Sung Chang

Sung Chang Interview: CATFOA – Technology is Magic

MIMA’s Summer of CATFOA (Conversations About the Future of Advertising) continues when Tim Brunelle interviews Sung Chang on Wednesday July 18th, 2018. Join us here.  Sung is the Chief Creative Officer of MRM//McCann.

Sung recently took some time from his busy travel schedule to talk with MIMA about his upcoming visit to Minneapolis for CATFOA, now in its tenth year.

MIMA: I noticed you have degrees in Architecture including your Masters. How do you go from architecture to the Chief Creative Officer for MRM//McCann?

Sung: It was not a straight line. I’ve always loved architecture and still do. As an undergrad I fell in love with materials and the science of construction. When I got to grad school, it was during the dot-com days and I saw the rise of the internet, ecommerce, and startups. Columbia (where I went to grad school) received a grant for 3D animation software and hardware and I started modeling and animating. Some of my friends also left architecture for Hollywood, utilizing their skillsets for films.

I, on the other hand, ended up heading to TV at NBC. Again, using the computer skills but for broadcast and at the time, NBC started exploring interactive TV and I joined that group. Working with some enterprising technologists to make TV less passive.

Later, I landed at a design agency, because I had no design skills at that time, which is where I learned branding and print. Then went back to freelance to work with Palm and some developing technologies. I freelanced at BBDO on a branding assignment, which was my first official connection with advertising. That’s when I met some inspiring creatives at Ogilvy, settled there for 8 years to learn my craft. Eventually left and joined AKQA to harness more digital skills. And have been with MRM for almost three years, giving back my knowledge to the incredible teams we have.

MIMA: Tell me about how you believe technology is magic, especially as it relates to digital marketing

Sung: It doesn’t matter if a person has a great idea, if he or she can’t express it. The same is true if a digital idea can’t come to life because either the technology doesn’t exist, or you’re limited by it. Great advancements arrive when you let go of reality and what already exists. And sometimes the answer to implementation is, it has yet to be invented. That’s where technology comes in to bring it all to fruition. It’s something you need to believe will exist, that it will work, so that you can push creativity. Or else, we’ll just keep doing the same things over again and that would be too boring.

MIMA: How do you see the role of storytelling as it relates to advertising?

Sung: It’s paramount and key to everything we do. It doesn’t matter if it’s a scripted 30-second spot, a mobile experience, or something experiential. Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communications, before there were written words. People told stories to one another which got passed down from generation to generation. It’s what we share. It’s what makes us human. That won’t change. If someone mentions a technology, that’s just another medium. Another vessel to carry our story.

MIMA: When looking at some of your most recent campaign examples, such as the work you did for USPS, what are the creative steps you take to ensure you are innovating and/or telling a unique and compelling story?

Sung: The most important filter is the brand/client. Just because you have an innovative idea doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for any brand. I always question, why can this idea work ONLY for this one brand? That’s how you get to the core of the idea and what makes it unique, because only that one brand can state it.

Since you brought up USPS (Operation Santa), people rightfully assume it’s just about mail or delivery. But the USPS’s mission is really about bringing communities together. That’s why they deliver mail. Back in the day, that was the only communication method. And when you think about innovation, think back to the Pony Express. This amazing relay station of horses. Or think about the invention of the airplane. One of the primary uses of planes? Delivering mail. We’re about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Air Mail.

MIMA: When you see a campaign, what makes you say, “Oh I love that campaign?”

If it’s just so simple to understand and the fidelity and script are flawless. You can see the craft and you can see the genius in it. It’s that thing that anyone could have thought up, but no, someone else did and you’re like, damn, that’s impressive. Nike’s “Nothing Beats a Londoner” is absolutely stunning. It’s what makes me appreciate great directors and cinematographers. The simplicity of our London office’s Xbox The Franchise Model . Everyone’s done customization before but it’s so fresh and fun. But it’s also directly tied to sales. So that makes me even more jealous that the business benefit is so strong and that it’s effective.

MIMA: You’ve been travelling a lot, tell me what you are learning about marketing and advertising from your global adventures

The world is getting smaller and you can see it when traveling for business because it’s not adventure travel. It’s being in big cities, big hotels and airports with the same shops and brands. If you really think about it historically, it’s quite incredible that local brands have become global. Think about certain brands from just ten years ago. But it’s also quite sad. The local nature is sometimes missing, or you have to seek it out. When I was in China, I had an afternoon to wander. There’s no Uber in China but there is DiDi. I found it amazing that, first, I had heard of DiDi and remembered to download the app (think about global advertising). But also, the app had a great chat function so that it translated my texts with my driver so that I could actually interact with a local. I think it’s more so about brands playing roles in our journeys especially when abroad. Back in the day you might have relied on a travel guide. Now, it’s Instagram and TripAdvisor recommending places. And brands are some of the biggest proponents of those channels. So when you read a review, is it an authentic consumer review or “advertising”? And if it’s good, does it even matter?

MIMA: For CATFOA, you will be interviewed by Tim Brunelle about the future of advertising, in a city with a lot of marketing and advertising going on, Minneapolis. I know you live and work in New York, but can you say anything about the unique perspectives you think our city offers to the ad world?

I was first in Minneapolis five years ago for Inst-Int, the gathering of artists, technologies and experiential ideas. At the time, I was spending a lot of time developing experiential work for brands and I loved hearing from artists on how they were solving or addressing specific environmental logistics. Plus the fact that the event was at the Walker Art Center. So I was very much enamored with the arts community here and how tech savvy they were. And pleasantly surprised there were also other ad folks in attendance.

When it comes to advertising, there’s the great history of an agency like Fallon as well as the legacy of great in-house work for a brand like Target. Then again, you’re home to some incredible clients like 3M, Ameriprise, Hormel and UnitedHealth. I don’t know Minneapolis that well but the fact that CATFOA exists, that you have a strong community of people supporting our industry, means that there’s a huge value exchange happening. That regardless of size, it’s always about the community of contributors and creatives and advertisers who want to push their knowledge as well as the industry forward that makes any city a force to be reckoned with. I look forward to finding out more about what fuels people’s passions, where they see the industry headed and to learn from everyone.

MIMA: If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out in the marketing field what it would it be?

Determine what you love about this field. Is it the creativity? Is it creating work that many people will see? Is it working with great brands, people? This industry is so great in that there’s diversity in what you get out of it. That no two weeks are ever the same. That you could be bored one day and then pulling an all-nighter the next. That’s the excitement. That you never know what will come. And you never know how you’re going to solve a brief but you know that you will. And that there’s a huge group of people who also share the same desire to do so.

MIMA: Thank you for your time.  Look forward to your upcoming live conversation with Tim.  As a parting question, what do you enjoy doing when you aren’t doing advertising?

Sung: I love watching films. Old, new, foreign, artsy, mind numbing dumb, the entire gamut. It’s a nice escape depending on my mood. Plus, it’s easy on commutes or while traveling. Especially in the city.

To learn more about what Sung Chang has to say, join us at our second Summer of CATFOA installment. Want the benefit of membership and to help build our amazing community join MIMA. Summit 2018 will be held October 29 at a new venue with a better price and all the great speakers and events you are used to – reserve your spot now!

Written by Marketing Committee Chair and MIMA volunteer Gina Micek

Gina Micek


Integrated marketing strategist, writer, storyteller and adventurer. I am a builder with skills in relationship building and telling compelling stories that drive connections.