they have to spend more.
Trends Going Forward
Obviously digital, mobile. Everybody carries two phones. That’s something that agencies at Lowe have to adapt to. Lowe is a traditional agency and things are changing.
It all depends on the infrastructure of each country. In America, the infrastructure for digital platform is pretty clear everything is ready. They have Silicon Valley to work with so they naturally move faster than us. I don’t expect Indonesia to be at that stage gusty. We don’t have a good enough infrastructure and the talents to create something equal is not at the same level as America’s.
I think we have to do it more naturally. We shouldn’t force things mainly because of the infrastructure. Our online habits are also different from other countries. We know everyone in Jakarta is on mobile phones but that’s only Jakarta Indonesia is more complex than other countries. That factor makes Indonesia seen as more behind but it shouldn’t stop us from doing something or start something.
70–80% of products sold here are meant for the grass roots market after all, not all to the big cities. Clients can’t easily justify spending to digital when spending 70% to digital doesn’t make sense. But I think it’s slightly moving, slightly shifting, but because Indonesia is complex, it won’t be like Singapore where it’s mostly urban.
For an agency like Lowe, we should be true to ourselves as an agency. Lowe is not a traditional agency and we’ll not shift to become a digital agency but we will embrace technology, digital, etc. so we’re ready.
I don’t think we will be fully digital but we will make digital or technology more available to our clients and in our discipline in creative ideas. Interestingly at Citra Pariwara the top digital agencies were big agencies, traditional agencies, so perhaps we’re not that far behind, and it’s proof that late ideas can still lead.
What Excites Roy Wisnu About the Indonesian Scene
I think in Indonesia, and maybe in Asia, you can feel that “can do” spirit more, anything goes, okay, let’s do it. In America, I think, and this is one of the reasons why I thought I should move, advertising in America is so mature. Working in advertising in America is like working in such an established industry. Like being an accountant or lawyer, so there’s not that much of a risk taking. Everybody knows what they are doing, what they are aiming for, it’s become like a safe profession, almost afraid of challenging themselves.
In Indonesia advertising is younger so we are more curious, trying out new things. We don’t know as much but that makes us more curious, more driven.
[Update: corrected Citra Pariwara winning works to include Tempo Scan Pacific and remove Jokowi-JK]