Joe Dy: “Now is the time for brands to put their money where their press releases are”

| | No Comments
Joe Dy: “Now is the time for brands to put their money where their press releases are”

Former McCann Philippines CCO Joe Dy is a judge at AdStars 2020 this year. One of the most awarded creative leaders in the Philippines, Dy spoke to Campaign Brief Asia about the importance of walking the walk, versus being all talk, during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Joe Dy joined McCann Worldgroup Philippines in 2015 and soon led the agency to its first Gold Cannes Lion. Under his watch McCann Philippines became one of the most awarded agencies in the region. He also ranked among Campaign Brief’s Top 20 Creative Leaders in Asia in 2017-2018. Earlier this year, he left his role as Chief Creative Officer to embark on a few yet-to-be-revealed creative ventures as part of a gap year from the industry.

Perhaps best known for the long-running ‘Lives’ radio campaign for Fully Booked, Dy will join the Final Jury at AD STARS 2020, which is accepting entries free-of-charge until 15th May.

In times of crisis, creativity can help to bring people together. Are there any inspiring projects taking place in the Philippines to help with COVID-19?
Innovation is always welcome but given the complicated mix of challenges with which the Philippine population struggles, I’m finding more inspiration and more value in ingenuity over innovation during these difficult times.

Whether it’s mobile wet markets being brought to the slums, or repurposing those big water dispenser jugs and turning them into face protectors, or food services repurposing their inventory into selling DIY fast food and deconstructed meals, there are countless examples of ingenuity being displayed not just by creatives but by people whose only objective is to survive. We’re all working on the same brief, the same problem, and all around us are reminders that there are many ways to attack it.

And each one is really reminding us that creativity will always be essential to problem solving.

Meanwhile, with a lot of brands having preached social good over the past decade, now is the time for them to put their money where their press releases are. I think when this is all over, we will remember which brands walked the walk, and which ones are all talk. This is a time for brands to prove which among them we can genuinely trust.

Do you think this pandemic will change consumer spending habits long-term? 
Specific to the Philippines, the penetration of e-commerce and cashless transactions had been slower than the rest of the world. An affinity towards cash and a distrust towards digital security have long stood as key barriers. But with more people forced to adjust to the so-called new normal, we are finally learning to trust these digital ecosystems.

Perhaps more importantly, with more households embracing these new ways of dealing business emerging, we’re also rediscovering the value of earning a consumer’s trust. Brand loyalty may be an archaic notion but these days every transaction, every touch point, every brand experience is the consumer entrusting you to take care of them. To keep them safe and secure. Brands will do well to recognize the importance, and fragility, of that trust.

You’re currently taking a gap year… what are you working on?
Stepping away from the industry for a while will force me to test and re-channel my creative energy on other ventures. Including helping out in the family business. I’m already exploring a few possible enterprises that I’ve been meaning to get into, and this has me toying with new business models and designing new product experiences.

I’m also looking to invest some time in further reinventing myself. Maybe take some courses and learn another discipline or craft. The last couple of times I took a break, I took a course in principles of entrepreneurship, learned a bit of code, and became a certified barista!

You joined McCann in 2015 and since then it has become one of the most awarded agencies in Asia Pacific. What were the creative/leadership strategies that led to this success? 
I’ve always believed that key to creative success is having a strong genuinely creative culture. An environment where passion is nurtured and bravery is encouraged.

We all know that several elements go into making great work happen; strategy, ideation, crafting, selling, production. So many moving parts, so many minds and many voices, all held together by trust. With a team of great people whom you trust, you just need to get out of the way.

A culture of trust lets everyone on your team feel they can share any idea, be honest with feedback and that their POV will be taken seriously. Trust makes it clear to everyone that you are all interested in shared success as opposed to personal agendas.

This also allows me to be tough on the work. I’m able to push them further and guide the work towards the desired standards, because they know that I have their best interests at heart. That they can trust me to take care of the idea.

Great work takes great trust.

You’ve received countless accolades, but your ‘Lives’ campaign for Fully Booked is especially renowned. How did this concept come about?
Fully Booked is one of the biggest book chains in the Philippines and has a large inventory of literary classics in all its branches. When “Lives” first came about, we were trying to come up with a way to communicate how reading a book is like living another person’s life.

We observed that one life is measured with age, and the other with page numbers. Once we arrived at the idea of twisting every page number into a character’s age, we knew we had something special.

It was one of those ideas that just excited me when it was first on the table. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but my gut was telling me to trust the idea. Key to its success is our belief in the idea. Because it would sustain us as we wrote dozens and dozens of scripts, while testing the structure against several novels.

Working on the campaign were some of the creatives whom I trusted the most. I knew they would put the most care, effort and had the most patience to see this through to the finish line. Throughout the course of the three year campaign, we explored different genres. To arrive at the final material, we wrote for about 30 novels, multiplied by several drafts, each script meticulously crafted down to every single word choice. Among a few I remember that didn’t make the cut: The Old Man And The Sea, Metamorphosis, Ready Player One and Norwegian Wood.

I remember insisting that each line needs to hit three things: It must call back to a key milestone in the novel, that each combination of numbers and situations must twist the image in your head (especially the start), and it must evoke an uneasy emotion. Then, all the lines put together must cohesively tell both the story of the novel, and a provocative story on its own.

And we were very particular with the sound design and music too. Each script was scored with much care and restraint, with just the right touch of sound effects at key moments to create that visual mystery we were trying to capture.

Over the course of the campaign we produced 9 scripts, 7 of which picked up metal. So thankfully, all that hard work ended up being well-rewarded.


Do you enjoy writing for radio?
I actually cut my teeth doing radio ads for a retail store back when I was a junior writer in Leo Burnett and it remains close to my heart. One of my earliest mentors taught me that radio may be a tough medium, but it’s what separates the hacks from the real writers. It really tests one’s ability to paint images, create experiences and persuade minds with just words.

You once shared some advice for young creatives: “Choose growth over validation. Choose to be in a position that forces you to be better.” Do you still live by this mantra? 
Putting that into context, I guess the question to ask one’s self is whom do you trust with your development?

With your growth as a creative and as a person. Someone who will tell you what you want to hear and that you’re great, or someone you can trust to challenge you and cares enough to make your development and welfare a personal objective as well. Someone who sincerely has your best interests at heart. That doesn’t mean validation isn’t important. But it shouldn’t be empty either.

You’ll be judging Diverse Insights, Outdoor, PSA, Place Brand, Radio & Audio at AD STARS 2020. What are you most looking forward to? 
I approach judging the same way I approach being exposed to the ideas. I’m always excited and I always review every piece of work with the thought that someone believed in this piece of work enough to enter it, so I want to see what they see as well. Great ideas continue to excite me.

I still have faith in the power of a well-executed idea. These days, we are constantly told to trust the data, trust the data. While I do believe in data, I also believe that data can show you the numbers, but it’s creativity that will allow you to influence it.

Joe Dy is judging the Diverse Insights, Outdoor, PSA, Place Brand, Radio & Audio categories at AD STARS 2020, which are free to enter. Submit your work before 15th May via the AD STARS website.