LBB’s Zoe Antonov speaks to the VMLY&R Paris creative about why the only thing to come out of a head full of ads is trash, and how to fix that
In September, Pat Cholavit, creative at VMLY&R Paris, gained LBB’s attention by creating an AI version of his creative hero Anselmo Ramos. This month, we spoke to him about his career and what it means to go from a die hard ‘ad nerd’ to somebody who says they ‘hate ads’ in every bio they have online.
Pat started his creative journey as a copywriting intern at the independent agency Choojai & Friends in Thailand, after finishing a BA in advertising at Bangkok University. He later found himself as a creative at Wunderman Thompson, co-founded WITHNKW and eventually came to his current position at VMLY&R Paris.
Starting off as a self-proclaimed ‘total ad nerd’, he ended up winning the Bangkok Art Director Association Student Award that named him a best-in-class creative, which cemented his passion even more. It was not long after, however, when he suddenly came to the realisation that the industry might have dug its head too deep into the business side of things. Albeit a crucial side that he doesn’t neglect, it’s one that he refuses to fully accept at the expense of creativity and humanity.
He declared that “everything that came out of a head full of ads was nothing but trash” and swore that any ad that he had to create will be something different. His work is here to show for it.
LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Pat about why he hates ads and how to make an ad that doesn’t deserve the hate, if that is at all possible.
LBB> Your bio everywhere starts with the statement "I hate ads." Why do you hate them?
Pat> I guess my reasons are the same as everyone else's: it’s boring, irrelevant, time-wasting, and keeps me from watching a dog hugging another dog on YouTube.
I hate ads that underestimate audiences. I hate it when someone believes forcing gen-z language into the script would make brands look younger. Or when someone believes that adding two seconds of a smiling close-up shot after a character eating a product will increase brands' equity. I’m not saying using data is wrong, but when we as creatives worship statistics or marketing rules to the point where we forget we're creating work for our friends, mom, uncle, or other humans - I think there's something wrong.
I know it sounds so naïve, but I’m not that naïve. I understand how business operates, but I won’t let this part of me die.
LBB> What do you do to stop hating them? Can you give me a few examples of work that doesn't deserve the reputation of a ‘regular’ ad?
Pat> I still hate it and I’m pretty sure no one signs up to be a creative to produce that kind of work. That’s why my bio starts with "I hate ads." Then, "So when I have to make one, I make it interesting." I know that sounds cringe and blindly optimistic - and in fact, I can't make every work turn out the way I want it to - but I've been trying every day.
I’m sure there is a lot of work that is better than this, but I think the best example would be a project that I had firsthand experience with. The project is called ‘Bennetty’. Thai Health Promotion Foundation briefed Choojai & Friends, my past agency, to encourage the elderly to live active lives, exercise daily, and connect with the younger generation. So we formed an elderly girl-group and indie rock band with a total age of 687 years old. We didn’t cast any actors or dancers. We hand-picked only regular elders and trained them for months before launching the MV, which includes dance moves designed to be used as a workout, lyrics that convey key messages from the brief, and the tagline ‘Don’t let your ages stop your life’.
Because it was for an NGO, we only had about $800 in the media budget, yet the band went viral in the news and among both teens and the senior community. Hundreds of elderly people contacted us, saying that they wanted to join. Outside of the industry, no one called it an ‘ad’, yet it still achieved marketing, branding, and communication objectives.
LBB> You say your career began "the day the Bangkok Art Director Association Student Award named [you] a best-in-class creative." Tell me more about that experience and what it led to.
Pat> It's similar to AWARD School in Australia. A bootcamp/competition judged and mentored by the country's creative leaders. The ultimate goal for every student that wants to work in advertising.
I was an ad nerd, and when I joined and was given that award, it made me even more obsessed with ads. I thought it was the right thing to do, but after a few months of working at Choojai & Friends, an indie shop where we had the power to confront clients and create something that we truly believe is interesting to people, rather than just a typical ad, film, or print that clients/marketeers like.
That, I believe, is a career-defining moment for me. I realised everything that came out of a head full of ads was trash. I'm still an ad nerd, but I've decided to be obsessed with all types of creative writing, computing, acting, and architecture - not just advertising.
LBB> What are the "tricks” in the veterans’ playbooks that you avoid - and what are some counter ones you've found? Are there any tricks at all or are we moving to more truthful advertising?
Pat> By tricks in playbooks I mean all the magical marketing rules that someone told us - ‘if we do this, we will surely accomplish that.’ I believe the counter to that is that we must thoroughly understand marketing, business, and branding, but then we should just keep that in the back of our minds. Don't be stuck with formulas, stay foolish, and think outside of advertising. Think as a creative, a human being, and a person that hates to see boring ads interrupt his dogs video, NOT as an adperson.
LBB> What are awards to you and how seriously do they need to be taken in the industry?
Pat> Having experience working for an indie shop in a small market taught me that award-winning works are great, but there are also a lot of great works that don't get recognised by awards.
"Do not chase awards; chase good work," a quote from Piyush Pandey, CCO, Ogilvy, is my favourite quote. However, the fact that awards are being judged by many creative giants that we look up to still makes me feel great when the work gets recognised.
LBB> In your own view, do you believe a lot of younger creatives are of the same opinion as you when it comes to generic advertising and if so, does that create a divide in the industry between old and new school?
Pat> I believe a lot of new generation creatives share the same thought as mine (at least, many of my friends), but I don't believe it will divide the industry. I think it's more of a different 'expertise and interest'. I've met someone like me who likes all kinds of creative, and I also have worked with someone who likes old-school style advertising and always comes up with only film scripts or print ad ideas. When we work together, I find it very inspiring and it complements each other.
Maybe he comes up with just a one-line print ad and I can build some techy experiential stuff on top of that. Maybe I come up with big idea and weird execution then he can write a film script to complete the campaign. I believe in collaboration and if something can divide it, I think it's our bias.
LBB> How does your cultural background intertwine with your way of creating?
Pat> Back in Thailand, we don’t have a lot of budgets, so we always face hundreds of frustrating problems. Not just in advertising but also in our daily lives. It forces us to be creative and to find a way to make an idea happen no matter what.
Being an expat creative also gives me a fresh perspective and forces me to focus on the idea rather than a gimmicky execution or a pun.
LBB> What is your most adventurous project? And what about the most challenging?
Pat> ‘Bennetty’ would be both one of the most adventurous and challenging projects for me.
Another one would be ‘Songkran Stranger’ – a TikTok interactive film I worked on with Wunderman Thompson Bangkok
First, we needed to invent the new UX without creating anything new. We wanted to make an interactive film on TikTok but couldn’t do anything with the back-end system. We couldn’t create any new features, so we had to find ways to pull off the idea by utilising only existing features in the app.
Secondly, we needed to produce a short series. Making a series and working on a screenplay was very new to me. Fortunately, we had a chance to collaborate with great directors from Phenomena Bangkok, and it finally turned out as one of my proudest works and won at D&AD.