Meaningful Experiences that make people feel, think and act

This piece was first Published in MARKETING WEEKENDER Issue 346

By Raihan Hadi

Let’s paint a picture, shall we? Or in this case, we’re going to feel the picture. 

That’s the effect of contemporary artist Red Hong Yi’s series of artworks, made from 10 kilograms of soil sourced from all over Malaysia including the battlegrounds in East Malaysia.

As featured in the 2021 Merdeka documentary titled ‘Tanah Tumpahnya Darah Kita’, a documentary conceptualised by Naga DDB Tribal for Astro Malaysia, the artworks pay homage to the country’s veterans of all creeds and colour by capturing their stories and experiences and turning them into masterfully crafted art pieces painted in mud. 

Beyond creating cross media storytelling as demonstrated above, Naga DDB Tribal has been on a persistent journey to create meaningful experiences for their client brands since even before the pandemic hit in 2020. 

This includes award-winning campaigns such as the Digi Footbraille, KFC Selamba Raya, KFC x Pestle & Mortar fashion collaboration, Tiger Virtual Street Food Festival as well as Prudential Code to Wellness which has demonstrated effective real-world application of technology, fashion, music, art and entertainment into marketing communications, embedding brands into culture. 

Marking their journey in building some of Malaysia’s favourite brands for over 37 years now, Naga DDB Tribal’s new rally cry “We are the Experience Makers” is one that comes with a proven track record and a forward looking vision to move the agency beyond its legacy as one of the country’s most established independent agencies. 

I wanted to get some deep insights into how they’ve been doing such amazing work for almost four decades and what being the ‘Experience Maker’ is all about. So I’ve got Kristian, Alvin, Clarence, Nik, Alex and Farrah joining me for this exclusive interview. 

The Evolution of the Experience Makers 

Obviously the first thing we’ve all been wondering about is that a lot of the agencies play around with ‘experience”, some have it, some give it, some are still gaining it. So why did Naga DDB Tribal decide to announce themselves as the makers of experiences? 

The answer isn’t simple, and neither is the work that’s required in order to establish that title for oneself. Some of the agency’s longest standing clients, e.g. Digi and Nippon, who have been with Naga for 24 and 15 years respectively, started with one brand image and throughout time, have grown into highly evolved brands that are connected to their customers and audiences alike. Another notable client of Naga is Astro, who have been with the agency for a little over 10 years now. 

The journey of making an experience wholesome basically takes a lifetime and has its challenges. But when a client is willing to jump into that journey together with their chosen agencies, these experiences begin to take shape. 

Great Experiences Begin with Great Stories 

But what makes an experience great? Is it creative material? Context? Relevance? 

Clarence: Naga has always had a reputation as a storytelling agency. Since my early days in the agency over 7 years ago, I immediately resonated with the agency’s belief that we can influence and shape the society we live in through the power of creative storytelling. Genuine storytelling with a powerful insight touches people’s hearts and builds positive relationships for our clients with their customers. 

But as the marketing communications world has evolved very quickly in the past few years, it requires the agencies to evolve our service offerings to help client brands engage and sell in the new reality. We have quickly realised the need to expand our approach beyond ‘traditional storytelling’ which can be a limiting script. 

At the core of it, our work will still be built on insights and human-centric stories people can resonate with. What has changed is in the approach we design our creative solutions for our client brands – harnessing the power of collaboration with partners who will enrich our storytelling through refreshing experiences, and ensuring we continue to engage our audiences through the communications funnel. 

Quoting Clarence on what makes an experience even more wholesome; “The marketing world has changed so much, we simply cannot only focus on the top funnel. We constantly work on shifting mindsets through our work, and we should take pride in creating worthwhile experiences for people even in the middle and bottom funnel – even if it’s something as small as a banner, or the experience on the landing page of a website. Creating the sort of work that people want to spend time with is what matters most.”

Being an Experience Maker, reminds us that we should be able to create purposeful experiences at any given consumer touchpoint, designed and customised for our audiences to achieve the best engagement, resonance, impact and desired outcome for our campaigns. 

Farrah: As an established agency with a long history of building brands, Naga has built a stellar portfolio of clients, some of which have been with the agency for over two decades. While I have just joined the agency earlier this year, I can clearly see that the ‘Experience Maker’ mantra has given the agency a unique flavour that impresses clients, old and new. Not only have we recently celebrated the return of Nippon and Munchy’s, we have onboarded new clients such as LUNO and Genting SkyWorlds. 

The management team is mindful that ‘Experience Maker’ must not be just a fancy ‘positioning statement’ that sits in our credentials deck. To be a true experience maker, the work starts from within the agency. 

As such we have committed to a series of revitalization initiatives which will roll out soon including the reintroduction of DDBU – an internal training program designed with four key training pillars: Core Creativity, New Skills, Collaboration and Leadership, phase 2.0 of our digitalization which will see the introduction of new tools to improve collaboration and efficiencies, upgrading of the company’s hardware and software, new strategic alliances to complement our suite of services, as well as more wellness initiatives to create a conducive and positive work environment for our talents.

The “OOMPH” factor that Clients Love 

Let’s face it, our world isn’t perfect. Especially in an agency setting, you can be the absolute best at what you do, and even then you might have some falling out with your clients. So what really keeps Naga’s clients sticking to them for over a decade and then some? 

Kristian: It takes two parties to make a relationship work and honesty is the magic ingredient. We love spending time with our clients to understand who they are, where they’d like to take their brands to, what are the challenges they are facing and offer them genuine consultation with long-term goals considered from our professional view. 

Kristian: Take a look at the body of work we have created for Digi over the past two decades and you would notice the evolution of our transition into the Experience Maker narrative. While the Digi Yellow Man has become a national household name till this day, our work continues to strive winning over the hearts and minds of our audience through storytelling powered with innovations outside of the realm of what is considered traditional advertising. 

Digi Neck Check and Digi FootBraille are examples of a creative product born out of the desire to tell stories that matter while creating experiences that people can actually interact with and benefit from. It is a challenge we take upon ourselves to give tangible meaning to Digi’s mission to connect people to what matters most. 

According to Alvin Teoh, the Chief Creative Officer of Naga DDB Tribal, it all boils down to an agency’s relationship with their client, their openness to explore a wide range of ideas that resonate with the brand as well as its customers, and true grit to follow through with decisions. 

Alvin: I think the key word here is relationships, and relationships are hard to define. I think maybe the first key to building a relationship is just being human.

We’ve always gone into the room with our ears open, as collaborators. Because it is through collaboration that you’re given the trust to seek out opportunities in untapped spaces and seek out what is not commonly seen so we can create something refreshing for our audiences. If these sorts of relationships are not built, we will end up working in fear and end up confining ourselves to only doing what’s safe instead of what’s inspiring. A bold client in partnership with a like minded agency team can do wonders.

With Alvin at the helm of their creative work, and with Nik Radzi alongside him for several years now, Naga has indeed created many experiential journeys that have certainly pulled audiences towards getting to know more about various brands across diverse industries in the country. 

But Experience is such a broad word! And it’s not easy to define it under a set formula for every client. Each brand requires being catered to in specific ways so it can cater to the different segments of customers they serve.

So where do the experience makers begin their task? 

Alex: Experience can be a product or a service but our aim is to always swivel it back to the consumer experience – what a consumer thinks, does, or feels around the brand. The idea of a brand is not what’s on a box. A brand is what a consumer feels about it. So it’s important for us in terms of our approach, rather than just creating more advertising products, think about what do we want our audience to think, feel or do with the experience we are creating for them.

Nik: To create experiences you need empathy. Things change, people evolve, and you need to identify that to create a good experience. Now experience is not new, it’s always been there. And with time we’ve become more familiar with words like engagement, CTR, VTR etc. But the empathy part has always been a strong component to create the best experience for everyone. 

Chief Strategy Officer Alex Goh believes that despite the consumer mindset shifting towards more digital, experiences aren’t restricted to just the digital world. There’s also a lot being done to create experiences in the retail space as well. 

Is it easy to establish that experience through one campaign?

Clarence: Most certainly not. Brands are built overtime. One-off campaigns rarely shift the consumer experience for a brand overnight. Take a look at the evolution of our work for KFC over the last 7 years and you would notice that change, because the audience from 7 years ago is no longer the same person.

Alex: Let’s look at the qualitative feedback we get from the consumers and the viewers out there on some of the work we do. I’m talking about 200 people saying, “For once, I’m not skipping the ad. Thank you Digi.” 

We were quite amazed at the beginning, with that response, because we know that it’s not planted. When your work actually creates a positive experience like this, where the audience cares enough to spend time watching it, to engage with the brand and write feedback then sharing it with a friend because they feel so good about the whole experience. And that gives us a lot of satisfaction. 

Experience is always a long term thing. It’s also not just about campaigns, it’s also about the experience that the team had, that ended in producing something great for the audience out there. It must be mentioned here at this point that the Chairman of the agency, the man who founded the journey of experience making, TS Vincent Lee, has always emphasised on the need to be friends with everybody, even competitors within the industry, rival agencies and so forth, to work together for the betterment of the industry, towards building an infrastructure for the industry solely for the benefit of clients.

And the results are… 

To put it simply – resonance of love and appreciation. When creative work creates an experience like this, the audience cares enough to spend time watching it, to engage with the brand and write feedback then sharing it with a friend because they feel so good about the whole experience. When you turn audiences into advocates, then you know you’ve created an experience for them that will stay with them. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, in my humble opinion, is a testament to the excellence of the makers of these experiences.

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The APPIES is an annual event that presents a rare opportunity for creative, media, digital and marketing agencies or brands to present their best campaigns to the industry.

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