20 Questions with Tay Guan Hin, Creative Chairman of BBDO – Media Agency Interviews

Jessica Lai Media Agency Interviews

Name: Tay Guan Hin
Role: Creative Chairman of BBDO

Tay Guan Hin is the Creative Chairman of BBDO Singapore, and was previously the founder of TGH Collective, an independent boutique agency. He wears many hats well – being a Jury President for Cannes Lions awards, a sought after keynote speaker and a family man who believes in sharing domestic chores equally. 

1. What are your hobbies?

I was lucky to grow up living next to the ocean, and whenever sea tides rose, I would cast a line across my fence and try to catch some fish, from giant catfish to eels to horseshoe crabs. Pre-pandemic days, I would make trips to Bangkok and catch HUGE barramundi in private ponds or aggressive red-tailed catfish. 

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The other hobby I love is modelling – the one not in front of the camera – but putting together plastic models of sci-fi spaceships from movies and TV shows. I have the original Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, an X-Wing I bought in Japan, and a Battlestar Galactica somewhere in my storeroom.

  1. What is your favourite quote and why? 

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be” is my favourite quote, and the title of one of my favourite books. This pocket-sized ‘bible’ offers up top advertising guru Paul Arden’s wisdom on topics such as problem-solving, answering a brief, failures and creativity. 

It’s filled with quirky quotes, fun facts, amazing graphics, dry wit and a distinctive perspective on marketing and advertising – all crammed into bite-sized spreads.

  1. What is your favourite song and why?

During my wedding at the Ritz Carlton, I sang “I will be there” by Steven Curtis Chapman to my wife, Nissa. We met during choir practice in 1987, and even were together in a musical group.

I remember practising countless times to get my tone and pitch right before the wedding ceremony. My wife cried – and so did my mother! Guess it’s not the way it’s sung but the meaning behind it. 

  1. Where are your top foodie spot and dish there?

The HK styled Wanton Mee in Empress Market is to die for. I lined up for 2 hours during my last visit. It’s operated by an elderly aunt and uncle who serve each plate with springy wanton noodles generously soaked in a medley of sauces, topped off with some well-charred char siew. 

  1. Three words people use to describe you:

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Calm. Passionate. Thoughtful.

  1. Three words you’d use to describe yourself:

Forgetful. Disorganised. Light-hearted.

  1. Last good show/series you watched?

I love the second season of The Flight Attendant starring Kaley Cuoco as Cassie Bowden in HBO Max. The first season started off being a mystery-comedy and in the second, she is haunted by hallucinations of her many characters where she deals with alcoholism.

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Image credit:
Radio Times

  1. People who inspire and influence you?

My parents and a kind school principal. In primary school, my parents were called into the principal’s office because I flunked all my subjects and drew comic characters all over my textbooks. 

But the principal didn’t call my parents in to scold me. Instead, she urged them to help me pursue a career in Art when most students were aiming to be engineers, lawyers or doctors. Context: both of my parents were doctors. 

Yet with their blessing, I enrolled in several art institutions, which eventually let me enter the world of commercial art and equipped me for this industry.

  1. Share a personal or life goal.

Writing a book on creativity to inspire others to be more creative even if they think they aren’t. I firmly believe creativity is everywhere. You need to know where to look and be ready to absorb as much as possible.

  1. So, what does creativity mean to you?

Creativity makes life unpredictable. It makes us human and pushes us to keep exploring and experimenting so that we can uncover surprising and unexpected results. It helps us solve problems when faced with complex issues by finding the simplest way possible.

  1. What was the most memorable moment in your life?

Before my career, I was studying at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and participated in the first Los Angeles Creative Competition. Coming from Singapore, I was not used to American culture; it’s a very competitive institution, and everybody works individually.

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Most of my classmates picked up Golds, Silvers and Bronzes during the award ceremony. The night was almost over when they called my name for “Best of Show.” I couldn’t believe my ears! Got a small trophy and US$1, 000 in cash, which was a lot of money for a student in those days.

  1. Campaign done by others that most inspired you:

Our office in India launched this #ShareTheLoad campaign for Ariel (laundry/detergent care brand) titled ‘See Equal’, which triggers meaningful conversation and addresses years of unconscious bias that stand in the way of true quality.

It asks a relevant yet important question: “If men can share the load equally with other men, why not with their wives?” It reminds families that equality works when everyone #SharesTheLoad of domestic chores. 

Here, the woman refuses to accept inequality in her marriage, and on the other, it depicts what men are capable of and how they represent the men of today who are open to change.

While judging Adfest this year, another personal favourite was the YAKUSHIMA TREASURE. “ANOTHER LIVE” FROM YAKUSHIMA. 

Dentsu Craft Tokyo staged and recorded a concert in 360-degree surround sound in the banyan forests of Yakushima – all in one take. The result? Audiences can move up, down, and laterally anywhere in the forest and enjoy the performance from any perspective, and even upfront with the artistes. 

It’s an entirely new way of watching a concert, and different from anything I have ever seen. 

  1. Campaign done by you that you’re most proud of.

When the pandemic struck, small business owners had a tough time. Businesses that weren’t going digital could hardly survive. So, BBDO Singapore worked with Visa on a mobile-first campaign to support small businesses. 

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The Visa campaign included three vertical videos created just for the mobile screen.
Image credit: BBDO Singapore

We helped Visa speak to small business owners from Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore to pivot their offline businesses to go online. 

We highlighted three different merchants symbolic of the small businesses in each market to show their stores on the mobile screen. 

For instance, a textile company was featured.

Besides winning awards, I am proud that it helped many small businesses thrive digitally.

  1. Tell us a fun fact that most of your employees don’t know about you.

I’m probably the cleanest tank mechanic. I hated dealing with oily, dirty mechanical parts when serving my National Service, so I volunteered to be the workshop admin. 

  1. What do you look for in employees when hiring?

Talent is nothing without hunger. 

The hunger to succeed at whatever the cost is the most important virtue an employee needs to have. Hunger drives passion. Passionate employees have an insatiable appetite for success that overcomes any talent disability.

Their hunger to learn without being defensive when criticised makes a huge difference when being taught – being open-minded to absorb different points of view help to see things in a fresh way. I love it when they take the initiative to go beyond the expected creative solution.

  1. Advice for people to become more creative?

Stay curious. Draw from life experiences. Look around for inspiration. Expose yourself to different encounters.

Whether watching robots battling out in a restaurant in Tokyo or taking a two-hour boat ride with my two sons, each experience helps me draw inspiration. Reading personal blogs or friends’ posts on Facebook and Linkedin also inspires me to see a different point of view. 

  1. Advice for students thinking of starting a career in an agency?

Advertising has changed dramatically since I started in this industry. But the one thing that students need isn’t just raw creative talent. It is resilience. 

A career in any agency begins with the right attitude. And the hunger to learn and grow no matter what it takes. We assume we have all the data and information at our fingertips, but we don’t know everything. The day we know everything is when we stop growing in our careers.

  1. Any shout-outs you want to give or interesting projects you’re working on?

We recently worked on a special campaign called ‘Generative NFTs to Regenerate our Tigers’. 

BBDO wanted to use NFTs for a meaningful purpose, raising awareness for The Corbett Foundation. This is to help Bengal tigers roam free across greater areas of land to regenerate their numbers, in turn conserving the vast biodiversity of the nature reserves they inhabit.

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Each NFT represents each Royal Bengal Tiger left in India. Image credit: Adobo Magazine

Inspired by the photographs of real tigers that TCF provided, BBDO Singapore and artist radarboy3000 used an algorithm to create 2,967 unique pieces of NFT artwork.

  1. What do you hope to accomplish at BBDO within the next year or so?

To build brands with stronger social currency. Not just data-driven creativity but data-inspired creativity. Using data to uncover rich insights will inspire us to develop both engaging and effective creativity.

  1. Any exciting agency developments (projects, new hires, expansion plans) you’d like to draw our attention to? 

Melvin Kuek has been appointed CEO of BBDO Singapore and we are fortunate to have his experience in leading BBDO Singapore. 

As Vice-Chairman of the GEF’s Metaverse Council, Melvin has helped drive initiatives to promote the convergence and integration of crypto/blockchain and the metaverse for P2E and P&E gaming. His background in technology and track record of execution will come in handy.

After winning a string of new businesses, we have also added new creative talents like Amanda Ler and Gareth Lee as Senior Art Directors, including Ivan Ng as Senior copywriter, Jarryl Lee and Kevin Ho. I am proud of our department and hope to continue our growth trajectory.

BBDO Singapore’s website
Guan Hin’s Linkedin

This post is part of our Media Industry Leaders series. If you’d like to be featured, or have a nominee in mind, please drop us a note at [email protected].

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